BMInt has recognized the value of Juventas New Music Ensemble’s performances across many disciplines with more than a dozen rave reviews. The Intelligencer has also registered great pleasures in the accomplishments of conductor and Artistic Director Lidiya Yankovskaya. Therefore we point to our readers Juventas’s Music in Motion, a journey through 100 years of music interpreted through theatrical puppetry, featuring established works from the last 100 years alongside three world premieres and a pre-show one-act comic opera. Performances take place on May 5th & 6th at A.R.T.’s Oberon, at 7:30 PM. More details are here.
BMInt communicated with Juventas Artistic Director Lidiya Yankovskaya and Puppet Showplace’s Roxanna Myhrum about the production.
Is the “100 years of music” rubric referring to something concrete?
Lidiya Yankovskaya: Musicologists generally mark the year that World War I began (1914) as the beginning of the Contemporary music era. With the start of 2015, we have seen a full 100 years of musical development since that point, representing an extreme range of styles, from Minimalism to the most complex examples of post-Tonalism, to neo-Classicism, and even composers who have rejected structural rules of traditional music-making altogether.
As a New Music ensemble, we work mostly with young, living composers. All of these composers stand on the shoulders of those who came before them, navigating through the boundaries broken during the past century and using the innovations of those who came before them to shape new musical styles for the century ahead. While new music is programmed more and more often, it is rare today to see the contrasting styles that proceeded them on the same program. As a result, most of us don’t have a clear understanding of the world that today’s young composers are navigating while seeking their own voices.
Our concert will place the styles that have shaped music over the past 100 years side-by-side with several living composers (and 3 world premieres!), including two composers who most definitively look to the future of music: Scott Barton, who incorporates robotic instruments into his work, and Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg who, at 15, is our youngest composer to date. These two works also serve as a precurser to our upcoming season, which will feature a concert that explores the connection between new music and technology and another concert exploring music by some of the world’s most-accomplished young prodigies.
Why is Club Oberon becoming an alternative musical venue of choice?
LY: Most styles of Contemporary music are inherently multi-disciplinary. Throughout the 20th century, in the process of rejecting certain rules of tonal music, many composers embraced music’s expressive ability in combining it with the other arts, especially performance and visual art (as in the case of Berberian’s Stripsody and Stockhausen’s Wings-of-the-Nose-Dance in our performance). Composers furthermore often used history and politics (Berio’s O, King) and the arts (Larsen’s work based on the paintings of O’Keefe) to inspire their work.
A.R.T.’s Oberon embodies the very concept of multidisciplinary art. Created as a venue that combines theater and music in a nightclub setting, the venue gives us a great deal of flexibility as we combine a wide range of music with an even wider range of styles of puppetry. Furthermore, the club atmosphere and the lack of a clear proscenium stage allows the artists to connect more directly to audience members, connecting to individual listeners and magnifying the relevance of these works to our culture and society at large.
What does puppetry to the appreciation of new music?
LY: I have always been fascinated by puppetry as an expressive medium—as an art form, puppetry has all the capabilities of dance, visual art and theater combined, plus more. First, much of the music on this program is already inherently multi-disciplinary.
For instance, it seemed a natural extension to incorporate a visual about Georgia O’Keefe’s live and paintings to Larsen’s Black Birds, Red Hills (based on O’Keefe’s paintings), to incorporate a visual into a work titled “Things seen left and right without glasses” (Satie), and to exhibit the graphic notation that is already the basis for Berberian’s Stripsody.
Furthermore, this performance includes a very diverse range of music, some of it quite complicated, and we wanted to make sure that audience members can relate to all of these varied compositions as we present the full gamut Contemporary music. Seeing a theatrical interpretation of a work can enhance the listening experience of those already familiar with a given style and can aid those who are unfamiliar by demonstrating one possible perspective. I have worked with Roxie on a large number of operatic projects and decided it was the perfect time to take advantage of her expertise in puppetry to express the musical variety of this concert using this most expressive art form.
What’s it like from the puppeteers’ perspective?
Roxanna Myhrum: We love it! For me, a lot of the best puppet theater is non-verbal. Many puppeteers are used to music and sound joining with physical and visual vocabulary to operate as the “language” of a piece. There are a few notable puppetry endeavors, including “Puppet Playlist” puppet slam in New York City, that regularly bring together puppeteers to create short pieces inspired by particular genres of music. This has produced some brilliant results. We decided to structure this project in a similar way, with each puppetry artist working to interpret a different composition. One of the most exciting things has been the back and forth between the puppeteers and musicians, many of whom are inspired by seeing these pieces brought to life in a totally new way. Of course, working with live instrumentalists is also really challenging, especially when the program involves such technically difficult music. We are lucky to be working with the brave and incredibly skillful members of the Juventas ensemble, who are truly game for anything. It’s going to be great.
What should people expect to see?
RM: One of the most exciting things about working with so many different puppetry artists is that each piece is totally unique, both dramaturgically and aesthetically. The evening will showcase many different styles of puppetry, including modern adaptations of hand puppets, marionettes, giant puppets, mask, cantastoria and table-top Bunraku-style puppets. Most of the pieces have turned into mini-narratives that focus on a particular character’s journey. Although the puppeteers have all worked independently of one another, there have been some interesting emerging themes that many pieces have in common…age and aging, legacy, family, and history. For example, Faye Dupras was inspired by Ligeti’s Sonata for Solo Cello to create a piece inspired by her grandmother’s life journey, which included fleeing war-torn Spain as a political refugee. Penny Benson, who is tackling Libby Larsen’s Black Birds, Red Hills, researched the paintings that inspired Larsen’s composition and created a piece based on the relationship between Georgia O’Keffee and Alfred Stieglitz.
And you’ve got time leftover for a comic opera?
RM: Not just a comic opera… a comic, mystery-theater opera! This pre-show composition was written specifically with Juventas and Oberon in mind, placing the audience in the middle of the action as guests at a party at which the cellist suddenly disappears. It’s a short piece by local composer Oliver Caplan featuring four terrific Boston singers. Caplan calls it “a tale of woe, drama, and delicious finger foods.”