Interpretations: Frances White | Elizabeth Brown

Thursday, December 5, 2019. 8:00 pm

The Momenta Quartet joins forces with composers Elizabeth Brown and Frances White in a multimedia evening fusing Western contemporary music with Japanese aesthetics, literary references, and a video/sculpture installation by artist Lothar Osterburg.

This dynamic program features Momenta alongside baritone/narrator Thomas Buckner and Elizabeth Brown in her equal capacity as a master of the shakuhachi: a traditional Japanese flute. The concert includes two new works written specifically for this concert, with commission funds provided by The Sparkplug Foundation and a New Music USA Project Grant.

The concert opens with the New York premiere of Brown’s Dialect for solo shakuhachi, which uses repeating, morphing phrases to trace the evolution of a unique language. Then the world premiere of Babel continues the linguistic theme in a positive spin of the myth, celebrating NYC as a living organism, using multilingual pages and recordings of Emma Lazarus’ verse from the Statue of Liberty. Unlike the traditional story, nothing here is destroyed; instead, it is cumulative, with its architectural history visible, its constant influx of immigrants the source of its life and beauty. And White’s The book of evening for quartet and shakuhachi (also a world premiere) is drawn from the Mark Strand poem “Moon,” with the music evoking “the moon between the clouds.” Strand’s moon creates a path to “those places where what you had wished for happens.” The music reflects that, evoking a longing for that place, vanishing as the book of evening closes.

Dedicated to the Momenta Quartet, Brown’s Just Visible in the Distance draws its title, inspiration, and form from W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn. The piece, inspired by Sebald’s continuous narrative arc, consists of intuitively-assembled small movements, each flowing into the next. Then White’s And so the heavens turned, for quartet and narrator, contemplates the mystery of storytelling itself. A collaboration with writer James Pritchett and inspired by the 11th-century Persian epic Shahnameh , the text is read before the music and during its closing, evoking at times the anguish and passion of the epic’s mythic lovers, at others a questioning stillness.

Frances White’s so the heavens turned was made possible through a generous award from the Sparkplug Foundation, and with support from New Music USA. To follow the project as it unfolds, visit White’s project page: newmusicusa.org/projects/and-so-the-heavens-turned