Fifty years later, the Rothko Chapel hosts a new musical match

Prior to Tyshawn Sorey Composing a note about his latest work, on the 50th anniversary of the Rothko Chapel in Houston, he spent hours inside the octagonal shrine containing more than a dozen dark oil paintings.

Immersed in Mark Rothko’s seemingly black fields, Sorey notices that paintings change subtly over time – and time itself seems to vanish. The color changes to match the sunlight shining through the chapel’s skylight. When he goes out and back, his well-groomed eyes make it feel as if the works are alive.

Few people could give Rothko the time or space to feel what Sorey had seen. But “Monochromatic Light (The Afterlife),” something of a sonic distillation of what he’s been through, might give them an idea. Written for the chapel’s 50th anniversary – and delayed a year because of the pandemic – his new work will debut there on saturdaybefore the presentation held at Park Avenue Armory in New York this fall.

The piece is in part a tribute to one of Sorey’s heroes, composer Morton Feldman, whose “Rothko Chapel” was written in 1971 for the building, a project of art philanthropists Dominique and John de Menil. Feldman’s work – scored for percussion, celesta, viola, chorus and soprano – is an abstract analogue to Rothko’s oil paintings. There is no form, it is the music that is in residence. But near the end, the violin plays what Feldman calls the “near-Hebraic melody” he composed as a teenager, a call and tribute to his (and Rothko’s) legacy. ).

The Feldman is “an exceptional piece,” said Sarah Rothenberg, the artistic director of presentation organization DaCamera, whose chapel, authorized the Sorey premiere. “It’s a remarkable synergy between space and music that has become a kind of ambassador.”

When forming a 50th anniversary committee, a new ambassador was desired. Rothenberg thinks of Sorey for the way he’s engaged with black American history – alongside the chapel’s mission of civil rights concerns. And his style, she knew, had been shaped by Feldman.

Sorey, 41, was first exposed to Feldman’s music in college, when he heard teacher Anton Vishio practice “Piano.” “It was beautiful,” Sorey said, adding that the music, its originality, and its patience “really spoke to me more than anything else I was listening to at the time. Pretty much every piece I’ve written is in some way inspired by Morton Feldman. It is difficult to shake off such influence.”

Along with other influencers, including Roscoe Mitchell, Feldman taught Sorey to aim for a place in music where time seems to cease to exist and listeners can become truly present in This moment. “Every sound has its own world at that point,” says Sorey. “You can talk about technical parts, but the quality that I want to surpass is modernity.”

For “Monochromatic Light (The Afterlife),” he chose an instrument that is almost identical to “Rothko Chapel” — in a way that director Peter Sellars, who will be staging at Armory, says counter Reflecting musical lineage, “your niece has your grandmother’s eye. But instead of the quasi-Hebraic tone, Sorey quotes, in his refractive style, the spiritual saying, ‘Sometimes I feel like a child without a mother’. He added a piano (played by Rothenberg, doubles on the celesta) and changed the soprano soloist to a bass voice, which he felt better suited the tone of the paintings.

Sellars recounts that when he came across the track with Sorey for the first time, they watched the part and more or less simultaneously said they wanted to sing it: bass-baritone Davóne Tines. Sorey contributed soul treatments to Tines’ show “Mass,” a collaboration that began after Tines heard it for the first time what will become “Perle Noire: Meditations for Joséphine,” Sorey’s Evening, inspired by the life of Josephine Baker, was written for soprano Julia Bullock.

“I realized that he could unfold meaning in the text by recreating it with his voice,” says Tines. He and Sorey revisited the catalog of souls together, because, Tines said, “Tyshawn was able to reveal a more genuine psyche about what those songs meant.”

Feldman called the “Rothko Chapel” a “secular service”. While Sorey emphasized that Feldman was just one of the influences on “Monochromatic Light (The Afterlife),” the idea of ​​a secular service was what he was aiming for; that’s why he likes to call his performance etiquette. And it permeates this work, starting with the first measure: Lasting indefinitely, which is the dissolution of time, in which tubular bells ring almost silently, with a pitch of two Chords are struck randomly as other performers enter the space.

“It was the same feeling I had the first time I walked into the chapel,” Sorey said. “It’s almost this kind of emotional feeling, the moment you get when you walk into it; it’s like a religious experience. So by having sound resonance happen, and you’re not sure what sound to make – it’s almost a ritual, a spiritual thing going on. You are removing all external obstacles, to get the clarity that I think Rothko has always aimed for in her art. “

When the choir later joined, its members sang without vibration, breathing heavily to create seamless streams of suspended sound that, Sorey said, were no different from the paintings around them.

“To me, voices are like these placards,” he added. “Congratulations are expressive, expressing a certain kind of emotion, like tragedy or grief. So, like Rothko, my institutions and how I choose to use these voices are not so abstract as to represent this sensory experience. And I’m seeing listeners surrounded by these ever-changing emotions. ”

Very few people – around 300 in two performances – will get to experience the premiere this weekend. But there are plans to release an album of the work on the ECM label, as a sequel 2015 release of “Rothko Chapel”, which included artists, including Rothenberg, who returned with “Monochromatic Light (The Afterlife).”

Then, at the end of September, the work will go to the Armory, where the audience will be immersed in the panels of Julie Mehretu, an artist whose abstractions share a preoccupation with Sorey and Rothko. On the surface, this cave space couldn’t be more different from an intimate chapel. However, Sellars said, “The beauty of Armory is, it can generate occasion for something.”

He continued: “What Tyshawn is creating is a memorial space. Rothko and Feldman created a memorial space out of silence, from grief, from darkness, where you can feel the presence of erased history and erased life even though it’s still present and moving and talking in these shadow fields. Feldman and Rothko brought their history to that space. And I think the same goes for this group of artists.”

Details are still being worked out – such as whether or not the choir should be hidden – but at the very least, Sorey said, it will “become more powerful” than the Houston presentation.

“How can we make it a more ceremonial or ceremonial event?” he added. “How can we strengthen the metaphysical, spiritual matter in which the fragment is received? That’s what I wanted: to really magnify that experience. ” Fifty years later, the Rothko Chapel hosts a new musical match

Fry Electronics Team

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