#MusicForWriters: Lisa Bielawa’s Emotional Economy

A 'Vireo' performance with the Kronos Quartet. Image: Remsen Allard
A ‘Vireo’ performance with the Kronos Quartet. Image: Remsen Allard

‘Communion With Music And Audience’

Lisa Bielawa at Crissy Field in San Francisco. Image: Anastasia Chernyavsky
Lisa Bielawa at Crissy Field in San Francisco. Image: Anastasia Chernyavsky

When I last spoke with composer Lisa Bielawa, she was working up to theAirfield Broadcasts. These were huge events staged in October 2013. In each, as many as 1,000 musicians were involved in what Bielawa calls “spatialized symphonies.” The events were created for two airport-born parks. One is in Germany, the oldTempelhof Airfield in Berlin, famed for the Allies’ 1948-’49 Berlin Airlift. The other is Crissy Airfield in San Francisco.  And these sprawling works of site-specific sound and movement were evocations of what Bielawa now describes as “unique social and musical moments that we created in these two vibrant communities.”

As we get back into touch now on the release of her new album, I ask her how the Airfield pieces went, and she tells me that they were fulfilling on two major levels, not just the obvious:

It’s true that part of my personal mission is building community and heightened awareness of place and time, in these large-scale projects. But I am equally fulfilled in my collaborative relationships — many of them over a decade long now — with my “muses”, deeply gifted individuals like Colin Jacobsen, whose artistry inspires me as a radiant example of human communion with music and audience at its very highest form.

Violinist Colin Jacobson is indeed with her now, performing four “meditations” and more, as we turn to an album of special interest to writers and authors. The Lay of the Love from Innova Recordings. It’s the current Album of the Weekselection from New York Public Radio’s 24-hour free Internet stream of contemporary classical work, Q2 Music.

[pullquote]“My other ardent love: reading. It’s not an accident that I find books like this remarkable Rilke volume — it’s simply the result of the sheer volume of reading I do.” — Lisa Bielawa[/pullquote]

And what may surprise you is how focused on literature Bielawa is for her work. Like Christopher Cerrone, her inspirations and intentions are guided and colored by writerly murmurs that can leave you astonished at their aching lines of tension and beauty.

2015-07-03_9-43-24To get a sense for how compelling the writings behind her work can be, look at her liner notes for the album. There, she introduces her 2006 titular piece, the 25-minute The Lay Of The Love And Death. Bielawa’s love for reading pays off in her own skill with words Not all music people are this eloquent:

In World War I, thousands of copies of a single little book survived in the coat pockets of dead soldiers. It was Rilke’s epic poem, The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke, a work now little-known and often dismissed as juvenilia. …The 23-year-old poet encountered a phantom self in the Cornet – another Rilke whose life was full of wide-eyed courage, action and discovery, but at a terrible cost. The book was written feverishly, in one night. Perhaps the poet Rilke, suddenly aware of his own mortality, was also already aware that, although many of us continue living into more reflective, circumspect years, in a sense all of us die young…the innocence of our young selves cannot survive the various awarenesses that are the inevitable result of a prolonged tender encounter with a troubled world.

In working on the piece, Bielawa writes, she had a strange and moving experience:

A phantom self of my own emerged while I was working on this piece. While exploring a sound world that could engage Colin’s and Jesse’s [Blumberg, baritone] gifts as well as Rilke’s poem, I came face to face with a piano piece I wrote when I was 19. It wanted to be in this piece too, and so it is – it forms the propulsive motive that runs throughout Storm in the House.

This time, Bielawa is out on no windy runways with roving gangs of instrumentalists.

Instead, her Lay of the Love and Death is darkly intimate, as rendered by Jacobsonon violin, baritone Blumberg, and pianist Jocelyn Dueck.

[pullquote]“One of my guilty secrets is that I was a literature major at Yale, not a music major.” — Lisa Bielawa[/pullquote]

At many points, you’re left without any doubt just how devoted this woman of music is to the world of words. You get this in her choices of heartbreaking boy-soldier poetry to excerpt from the Rilke, as in the third section of this song cycle:

“My good mother,
“be proud: I carry the flag,
“be free of care: I carry the flag,
“love me: I carry the flag – ”

Do you know John Adams’ eerie, aching work for baritone, The Wound-Dresser,based on Civil War poetry of Walt Whitman? If so, you’ll recognize the realm of bravery and fear in which Bielawa is laboring here. If you’re not familiar with this stark corner of the sonic-scape, welcome. You’ll find here a muscular tenderness that you don’t shake off easily. Bielawa has added something new and keenly felt to a singular, shuddering idiom: her own musical vocabulary’s fluency in graceful dissonance.

And this is where we start with my questions and Bielawa’s thoughtful answers.

Read More

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether:  Music For Writers: Lisa Bielawa’s Emotional Economy

Originally published by Thought Catalog at www.ThoughtCatalog.com



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