Known for his use of extended vocal/cello techniques and genre-bending music, composer and performer Robert Een has worked extensively with Meredith Monk and received numerous awards, including an Obie Award and two New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Awards. On April 11th, Een comes to Roulette with a chamber version of his opera, “The Escape Artist” as well as “Subtle Electric Fire”, a song cycle of Walt Whitman poems, and the “Tansen Suite” inspired by the Indian singer of the 14th century whose voice it is said could cause spontaneous combustion. The composer, performing on cello and voice will be joined by giants of the new music scene; Steve Elson – reeds, Bill Ruyle – hammer dulcimer, Toby Newman – voice, and Cliff Hackford – percussion. We talked to Een about his upcoming show:
I will be presenting a concert version of my opera, “The Escape Artist”.
The loose narrative tells the tale of a desperado and scoundrel who runs from his past deeds. In the course of his restless journey he meets unexpected characters who share with him insights, lessons of life and spiritual teachings. After arduous travels he finally has a moment of realization that encompasses everything he has experienced when he meets a true master.
My composing employs extended techniques for voice and cello. This piece is no exception. One example is the use of overtone singing when the character has particular “other worldly” experiences. My approach to cello playing is another example, where I write for the cello not only as a melodic instrument but also as a rhythm instrument.
Joining me will be longtime collaborators Toby Newman – voice, Steve Elson – reeds, Bill Ruyle – hammer dulcimer and Cliff Hackford – percussion. All have worked with me previously on recording and performing projects over the course of many years making them intimately familiar with my music. I feel privileged to have them performing with me again.
I studied composition with the late, great Julius Eastman. His passionate approach to music greatly influenced me. He was an amazing vocalist and pianist as well as being a composer of extraordinary music. Having performed and collaborated with Meredith Monk for fifteen years, I owe a debt of gratitude to her and her approach to music, theater and dance. Other collaborators who have worked with me and who’s work I admire are Carter Burwell and Michael Brook, both of whom compose extensively for film.
I want to specially thank Jim Staley and everyone at Roulette. As we witness so many venues for new music disappearing it’s great to have Roulette not only surviving but thriving.