Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Gratitude of the Artist

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Friday night I had the great good fortune of attending a New
Music DePaul Concert at which was presented Natasha
Bogojevich's setting of my song cycle, 4 Ages Through 
a Mirror, which featured four closely related poems of mine:

Canto I:         The Blake Baby
Part II:          Amphibians Lost
Book III:       Ambivalence Regained
Vol. IV:        Sybil Tiger

Bogojevich is undoubtedly one of the most underrated
composers working in contemporary music.  She is a
musical descendent of Stravinksy and Shostakovich.
Her music is inventive; beautifully textured whether
orchestrated for a full orchestra, a chamber ensemble,
or just a soprano and piano as was the piece last night -
though she threw in a baby's rattle: it's contemporary
music after all! - and her work is full of passion.

This is our at least fifth collaboration.  We met on the
TUTA production of Aristopanes's BIRDS, for which
I adapted the text and she provided the music.  As always
Zeljko Djukic surrounded himself with supremely
talented collaborators, and I was amazed by how much
her music added to the show.

Toward the end of the run she told me she wanted to set
something in English and asked me if I had anything.
This led right away to our first collaboration:  Oratorio,
which was played by the New York Miniaturist Ensemble.

Our biggest success up to 4 Ages was Bajalica, a piece
for solo wind player, electronic drone and motion picture,
which made its World Premiere Tour of Russia, Greece
and the Balkans in 2007.  So far it has been played in
over 25 cities and theaters including at the Marinsky
Theater in St. Petersburg.  I created the visual track
which plays in strict synchronization with the drone
and music.

She also did the music for my motion picture, Black
Mail, but 4 Ages Through a Mirror was special.  I
had given her the poems at the same time I gave her
Oratorio, back at the beginning of our artistic relationship.
She started with Oratorio because she knew she could
have it performed right away.  Her early efforts to
set 4 Ages didn't please her, and she kept searching for
the right approach.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The wait was worth it!  It was sung by the truly elegant
Chicago soprano Olga Bojovic accompanied on piano
with great theatrical elan by the highly accomplished
Kristijan Civljak, and their presentation was perfect!  I
could not imagine better.  They captured immediately
the humor Natasha built into the piece.  From the moment
Olga shook her rattle and began intoning, "Baby, baby..."
I was smiling from ear to ear.  I can only hope they
continue to perform it.  I long to hear again Olga singing,
"Baldy Lox, Lox, Lox,  Baldy Lox..." and to again seeing
Kristijan playing the piece with his great sophistication
in the manner of petulant child

I have to admit to being astounded that Natasha caught
the spirit of the verse so perfectly, the mix of comedy,
self-dramatization and the poignancy of all that we
have lost or realize we are in the midst of losing.  It's no
exaggeration to say the words come more perfectly
alive in her setting than they do alone on the page.  I
think it's because this verse is at heart inherently
theatrical, and the music is what breathes theatrical
life into it.

For me the highest reward of being an artist comes
from in an audience for one of my work and suddenly
being overtaken by a great and even painful sense of
gratitude for having taken part in the creation of
something beautiful.  I by no means get it from all my
works, and a work can be very satisfying to me even
without providing such a moment; but sitting in the
audience watching Olga and Kristijan perform Natasha's
setting of 4 Ages, I did experience it.  I was grateful,
immensely grateful - and for the moment, painfully happy.

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