Jun 16, 7:30 PM
Greenwich House Music School Theater, 46 Barrow St, NYC, 10014
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Jun 17, 7:00 PM
The Stissing Center, 2950 Church St, Pine Plains, NY 12567, USA
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“But oddly, though we know about it, we don’t know about it. It hasn’t registered in our gut; it isn’t part of our culture. Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” - Bill Mckibben
This Rock We're On: Imaginary Letters
GRAMMY® nominated Mike Holober & The Gotham Jazz Orchestra present the premiere performances of This Rock We’re On: Imaginary Letters, an oratorio for jazz orchestra, voice, cello, and percussion. A meditation on the natural environment and the fate of the planet, this multi-movement work features vocal works, set for chamber ensemble, that take the form of a letter to or from selected “protagonists” -- authors, artists, naturalists, and adventurers whose insights have shaped our appreciation of the natural world. Each of the vocal works is followed by an instrumental jazz orchestra piece that reflects on the text of the letter.
The Gotham Jazz Orchestra brings together a star-studded roster of New York City musicians. Featured soloists include Jason Rigby (tenor saxophone), Ben Kono (alto saxophone), Charles Pillow (alto saxophone), Marvin Stamm (trumpet), Jared Schonig (drums), Nir Felder (guitar), Dave Eggar (cello), James Shipp (percussion), and the up-and-coming Brazilian vocalist Jamile Staevie Ayres.
Mike Holober, the group’s leader and composer of the work, has been described by DownBeat Magazine as “one of the finest modern composer/arrangers of our time.” He was awarded the 2022 American Academy of Arts and Letters Andrew Imbrie Award in Music, and his GRAMMY® nominated double-CD Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Hiding Out (Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, 2020), garnered rave reviews in the jazz press. DownBeat proclaimed it a “long anticipated, epic work,” while others praised his “daring compositional voice,” “powerful orchestral magic,” and “profound artistic vision” -- confirming his place in “the front rank of the most accomplished and inventive composers in jazz,” and “leading the charge to shift what a big band can sound like.”
The American photographer Ansel Adams is best known for his iconic images of the American West, and a life-long advocate for environmental conservation. For Adams, the wilderness was “a mystique: a valid, intangible, non-materialistic experience,” and his photographs have inspired my own explorations of the remote reaches of the Sierra Nevada range.
The vocal work for this protagonist is titled “Dear Virginia,” and takes the form of a letter from the photographer to his wife. It is set as a jazz ballad, with lyrics based on some of the more evocative passages of Adams’ published letters, as well as insights from the photographer’s granddaughter, a fellow jazz musician, who has generously agreed to be interviewed for this project. The jazz orchestra piece for this protagonist is titled “Domes,” referring to the unique geology of Yosemite Valley, and the subject of some of Adams’ most memorable photographs.
Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and nature writer who is best known for her publication Silent Spring (1962). The vocal work for this protagonist is titled “Another Summer,” and is set as a letter to Dorothy Freeman, who Carson met in 1953 (their deep friendship is preserved in a published collection of their correspondence). The title for the jazz orchestra piece for this protagonist is “Tides,” reflecting Carson’s lifelong preoccupation with the sea.
Sigurd Olson was a nature writer and conservationist, best known for his books about the North Woods wilderness of Minnesota. The vocal work for this protagonist is titled “Three Words for Snow,” evoking the circumstances of the author’s death, at age 82, while snowshoeing in the Minnesota woods. The jazz orchestra piece for this protagonist is titled “Boundary Waters,” referring to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where I spent a memorable summer as a trip leader during college. Olson worked as a guide in this region for more than 30 years, and was instrumental in its establishment as a designated wilderness.
Terry Tempest Williams
Terry Tempest Williams is an author, naturalist, and activist whose wide-ranging works of creative non-fiction address issues of social and environmental justice. The vocal work for this protagonist is titled “Refuge” (the title of her most influential book), and is inspired by an extended visit to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, where I spent a day immersed in the location that formed the backdrop to the book. The jazz orchestra piece for this protagonist is titled “Erosion,” the title of her recent collection of essays. In January 2020 I had the opportunity to meet the author to discuss ideas for the project, and our meeting unexpectedly inspired an additional jazz orchestra piece titled “Tower Pulse,” which was inspired by the audio recordings made by a team of geologists of the sounds produced by Castleton Tower, one of the largest free-standing towers in the world, near the author’s home in Utah.
Wendell Berry is a novelist, poet, essayist, and activist, who maintains a small farm in rural Kentucky. The vocal work for this protagonist is titled “On This Rock,” and the title for the jazz orchestra piece is “A Dirt Lover’s Almanac,” evoking a farmer’s commitment to soil and weather.
Robin Wall Kimmerer
Robin Wall Kimmerer is an environmental scientist and member of the Potawatomi Nation. Her 2013 publication Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2013) was the inspiration for a jazz orchestra composition titled “Skywoman Falling.” The vocal work for this protagonist is “Noetry,” and is written from the perspective of a tree.