Extramusical Frameworks

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Returning to Yellow Barn for a residency in February 2018, Yellow Barn alumni Brigid

Coleridge, violin, and Lee Dionne, piano, introduce their new work Permanent Red:

Many of our projects provide our audiences with extramusical frameworks through which to listen, not to distract from the music-making, but as a reminder to listen closely, to hear a familiar piece differently. We are interested in what happens when the music that we play is brought into conversation with other artistic mediums—when our music is understood as fluid and dynamic, capable of interaction and discussion. 

In the case of Permanent Red, our recital is framed and interwoven with Christopher Logue’s epic poem, War Music, of which Permanent Red is a smaller section. What Logue does so brilliantly in War Music is to take a story with which so many of us are familiar, the Iliad, and to re-tell it with an utterly free and contemporary use of language and verse. Using Homer as his guide, Logue relies both on our familiarity with the events of the Trojan War, as well as our knowledge of certain tropes that Homer returns to again and again in his verse. . .in order to transform the original Greek into singing modern speech, knowing that we will still recognize within it both the form and content of Homer’s masterpiece. Neoclassicism at its best.

Logue, then, is the inspiration both for our relationship with the recital format, and for our choice of repertoire within it. The musical works that we've chosen either share a similarly re-creative relationship with their predecessors, or are pieces that we've brought into the program in a somewhat irreverent fashion (often in single movements), thus allowing for a range of possible attitudes in which any given piece or movement might be performed.

Among the works responding to specific predecessors are Lutoslawski's Partita for Violin and Piano (a reimagining of a classic form), Szymanowski's The Fountain of Arethusa (after a Greek myth), and the first movement of Dmitri Smirnov's Violin Sonata No. 3, which transforms the melody from a Bach chorale "Es ist genug..." ("It is enough...") in a particularly gripping fashion. Among the shorter, more excerpted works on the program include 19th and 20th-century favorites of Kreisler, Strauss, Poulenc, and de Falla. How these smaller works are interwoven may range from simply expressing and amplifying the feeling a given textual moment, to an entirely humorous or ironic relationship with the text.

In all cases, the relationship of music and text is immediate and visceral. Every juxtaposition suggests a certain connection to be made. . .or equally to be rejected by the audience. Some of the neoclassically themed works may also be fun Easter eggs for musicians to recognize and identify, but altogether the program relies much more on connections that any listener can make on first hearing. In general, music and text alternate, but are also sometimes used together (with occasional speaking happening over the music or accompanied by passages of music).

Finally, the physical theater component of our work is less of an element in itself and more what emerges naturally from two musicians who are also delivering lines, inhabiting characters, and toggling between those roles of player and speaker on the turn of a dime. Often we will be speaking from staging configurations that should be familiar to anyone used to seeing musicians perform a recital, but that invite us, in that moment, to re-examine those physical configurations, restoring meaning to actions as simple as entering stage and taking a bow.