Beethoven In Sight

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

On this 16th day of December, Yellow Barn joins the world in celebrating Beethoven's 250th birthday! 
To hear his music is to feel human connection, our collective yearning to understand and to be understood, to feel the divine in our humanity. Beethoven's legacy, his gift to us, is a world that bridges emotional alienation, not only with our neighbor, but with ourselves. In this, his music is unwavering. He dares to expect everything of us, even if we doubt. He stakes the apotheosis of his genius on his belief that we can love above all else.
In return, Yellow Barn has formed a new kind of chamber music group! They are a group of visual artists creating a body of work in honor of, and in response to, Beethoven's music and his creative process. Today, their inaugural works appear here for the first time. In coming months, they will begin to appear in public spaces, together with Beethoven's own autographs and music. 
It is my pleasure to introduce Beethoven InSight

—Seth Knopp, Artistic Director

Brian Cohen

Rachel Portesi
tintype photograph

Nancy Storrow

Barbara Garber
paint, colored pencils, and collage

Ludwig van Beethoven
from his autograph manuscript for the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major "Emperor"

Ludwig van Beethoven
from his autograph manuscript for the Piano Sonata, Op.110

Over the course of the coming months we will be sharing more work from "Beethoven In Sight" artists Brian CohenBarbara GarberRachel Portesi, and Nancy Storrow, together with garden designer Gordon Hayward, as well as written comments and reflections. Brian Cohen offered the following statement for today's celebration:

Variations on Variations 
Beethoven is too big to be contained or depicted. As soon as you look too hard in his direction, you don’t see him anymore, only parts, glimpses, or caricatures. Depictions of Beethoven’s contemporaries seemed to present no such challenges; Haydn is avuncular and senior, like Joe Biden; Schubert, doughy and amiable; Mozart, courtly and boyish (this is a genius?). We know who they are. There are no photographs of Beethoven; he died too soon for that invention, though quite a few contemporary depictions, most second-hand. In representing him, artists seized on and repeated what became the tropes of Romantic genius; the defiant set of his mouth, the unruly hair, the scowl, the tortured brow, the muscular physiognomy, and the cravat and white collar. He is brooding, preoccupied, a little febrile, maybe annoyed or disagreeable (whatever you do, don’t disturb him). Despite the volume of images of the composer, and ceaseless repetition of these clichés, they don’t seem to get us any closer to Beethoven; the images become emblems, standing in for him and replacing him, like a face on a coin. 
My original conception for this project was to apprehend aspects or pieces of Beethoven at a time, like medieval depictions of saints -- his ear trumpet, his hands, his mouth -- as the entire composer is too holy and monumental to show in toto. In my extensive Googling of Beethoven imagery I came across the work of Antoine Bourdelle’s, student of Rodin and teacher of Matisse and Giacometti, a sculptor I knew only tangentially. Bourdelle identified closely with Beethoven (maybe a little too closely, as he wasn’t quite at that level) and created over 80 drawings and sculptures of the composer. In Bourdelle’s work I found animation, energy, depth, inner absorption, fury, and a general lack of restraint absent from other depictions. Bourdelle was inspirational to me and interceded to give me enough distance from Beethoven himself to approach the composer. I think of my response to Bourdelle’s sculptures as variations on variations. 
I find my principal challenge is to express all the above qualities of the composer, to avoid the standard models of depiction, and to still have it look like Beethoven. I found his face remarkably labile; too crazy a look in his eyes and he becomes John Belushi; too much five-o’clock shadow and he’s Richard Nixon; too long a face and he’s Leonard Bernstein (which is really not that far off). That mouth, that emblem of defiance, so often suggested by the downward slant of the corners of his mouth and the light on his lower lip, is always tough. I don’t know that I’ve come any closer to who Beethoven is than anyone else, but I’ve found Bourdelle’s work a so far inexhaustible motivation to slip the surly bonds of cliché and touch the face of Beethoven.

—Brian Cohen

Watch excerpts "from the patio"

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Enjoy these excerpts from Yellow Barn Patio Noise.

More Yellow Barn videos


Seth Knopp and Osvaldo Golijov:
"so far, but yet so close"
Osvaldo Golijov's Tenebrae and James MacMillan's Angel
Watch the related performance

Osvaldo Golijov:
Creating a family of ancestors for each piece

Seth Knopp and Tony Arnold:
Homesickness and interpreting a composer's sense of place
Shostakovich's Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok
Watch the related performance

Seth Knopp and Lucy Shelton:
Music making an argument for its own transcendentalism
John Cage's Solo for Voice 43
Watch the related performance

Tony Arnold, Stanley Corngold, and Alice Ivy-Pemberton:
Approaching Kurtág's Kafka Fragments
"Haben? Sein?" ("To Have? To Be?") and "Meine Gefägnisszelle" ("My Fortress")
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Tony Arnold and Stanley Corngold:
Approaching Kurtág's Kafka Fragments
"Der wahre Weg" ("The True Path")
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Lucy Shelton:
Deciphering and performance John Cage's Solo for Voice 22
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Lizzie Burns and Lucy Fitz Gibbon:
Interpreting intimacy in a time of distance; Action and memory in Joyce and Goethe; Shedding light on gender relations
Amy Beth Kirsten's yes I said yes I will Yes.
Watch the related performance

Seth Knopp and dancer/choreographer Daniel McCusker:
How do we talk to an audience in a way that redefines meaning?

Daniel McCusker:
Interpreting Merce Cunningham dances from the time of John Cage

Travis Laplante, with Seth Knopp and Bonnie Hampton:
Composing and interpreting The Obvious Place, improvisation and the meaning of performance
Watch the related performance

Natasha Brofsky, John Myerscough, Laurence Lesser, and Aaron Wolff:
The experience of masks on, and masks off, for performers and listeners
The complete suites for solo cello by J.S. Bach
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Bonnie Hampton, Gabriel Martins, and Aaron Wolff:
The character of the Bach Cello Suites during this time
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John Myerscough, Lisa Kang, Michael Katz, Michael Kannen, and Laurence Lesser:
The Bach Cello Suites: Which movement and why?
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Seth Knopp:
Music is meant for everybody: The music - interpreter - listener continuum

Bonnie Hampton:
Kirchner's Piano Trio and the journey of exploring and performing a new piece of music

Eduardo Leandro:
Performing Lei Liang's Trans, integrating sounds from nature, and with an audience after months of isololation
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Seth Knopp and Gilbert Kalish:
Hearing Beethoven in Ives's "Concord" Sonata
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Stephen Coxe and Catherine Stephan:
Using Beethoven's autograph sketches and manuscripts for "Entstehung Heiliger Dankgesang" and an art installation

Alice Ivy-Pemberton, Emma Frucht, Roger Tapping, and Coleman Itzkoff:
Performing Beethoven's "Heiliger Dankgesang" with Stephen Coxe's "Entstehung Heiliger Dankgesang"
Watch the related performance

Testimonials for Beethoven Walks

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

In June 2020, Yellow Barn opened the first two Beethoven Walks trails in Putney, Vermont. Below is a collection of comments that we have received from visitors. Learn more about how to take a Beethoven Walks trail, and afterwards send us your thoughts and photos.

Be sure to take the Hannum Trail before it closes on September 8th!

I just got back from my walk—what an extraordinary experience! It was so magical to be surrounded by the sketches—especially at the listening places, I loved how all of them were angled towards the sitting benches so they seemed to be gazing at you while you looked back. I took your advice and listened without headphones, which made for a great conversation between the recordings and the varying speeds of wind. Each track and spot was really its own gem—I loved that the Mass was elevated and looking down, while the orchestral introduction of the Emperor movement seemed to be part of the ascending landscape, and of course, the uprooted tree at the Heiliger spot was jaw-dropping. By the end the sketches felt like friends—I was sad to exit the forest! I imagine it will be so touching for musicians and non-musicians alike. Also, while in the forest I think I forgot about the pandemic for the first time since it started...which is really saying something.

I did the Hannum trail Beethoven Walk today.  What an awesome experience!  I don't know where to begin—I'll never hear that music the same way again, and I've never experienced the forest and its noises, silence, and movement in that way before.

I went on the Hannum Beethoven Walk a few weeks ago and OH it is such a beautiful, beautiful thing you’ve made, thank you thank you thank you! For those of us who can only handle so much screen-time, it left our hearts soaring with the same feeling that a live performance brings—the adventure of not knowing what’s around the corner, of giving over to an experience. The way the forest sounds mingled with Beethoven added a kaleidoscope of new shades of feeling and meaning—and left me thinking, how have I never brought Beethoven into the sun—dappled, thrush-laden summer woods before?!? It didn’t feel like a stand-in artistic experience, it felt like THIS is how to listen to Beethoven! Period! And to have his manuscripts painting the path like was magic—pure, loving magic!

The walk is a masterpiece. The cathedral of the pines is a holy place. The wandering, swirling rivulet below the bench is a place of peace. We can list many more such places along the way, each a masterpiece of nature and nurture. We hope, aside from all the complexity one finds upon leaving the woods, and aside from the fleeing nature of this installation and of life, that you feel great pride in what is. 

I'm writing to you having just done the beautiful Hannum hiking trail. I was drawn to it by the Yellow Barn app, and I must tell you I absolutely loved it. I've been coming to Putney for many years in the summers but I'd never known about this trail, so I'm very happy to have found it, and I intend to return often! As a music lover, long acquainted with the stories of Beethoven dreaming up his sublime ideas while walking through his woods, I was genuinely moved and delighted to experience this amazingly imaginative and artistic illustration of his process - it's truly inspiring and it was clearly done with such loving care.

I had never hiked that part of the Hannum-O'Connor trail before and had no idea how well-designed and beautiful it is—not in the sense of dramatic views, but rather a window into a quiet Vermont woodland, complete with ferned glades, majestic hemlock groves, trickling streams, and rocky outcrops. And then the Music—some of Beethoven's most moving and sublime compositions beamed right to my cellphone as we strolled the winding path. Ecstasy! The many excerpts from his own drafts and scores decorating the trees along the trail, while not very legible to the novice, give a visual suggestion of the master's energetic genius. It's a wonderful undertaking. Don't miss it!!
We stumbled upon the Beethoven Walk section of the Trail and felt like we fell down the rabbit hole!
Amazing, inspiring…

Leon Fleisher (1928-2020)

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Today is the first day without our dear Leon Fleisher amongst us. We are all so fortunate to have lived during his time, to have heard the truth he spoke through his playing, and to have witnessed the courage with which he fought to speak it.

—Seth Knopp

On July 23, 2017, Yellow Barn hosted an 89th birthday gala and party for Leon. For the first half of the program, Julian Fleisher joined his father in sharing stories and music from Leon's extraordinary life with music. We share those moments now, with joy and unending gratitude.

Odetta opens concert of Bach's cello suites

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Odetta, with a detail of one of J.S. Bach's autograph manuscripts signed "Soli Deo Gloria" ("To the Glory of God Alone"), a dedication that the composer added to every piece of sacred music and many secular pieces as well.

On July 18, 2020, a recording of Odetta performing the spiritual "Glory, Glory" opened a concert of Bach Cello Suites at Yellow Barn. Following the concert, alumna cellist Annie Jacobs-Perkins wrote the following biographical note for Odetta:

In his letter to America penned days before his death, activist and Representative John Lewis summarized the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that meant so much to him as a young man. “He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up, and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself” (New York Times, July 30 2020). 

The folk and blues singer Odetta worked tirelessly to shape that Beloved Community. Born in 1930 in Birmingham, Alabama, she was a favorite artist of King’s and sang with him through many of the events that made him an icon in American history. She was there for the walk from Selma to Montgomery, King’s “I have a dream” speech, a civil rights demonstration for President Kennedy, and for countless other civil rights events. She is known affectionately as the “voice of the civil rights movement.” President Bill Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Arts and Humanities in 1999, and if she had not died from heart disease shortly before at age seventy-seven, Odetta would have performed at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony in 2008. 

Although Odetta did not reach the huge popular success of folk artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte and Janice Joplin, all of them cite her as a major influence on their work. In a Playboyinterview from 1978, Dylan said that “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta.” Odetta’s family moved to Los Angeles when she was six-years-old, and it was at that time that she began studying voice. She trained in opera and theater at Los Angeles City College, but realized her love of folk music during extra curriculars and self-reflection. 

During an interview with The New York Times, Odetta stated that the recorded work songs she heard as a very young child in Alabama had a huge influence on her music—they served as a medium to find pride in self. In addition to her important role as an activist, Odetta is remembered for being unashamedly and unabashedly herself. At a time when black women faced social pressure to straighten their hair as a symbol of white respectability, Odetta appeared in front of thousands of audience members time and time again with her hair naturally curly. She said, “You’re walking down life’s road, society’s foot is on your throat, every which way you turn you can’t get from under that foot. And you reach a fork in the road and you can either lie down and die or insist upon your life.” 

Watch the July 18th concert stream in its entirety:

2020 Yellow Barn videos

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Watch performances from Yellow Barn's 2020 Summer Artist Residencies in Putney, Vermont.

Watch on Vimeo

View programs from the 2020 Summer Season

More videos

Audio recordings


July 10, 2020 | View program details

Charles Ives Piano Sonata No. 2 “Concord, Mass., 1840–60”
Stephen Coxe Entstehung Heiliger Dankgesang (Emergence of the Holy Song of Thanksgiving)
Ludwig van Beethoven String Quartet in A Minor, Op.132 Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart (Holy song of thanksgiving of a convalescent to the Deity, in the Lydian mode)

July 11, 2020 | View program details

Lei Liang Trans for solo percussion and audience
Anton Webern Five Movements for String Quartet, Op.5
Benjamin Britten Elegy for Solo Viola
Antonín Dvořák Bagatelles, Op.47
Frederic Rzewski To The Earth

July 16, 2020 | View program details

Johann Sebastian Bach
Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007
Suite No. 4 in E-flat Major, BWV 1010
Suite No. 5 in C Minor, BWV 1011
Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten from Cantata, BWV 93

July 18, 2020  | View program details

Glory, Glory
Johann Sebastian Bach
Suite No.2 in D Minor, BWV 1009
Suite No.3 in C Major, BWV 1009
Suite No.6 in D Major, BWV 1012

July 23, 2020 | View program details

Mario Davidovsky (1934-2019)
Synchronisms No. 3 for Cello and Electronic Sounds
Synchronisms No. 6 for Piano and Electronic Sounds
Synchronisms No. 9 for Violin and Electronic Sounds
Synchronisms No. 11 for Contrabass and Electronic Sounds
Synchronisms No.12 for Clarinet and Electronic Sounds

July 25, 2020 | View program details

John Cage Solo for Voice 39 from Song Books
Franz Schubert Ganymed, D.544
Amy Beth Kirsten yes I said yes I will Yes.
Travis Laplante The Obvious Place
Toshio Hosokawa Windscapes
Beethoven Walks at Greenwood Trail and Hannum Trail
Ludwig van Beethoven Andante from Bagetelles, Op.126 No.3 in E-Flat Major

July 30, 2020 | View program details

Stephen Coxe The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Mark Applebaum Gone, Dog. Gone!
Fredrik Andersson The Lonelyness of Santa Claus
Alan Ridout Ferdinand for Speaker and Violin
John Cage Solo for Voice 57 from Song Books

August 1, 2020 | View program details

John Cage Solo for Voice 22 from Song Books
Georges Aperghis Récitation No. 9 for Female Voice
Liza Lim Inguz
John Cage Solo for Voice 23 from Song Books
Matthew Aucoin Dual
Philippe Manoury Le Livre des Claviers II
Johann Sebastian Bach Partita No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002

August 7, 2020 | View program details
György Kurtág Kafka Fragments
August 8, 2020 | View program details
John Cage Solo for Voice 43 from Song Books
Philippe Hersant In The Dark
Dimitri Shostakovich Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, Op.127
Osvaldo Golijov Tenebrae
James MacMillan Angel