My main project this year is a piece for the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and myself as solo vocalist, entitled Graffiti dell’amante. Graffiti is an open-ended musical-dramatic exploration of the multi-faceted predicament of the Lover. Originally inspired by Roland Barthes’ playful yet poignant A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, the piece uses various declarations of romantic Love from my own meandering reading here to enact what Barthes calls the “Figures” of the Lover (I call these figures/segments “Absence;” “Devotion;” “Ravishment;” “Remembering;” etc.) These 3-5 minute segments can be performed in any order, or in subsets to make performances of different lengths – always chosen by the audience assembled for that performance (using the figure names alone). In this way each audience hears its own collective romantic consciousness reflected back through the performance. The Lover declares him/herself to, from, and through so many faces! I find that my selection of texts for the piece reflects so many serendipitous encounters with Rome’s particularly voluptuous energy, and its expression through centuries of writers and artists who have, like me, come to Rome to drink in its peculiar inspiration. 19th-century ex-pat American sculptor W.W. Story, whose famous grieving angel statue was one of my first glimpses into the Roman influence towards expressive abandon, cropped up again as a poet during my spelunking in the AAR library. His poem “Cleopatra” provides the text for the Absence song. Other poets represented so far, or in the works include Shelley, Catullus (in a translation prepared in collaboration with Carmela Franklin), Michelangelo (in a translation by AAR Resident Leonard Barkan), and my two poetry fellow Fellows, Eliza Griswold and Peter Campion. The first performance of a 15-minute version of Graffiti dell’amante was in Harrisburg, PA in February, presented and commissioned by Market Square Concerts. The Rome premiere at AAR in May includes about 25-30 minutes. I sense that it will continue to grow, possibly for years into the future, as more "Figures" present themselves through my reading. Another collaboration with a fellow Fellow – urban placemaker and New York’s High Line co-founder Robert Hammond – has resulted in a second project, Chance Encounter on the Tiber. In May of this year, we plan to bring new elements – namely, movable chairs and two live performances – into the city, around the banks of the Tiber river. My piece Chance Encounter, for soprano Susan Narucki and 12 instruments, is written expressly for transient public spaces. You can see some footage from the premiere in Seward Park on Manhattan’s Lower East Side here. Imagine this on the banks of the Tiber! We plan to observe and document how passersby in Rome respond to the introduction of these chairs, both on their own and in combination with this unique performance, which will emerge seemingly spontaneously, as groups of performers both on and below the bridges over the river begin to play and sing.
Composer-vocalist Lisa Bielawa takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. The New York Times describes her music as, “ruminative, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart.” She won a Rome Prize in Musical Composition in 2009. In 2007-2008, she was a Radcliffe Institute Fellow. Born in San Francisco into a musical family, Bielawa played the violin and piano, sang, and wrote music from early childhood. She moved to New York two weeks after receiving her B.A. in Literature in 1990 from Yale. In 1992 she began touring with the Philip Glass Ensemble; in 1997 she co-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers. Bielawa was Composer-in-Residence with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) from 2006 to 2009; the orchestra has recorded a 2-CD set for release on their BMOP/sound label. Her performance project Chance Encounter takes as its text language overheard in public places. Written for migrating ensemble and soprano Susan Narucki, it has been performed in New York and Rome and has been recorded for release on Orange Mountain Music. Bielawa’s music has been performed at venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Whitney Museum, the American Academy in Rome, Jordan Hall in Boston, and Town Hall in Seattle, among others. She has recordings on Tzadik (A Handful of World), Albany Records (First Takes), and Innova (Hildegurls: Electric Ordo Virtutum). In addition to being a vocalist with the Philip Glass Ensemble, Bielawa tours and records with John Zorn and has premiered and recorded works by numerous composer colleagues.