Soundstreams’ The Bright Divide is a new concert experience featuring Rothko Chapel by American composer Morton Feldman, and the world premiere of mark by Canadian composer Cecilia Livingston with original text by Duncan McFarlane.
The Bright Divide is inspired by the work of two artistic masters: Mark Rothko, one of the most important painters of the 20th century and one of the finest artists of all time, whose richly colourful works continue to captivate viewers; and Feldman, a contemporary of Rothko, and a major figure in 20th-century classical music.
I attended last night’s premiere at the TD Music Hall. The night began with Feldman’s Rothko ChapeI, which was written for the opening of the “Rothko Chapel” in Houston, Texas, a non-denominational spiritual space containing 14 paintings by Mark Rothko. Feldman’s score is a dialogue with Rothko’s paintings; the piece starts and ends with viola solos. The piece also features short worldless solos as well as the timpani and celesta.
Rothko ChapeI is also meant as an homage to The Chapel itself and in Feldman’s words, the music “should… not be heard from a certain distance.” This was achieved by having the choir stand on both sides of audience. The music and choir work well together in creating what felt like a musical cocoon of sorts. The result is an exquisite, meditative experience. As a first time experience with this piece, I was quite impressed and relaxed. I appreciate the minimalist style of Feldman’s composition as a complement to Rothko’s work.
The second half featured the world premiere of mark by Canadian composer Cecilia Livingston with text by Duncan McFarlane. This piece is a response to both Feldman’s piece and to Rothko’s art itself. mark offers a ritual of light and darkness: exploring this ‘Bright Divide’, the spiritual tensions in Rothko’s work, and the tensions between Rothko’s earlier bright colour fields and the sombre refinement of the Chapel paintings. Livingston’s piece combines soloist and ensemble, viola and voice, to evoke what Robert Hughes called the ‘breathing intensity’ of Rothko’s paintings — a sense of awe and contemplation.
As this was a completely new piece of music, I was unsure what to expect. To my surprise, I appreciated the layers in the composition — the combination of instruments and voice work really well. The choir began facing in different directions with some solo work by Alex Samaras. I see Livingston’s mark as an extension to Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, in that she uses the same instruments but adds voices to create another layer to the musical experience.
The musical pieces featured in this performance are different and new to some audiences. This is part of what I appreciate about attending any of Soundstreams’ performances. I am introduced to new music, new artists, and also new experiences. They also incorporate sound and image in interesting and thought provoking ways; giving audiences the opportunity to make their experience unique.
I also want to point out that Soundstreams also supports the Institute for Canadian Citizenship‘s Canoo Access Pass, which gives newcomers free tickets to their concerts. The Institute co-founders, the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, were also in attendance at last night’s performance.