“As much as I’m engaged with it, with violence, I remain ever hopeful that change is possible and necessary, and that we will get there. I believe that strongly, and representing that matters to me: a sense of aspiration, a sense of good will, a sense of hope, a sense of this idea that one has the right, that we have the right to be as we are.” — Carrie Mae Weems*
The timeless themes of political power, social justice, gender oppression, and valiant persistence are brought to life in a modern context in PAST TENSE, Carrie Mae Weems’ multimedia take on Antigone.
Combining music, spoken word, video, and projected images, PAST TENSE—presented this week in Los Angeles by CAPUCLA—includes works by poet Carl Hancock Rux and composer Craig Harris, and will be performed by Weems, Eisa Davis, Francesca Harper, David Parker, Imani Uzuri, and Alicia Hall Moran, who brought the house down at Disney Hall earlier this week in Bryce Dessner’s Triptych.
*Megan O’Grady, “Carrie Mae Weems,” T: The New York Times Style Magazine, October 21, 2018, 140.
From top: Carrie Mae Weems, Past Tense, in performance; Past Tense production photographs (2) by WilliamStrugs; Carrie Mae Weems, portrait by Jerry Klineberg; Past Tense, in performance with, from right, Alicia Hall Moran, Imani Uzuri, and Eisa Davis. Images courtesy CAP UCLA.
In TRIPTYCH (EYES OF ONE ON ANOTHER), composer and guitarist Bryce Dessner of The National has collaborated with playwright Korde Arrington Tuttle, the LA Phil New Music Group, Roomful of Teeth, videographer SimonHarding, lighting designer Yuki Nakase, and the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation for an musical-visual investigation into the ways the photographer’s works “compel an audience’s complicity and characterizes them in the act of attention.”*
Tuttle’s libretto integrates the poetry of Mapplethorpe detractor EssexHemphill and advocate Patti Smith, and the featured vocalists for this world premiere are Isaiah Robinson and AliciaHall Moran, the latter of whom will perform later this week in Carrie Mae Weems’ Past Tense at the Theatreat Ace Hotel.
TRIPTYCH is directed by Kaneza Schaal and conducted by Sara Jobin. Music direction is provided by Brad Wells.
The opera-in-development THE PASSIONOF MCQUEEN imagines the last hours in the life of Alexander McQueen.
A staged concert of the forthcoming work—with music by Kentaro Kameyama, libretto by William Nedved, and direction by Diana Wyenn—will feature mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell as Isabella Blow, and baritone David Castillo as Lee.
As part of the Smithsonian exhibition BETWEEN WORLDS—THE ART OF BILL TRAYLOR, musicians Jason Moran and Marvin Sewell will improvise a musical conversation between the art of Traylor—who was born into slavery in 1853, and took up art in his eighties while living on the street in Montgomery, Alabama—and the music of his time.
“We begin as piano virtuosos and then start rummaging about and foraging in the human sciences and philosophy and finally go to seed. Because we didn’t reach the absolute limit and go beyond this limit, I thought, because we gave up in the face of a genius in our field. But if I’m honest I could never have become a piano virtuoso, because at bottom I never wanted to be a piano virtuoso, because I always had the greatest misgivings about it and misused my virtuosity at the piano in my deterioration process, indeed I always felt from the beginning that piano players were ridiculous; seduced by my thoroughly remarkable talent at the piano, I drilled it into my piano playing and then, after one and a half decades of torture, chased it back out again, abruptly, unscrupulously. It’s not my way to sacrifice my existence to sentimentality.” — The Loser, by Thomas Bernhard*
In the novel The Loser—Bernhard’s comedic 1983 screed on artistry, obsession, and mediocrity—a garrulous narrator recounts, with comedic vitriol, the lifelong consequences of a summer he and his friend Wertheimer spent with the young pianist Glenn Gould at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, all under the instruction of Vladimir Horowitz.
Once the narrator and Wertheimer—labeled “the loser” by Gould in the novel—finally realize that their talents will never equal Gould’s, they abandon their pianos. The narrator gives his Steinway to the nine-year-old daughter of a schoolteacher, who ruined it “in the shortest period imaginable, I wasn’t pained by this fact, on the contrary, I observed this cretinous destruction of my piano with perverse pleasure.”*
The narrator’s story had a profound effect on David Lang when he read the novel in the late 1990s: “I couldn’t read it silently. I ended up yelling the entire book to my reflection in the mirror in my bathroom, from start to finish, which was very exciting. And that day I started imagining what it would be like to add music to it.”
The result is Lang’s hour-long opera the loser. For his libretto, Lang was compelled by necessity to eliminate much of Bernhard’s text, including the long-winded political diatribes—there was nothing the Austrian author hated more than Austrian society. Lang’s focus was the persona of the narrator, and “managing our [changing] perceptions of a character” became the way to bring action to the piece.
Not that the protagonist moves around much. In Lang’s dramatic staging, the narrator stands atop a twenty-foot-high platform, suspended in space and performing exclusively for the audience in the balcony. (Orchestra seats are not occupied for the production.) During the second half of the loser a piano (and pianist) appear on stage, and delicate, ghostly sounds echo throughout the auditorium.
This astonishing work premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2016, with baritone Rod Gilfry as the narrator, and Conrad Tao on piano. The LA OperaOff Grand presentation of the loser brings both of these artists to downtown Los Angeles, joined by Bang on a Can Opera—Isabel Hagen (viola), Mariel Roberts (cello), Pat Swoboda (double bass), Owen Weaver (percussion)—and conducted by Lesley Leighton.
The lighting design is by Jennifer Tipton, the sets by Jim Findlay, and costumes were designed by the performance and installation artist Suzanne Bocanegra.