The earliest singer-songwriters: Medieval music brought into the modern era (Feb. 28)

On Thursday, February 28 at 7pm, the Music Department has the honor of hosting one of the most established early music performing groups, the Orlando Consort, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary. CFA Arts Administration Intern Monica M. Tinyo ’13 spoke with Associate Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department Jane Alden about the Orlando Consort and pre-modern (western European Medieval) music.  

Monica Tinyo: How do you give pre-modern a longevity; what are the limitations of pre-modern music in a modern era? Although you have original manuscripts, can you be certain how the music was originally presented?

Jane Alden: Whats really frustrating about Medieval [pre-modern] music is that we have no idea how it was performed. It can also be very liberating; we can be very creative in our interpretations. For the earliest Medieval music, the secular music of the troubadours and the trouvères, all we really have is the descriptions in the autobiographies. These biographies are usually more fantastic than documentary. We also have iconographic images of troubadours playing instruments. If they seem to be singing while playing an instrument, we glean from those that the music was accompanied [by instruments]. This is generally the [archeological] process we go through. The problem, however, is how do we know those that aren’t holding instruments to indicate that they are musicians—someone with their mouth open is only gleaned to be a singer if they are also holding an instrument. Can we be certain then that those pieces were accompanied?

Unfortunately, we can’t travel back in time, so we don’t really know anything for certain, [however] I am much more in favor of the liberation of not knowing. In presenting this music now, we are already placing it in the modern era, so we might as well do what we want to make it meaningful to us. I have no problem with playing pre-modern music on modern instruments. For example, I love hearing this music on the piano which historically is completely anachronistic.

Tell me a little about the group we will be hearing on Thursday [the Orlando Consort].

The Orlando Consort

There is a strong a cappella tradition—it is a very blended sound. As part of the British choral tradition, the group prioritizes [a very blended sound] but more so than that, the musicians have been singing together for so long. Their music is all about the interaction of voices.

It is incredibly complex music. If you hear a solitary voice or instrument, you can follow that one melodic line. When you hear a full orchestra, there is a wash of color—you hear the complexity and all these different instruments. In some ways, your brain has to work even harder when it hears four male voices, because they all have the same timbre to some extent, although there are obviously subtleties, but you can actually follow four different lines. In fact, studies show that [four different melodic lines] is the most the brain can recognize. The sound will fill the chapel—with an aural complexity that is very engaging.

[Professor Alden explained that the Orlando Consort has received a commission to do the first complete works of Guillaume de Machaut, an immensely influential French Medieval composer and poet who was very ahead of his time. Although arguably as important as Ludwig van Beethoven, Machaut is not as widely known because because the recording industry is relatively new, and unlike Beethoven, he is a pre-modern musician.]

Machaut was the last of a long tradition of poet-musicans. The Medieval poet-musicans were the earliest singer-songwriters. [Many don’t know that] the contemporary tradition of the singer-songwriter has a history dating back to the twelfth century. If you ask people in French Studies about Machaut, they explain that he was an incredibly important poet, but they could have no idea that he was also a composer. He is so important for literature, but he was also a phenomenally important composer. He was so far ahead of his time. Thinking of a modern day symphony, there are four movements that all come together in organic unity. We have all grown up hearing organic unity in music, and understanding it to be incredibly important (whether it is or not is a different issue). Machaut wrote the first piece that works like that with the movements of the Mass. In the fourteenth century, the idea of something that was through-composed was unheard-of. He linked the music between the musical parts that were separated by texts, which had never been unified before. It was epic for religious music—it was so ahead of his time that no one tried to do it for another hundred years.

The Orlando Consort will present a 200 year tour of Western European music. The first half of the concert will consist of songs from a poem Machaut wrote called “Le Voir Dit,” or “The True Saying,” the (possibly fictional) romance between a Machaut in his late 60s and the 19 year old noble woman, Peronne; the second half of the concert will be devoted to later English and Franco-Flemish music, which can be understood as the logical extension of Machaut [the sacred works of John Dunstaple, Guillaume Dufay, Johannes Ockeghem, Josquin des Prez, and Nicolas Gombert].

Orlando Consort
Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 7pm
Memorial Chapel, 221 High Street, Middletown
$12 general public; $9 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students

Co-sponsored by the Thomas and Catharine McMahon Fund, Department of Romance Languages and Literature, Medieval Studies, College of Letters, Music Department, and the Center for the Arts.

Trailblazing Lee Breuer at Wesleyan this Weekend

Director of the Center for the Arts Pamela Tatge talks with Lee Breuer, who conceived and adapted (with Maude Mitchell) “Glass Guignol: The Brother and Sister Play,” which will receive its first Connecticut performance on Saturday, February 16 at 8pm.  

Lee Breuer

One of my top ten theater experiences of all time was seeing Lee Breuer and Bob Telson’s The Gospel at Colonus, a Pentacostal version of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus that premiered at BAM’s Next Wave Festival.  I remember getting completely immersed in the world that Mr. Breuer created, and knew that he was pushing the theatrical form unlike anybody else.  Since then, the co-founder of Mabou Mines has created work after work for those with an appetite for intelligent, risk-taking and provocative work in downtown New York and around the world. Wesleyan audiences will remember his talks as a part of the Outside the Box Theater Series over the years, and many Connecticut theater-goers had the opportunity to see his masterpiece, Mabou Mines DollHouse in New Haven in 2006 [a Long Wharf Theatre/Yale Repertory Theatre co-presentation].

This Saturday, Mr. Breuer brings his latest work, Glass Guignol: The Brother and Sister Play, to Wesleyan. When I spoke with Mr. Breuer about what compelled him to make this piece, he told me about the intensity of his experience directing A Streetcar Named Desire for the Comédie-Française.  The legendary theater company had never presented an American play in its 330 year history, and they chose Mr. Brueuer to bring the American classic to life in a new French adaptation.  The work played to rave reviews and sold out houses for six months straight, until the Williams estate shut it down.  He explained that they didn’t like the non-traditional unorthodox direction, and wanted to keep it from being seen.

“Tennessee was brought down by critics, in the end,” Mr. Breuer explained. “They hated him because he was gay, and because he changed his style of work. He wrote 30 plays after he brought Streetcar to Broadway, only a few of which got any attention. I could relate to that.” Mr. Breuer went onto say that he got rave reviews of Gospel at Colonus when it was at BAM, but that all changed when it went to Broadway.  “In Glass Guignol, I’m experimenting with how to direct Williams’ later plays which have yet to be successfully done.”

At 76, Mr. Breuer said he’s working on three plays simultaneously.  “I have a lot I want to do while I can,” he said. Glass Guignol is an exploration/excavation of the multi-faceted fictional refractions arising from Williams’ erotic, voyeuristic relationship with his sister, Rose.  It uses Two-Character Play as a frame and then references many of the women in Williams’ other plays, stories, and poems [The Glass Menagerie, A Cavalier for Milady, and Suddenly Last Summer] that dramatize the brother/sister relationship. Actress Maude Mitchell co-created the work and plays many of the women.  The play also features Jessica Weinstein ’02, the only actress ever to appear twice in one season at the Center for the Arts!  Last September, Wesleyan audiences had the chance to fall in love with Ms. Weinstein’s Tall Hilda in Anonymous Ensemble’s Liebe Love Amour!

A Mabou Mines Masterclass Workshop Production
“Glass Guignol: The Brother and Sister Play”
Conceived and adapted by Lee Breuer and Maude Mitchell
Saturday, February, 16, 2013 at 8pm
CFA Theater
$25 general public; $20 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students

Panel Discussion: Tennessee Williams after “Iguana”
Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 4:15pm
CFA Hall

Featuring Lee Breuer, Maude Mitchell, and Thomas Keith, Editor, New Directions Publishing and Dramaturg of Glass Guignol: The Brother and Sister Play. Moderated by Wesleyan Professor of Theater Ronald Jenkins.

Fearless Physicality at the CFA Theater (Feb. 9)

Director of the Center for the Arts Pamela Tatge discusses choreographer Andrea Miller, and her company Gallim Dance.

[The performance by Gallim Dance on Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 8pm has been canceled due to the snow storm. Ticket holders have the following options:  receive a gift certificate to be used for a Breaking Ground Dance Series performance during the 2013-2014 season; return tickets for a tax deductible donation to the Center for the Arts; or receive a refund. Please call the Wesleyan University Box Office at 860-685-3355 for more information. Click here to read the text of the talk about Gallim Dance prepared by dance scholar Debra Cash.]

[The Master Class with Andrea Miller on Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 2pm has also been canceled.]

Choreographer Andrea Miller, Artistic Director of Gallim Dance

It’s hard to fathom all that choreographer Andrea Miller has accomplished in the past six years. She has created a highly acclaimed company, Gallim Dance, that this year alone will tour to the Guggenheim Museum, Sadler’s Wells (London), Brooklyn Academy of MusicThéâtre National de Chaillot (Paris), and festivals in Germany and Austria. She’s won awards from the Princess Grace Foundation and USA Artists. She’s been commissioned by Nederlands Dans Theater 2 (The Hague),  Noord Nederlandse Danse, Phantom Limb and Bern Ballet (Switzerland). And a year ago, she established a permanent home in Brooklyn that hosts year-round education and performance programs.

But this week, she comes home to Connecticut, a state where she spent her formative years, attending the Foote School in New Haven and Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford. Andrea’s mother Irena Tocino was a great friend of Mariam McGlone, who together with Center for the Arts staff founded DanceMasters Weekend at Wesleyan. Mariam was an important mentor to Andrea, and the young dancer came to take Master Classes at DanceMasters while she was studying at Juilliard. Mariam always knew she would end up a choreographer! In 2011, Wesleyan awarded her the Mariam McGlone Emerging Choreographer Award, and her company brought the audience literally to their feet.

What’s distinctive about Andrea’s choreography is its visceral quality: it is fearless movement that is at times poetic, and at other times, quite mad. Her dancers are all individuals – their personalities, their passions are all accessible and immediate.

We always knew we wanted to bring her back for a full evening program, and we were delighted when her schedule opened up to make that possible. Tonight, Andrea will have dinner with Jewish students on campus and discuss the creative path that led her to Mama Call (2011), the work that will open the program and has roots in Andrea Miller’s Sephardic-American heritage. Ms. Miller adapts the Sephardic story into a contemporary and more universal tale of border-crossing investigating the idea of how those who have been displaced rescue the idea of “home.” The second piece on the program is a Gallim masterpiece, Pupil Suite, created in 2010.

Join us as we welcome this extraordinary choreographer and her company of brilliant dancers to Wesleyan.

See the feature from the Sunday, February 3 edition of the Hartford Courant here.