02 February 2012

Song of the Earth in Weimar

In 1905, having just been expelled from his position as court composer in Vienna, discovering his heart failure, and grieving the loss of his daughter, Gustav Mahler put the poems of Hans Bethge to his signature sound, creating one of the great pieces of modern music, and musically anticipating the turmoil soon to engulf the world.

Multi-media projects in their best iterations magnify the good of each of the component media, just as Mahler's music enhances the words of Bethge. Das Lied von der Erde was created during the apocalyptic collision of the historic narratives of Europe. Juxtaposing lyrical images of the detritus of our consumption with Das Lied von Der Erde is a natural fit for the creation of a larger work to address these modern issues.

Creating a multi-media piece involves interweaving multiple narratives, which sometimes speak to each other, and otherwise tell their own stories. Here was an opportunity for my work to reach a completely new audience, one that was largely unexposed to this message about the looming disasters that face us, and our causal behavior.

So many times a magic idea needs just the one person that “gets it” and makes it happen, seemingly with the snap of the fingers. In this case, that person was Stefan Solyom, conductor of the Weimar Staatskapelle. Then arise the complexities of actually executing a simple idea. The visual animation of the Industrial Scars images was redacted by Joel Plotch, done with an old recording by Bruno Walter and the Vienna Philharmonic to set the meter, a recording Stefan and I had agreed was our favorite.

What a foolish assumption to think that all would go according to plan. The two soloists, of course, had their own interpretation of the proper tempo, and it did not match that of Bruno Walter. The tenor, Andreas Conrad, preferred a much faster rendition, and the soprano Tuija Knihtilä, slower. So there I was, dripping sweat in the dress rehearsal as my masterpiece seemed about to crash and burn. With a deep breath, the idea of continuously adjusting the video playback rate to keep time with the music was the obvious solution, albeit one requiring intense concentration, especially not being a German speaker.

Ultimately, the performance was breath-taking - the projection of Industrial Scars images in HD over the heads of the orchestra was a transformative experience (at least for me).