The surviving victims of the Marathon Bombing have had a last chance to speak directly to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in court after he was sentenced to death. The survivors have been sentenced to life in the aftermath of losing life and limb. The son of dear family friends, someone I’ve known since he was born, and who casually knew Tsarnaev when they were students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, was also moved to speak– through art.
Jacob Harris,”Jakey,” is a talented composer and student at Cambridge’s Longy School of Music, and has written an “Elegy” in tribute to those whose lives have been altered by the devastation. He also composed some of this piece in my home, on the heirloom piano in our living room/performance space. I was touched to be literally “instrumental” in this experience, and join with everyone caught in the ripple effect of the tragedy and sadness that Jake’s music so sensitively expresses. Listen to the music and hear Jake talk about what and how this event inspired him, by clicking HERE on the piece WBUR did on our friend and young artist.
I am reminded of the recent world premiere of a brand new American opera called CROSSING which also gives voice to the sadness and mystery at the heart of life. The libretto and music was written, composed, and conducted by the son of a dear colleague Globe theater critic Don Aucoin: 25 year old Matthew Aucoin, internationally hailed in classical music circles as possessing the kind of talent that comes along once in generation and perhaps a century.
In CROSSING Matt Aucoin has given us a lushly layered meditation on mortality and immortality, time and space, body and spirit, dichotomies yearning to be resolved. CROSSING is based on the diary of that most muscular and transcendant of American poets Walt Whitman, who stood at the crux of the most crucial dichotomy in our country’s history, the Civil War. CROSSING enjoyed a short, brilliant run at Boston’s Citi Shubert Theatre a few weeks ago, presented by the American Repertory Theater in association with Music-Theater Group featuring Boston-based orchestra A Far Cry, with ART’s adventurous artistic director Diane Paulus at the helm. She has staged the opera simply and powerfully, singers front and center against a gray set glowing silver in a ghostly light; it’s an evocative tableau of the wounded in an isolated hospital, on the cusp of life and death, their physical bodies on the verge of melting into eternity.
Aucoin’s libretto begins with the elegant baritone Rod Gilfry as Walt Whitman asking us the key question plucked from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” which propels all that follows: “What is it, then, between us?” The line erupts in a myriad meanings: What separates AND connects us? The audience to each other, to the performers and composer, to the poet and his readers? What separates and connects all human beings, within themselves and to each other over generations past, present, and future? Aucoin has addressed himself to no less than the mysterious connective tissue in the space between, and his art and peculiar synaesthetic sensibility finds a voice in the gorgeous dissonances resolving and unresolving in this organically transparent music, an ideal medium for Whitman’s (an opera lover!)words.
In his later years and right in the middle of the Civil War, Walter Whitman volunteered as a nurse on the edges of the battlefield, and encountered the wounded, the dying, and a soldier named John Wormley. In CROSSING, Wormley is a rebel disguised as a sick union soldier who tricks and seduces Whitman. Alexander Lewis’s gaunt appearance and haunting tenor get under your skin–and Whitman’s; he is drawn to this man, crosses a sexual boundary, feels remorse and guilt, and further examines his role as poet/healer. It’s a complex metaphor for the ways in which we are deceived into self-hatred and distracted from the knowledge of an omni-sensual world of which we are all a part. Aucoin’s affinity for and ability to give voice to these themes make him particularly attuned to the zeitgeist now, as festering old divisions– racism, sexism, classicism– buckle beneath a more fluid, equitable view of life as an infinitely subtle continuum.
Despite some of the choreography which seemed too literal for the more refined observations of this young maestro, CROSSING held me transfixed for an hour and 40 minutes, no intermission, and crescendoed to a stunning climax in which everything emerged unified. The choreography finds its way as the past shadows the present in the form of dancers moving relentlessly forward and back, catching up with their future counterparts in an ecstatic vision of time and space inevitably connected. It’s a heart-stopping revelation that allows us to understand that our history always lives in us, and past boundaries are revealed as illusory when we finally see ourselves in each other. Aucoin’s stirring sensibility has found the perfect outlet in this medium, and Whitman’s words have found tangible aural and visual expression in this vividly penetrating work.
You can see Matthew Aucoin this Friday and Saturday night (6/26-27) conducting another boundary breaking work at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) where he is the current Composer-in-Residence. CLICK HERE for more info!