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Out Today: Kronos Quartet Releases The World Premiere Recording Of 'Mỹ Lai'

Mỹ Lai is a powerful story about the Mỹ Lai massacre and the ethical dilemmas of an individual placed in an impossible situation.

Out Today: Kronos Quartet Releases The World Premiere Recording Of 'Mỹ Lai'

The renowned Kronos Quartet today releases the world premiere recording of Mỹ Lai, the acclaimed opera composed by Jonathan Berger with libretto by Harriet Scott Chessman, on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Mỹ Lai is a powerful story about the Mỹ Lai massacre and the ethical dilemmas of an individual placed in an impossible situation, with a dramatic score emphasizing the bleakness and horror of the Vietnam War. The opera for tenor, string quartet, and Vietnamese instruments features vocalist Rinde Eckert and instrumentalist Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ, who plays the t'rưng, đàn bầu, and đàn tranh. Violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt, and cellist Sunny Yang make up the Kronos Quartet, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in the 2023-24 season.

Mỹ Lai centers on Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, the U.S. Army helicopter pilot who intervened in the U.S. Army massacre of over 500 unarmed South Vietnamese civilians - nearly half of them children - in the hamlet of Mỹ Lai on March 16, 1968. Appalled by what he saw, Thompson interceded by reporting the incident, landing his helicopter between the civilians and the troops in an attempt to prevent further bloodshed, and threatened to open fire on soldiers from his own country. Failing to stop the carnage, he flew a wounded child to safety, and his subsequent refusal to remain silent about the massacre forced an inquiry and trial that shocked the nation, yet it left Thompson vilified as a disloyal outcast for much of his life. Today marks the anniversary of the massacre. The recording is dedicated to the memory of Larry Colburn, one of the three soldiers on the helicopter, who attended the world premiere performance of Mỹ Lai in Chicago.

"The musical materials of Mỹ Lai are largely derived from a prayer recited near the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, beseeching pardon before the doors of judgment close," says composer Jonathan Berger. "The musical reference is used in the scenes where Thompson opens the helicopter door in an attempt to stop the massacre, and in the surreal television game show in which he becomes an unwilling contestant forced to guess what's behind a hidden door." The monodrama is set in a hospital where Thompson is dying from cancer. Feeling neither heroic nor particularly proud of what he did, he grapples with the memories of his naïve, idealistic attempt to stop the carnage in an effort to seek closure and resolution on one of the darkest moments of the Vietnam War.

Mỹ Lai was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet, Rinde Eckert, and Vân-Ánh Võ by the Harris Theater for Music and Dance with support from the Laura and Ricardo Rosenkranz Artistic Innovation Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gerbode-Hewlett Foundations 2013 Music Commissioning Awards initiative, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Mỹ Lai had its world premiere at the Harris Theater in Chicago, IL on January 29, 2016. The production has since been presented by Singapore International Festival of Arts in Singapore; BAM's Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn, NY; Cal Performances in Berkeley, CA; Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA in Los Angeles, CA; and Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City, IA. Kronos Quartet recently presented concerts featuring the Mỹ Lai Suite (adapted from the complete opera) on April 8, 2022 as part of its annual Kronos Festival at the SFJAZZ Miner Auditorium in San Francisco, and on April 23, 2022 at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall in New York.

Mỹ Lai Track List
Jonathan Berger, Harriet Scott Chessman - Mỹ Lai
1. Mỹ Lai Lullaby [7:58]
2. First Landing: Flight [9:36]
3. First Landing: Descent [7:04]
4. First Landing: The Ditch [14:16]
5. Second Landing: Hovering [8:26]
6. Second Landing: Bunker [12:31]
7. Third Landing: Postcard [5:16]
8. Third Landing: Fishing [5:45]

Total Time: 70:52

Produced by Scott Fraser and Kronos Quartet
Recorded by Scott Fraser at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California, March 26-30, 2018
Assistant Engineer: Robert Kirby
Mixed by Scott Fraser and Kronos Quartet
Mastered by Scott Fraser
Project Supervisor for Kronos: Reshena Liao
Annotated by Jonathan Berger and Trần Văn Đức
Cover photo by Ronald Haeberle
Executive Produced by Janet Cowperthwaite

The recording is dedicated to the memory of Larry Colburn, one of the three soldiers on the helicopter, who attended the world premiere performance of Mỹ Lai in Chicago.

About Kronos Quartet
For 48 years, San Francisco's Kronos Quartet - David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello) - has combined a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually reimagine the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the world's most celebrated and influential ensembles, performing thousands of concerts, releasing more than 60 recordings, collaborating with many of the world's most accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning over 1,000 works and arrangements for string quartet. Kronos has received over 40 awards, including the prestigious Polar Music, Avery Fisher, and Edison Klassiek Oeuvre Prizes.

Integral to Kronos' work is a series of long-running associations with many of the world's foremost composers and musicians, including Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, Philip Glass, Nicole Lizée, Vladimir Martynov, Steve Reich, Aleksandra Vrebalov, and Wu Man. Kronos has shared the stage with numerous artists, including David Bowie, Asha Bhosle, Rhiannon Giddens, Sam Green, Zakir Hussain, Trevor Paglen, Van Dyke Parks, Alim Qasimov, San Francisco Girls Chorus, Tanya Tagaq, Mahsa Vahdat, Tom Waits, and Howard Zinn.

Touring for five months each year, Kronos appears in the world's most prestigious concert halls, clubs, and festivals. Kronos has a prolific and wide-ranging discography on Nonesuch Records, including three Grammy-winning albums - Terry Riley's Sun Rings (2019), Landfall with Laurie Anderson (2018), and Alban Berg's Lyric Suite featuring Dawn Upshaw (2003). Among Kronos' recent releases are Ladilikan (World Circuit Records) with Malian musicians Trio Da Kali; Michael Gordon: Clouded Yellow (Cantaloupe), Placeless (Kirkelig Kulturverksted) with Iranian vocalists Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat, and Long Time Passing: Kronos & Friends Celebrate Pete Seeger (Smithsonian Folkways).

The nonprofit Kronos Performing Arts Association manages all aspects of Kronos' work, including the commissioning of new works, concert tours and home season performances, education programs, and the annual Kronos Festival. In 2015, Kronos launched Fifty for the Future: The Kronos Learning Repertoire, an education and legacy project that is commissioning-and distributing online for free-50 new works for string quartet written by composers from around the world. Learn more at kronosquartet.org.

About Rinde Eckert
Rinde Eckert is an interdisciplinary artist-performer, singer, writer, composer, and director-whose music, music theater, and dance theater pieces have been performed throughout the United States and abroad. Eckert is a recipient of the Marc Blitzstein Award (for Lyricist/Librettist) given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is also a recipient of the 2009 Alpert Award in the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship in composition, and a Grammy Award for Lonely Motel - with Steven Mackey (for whom he wrote the libretto of Ravenshead) and eighth blackbird. His music/theater piece And God Created Great Whales won an Obie Award in 2000. His play with music Orpheus X was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. In 2008 his Horizon received a Lucille Lortel Award, and earned a Drama Desk nomination as an Outstanding Play. In 2012 he became one of 21 recipients of the first Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. In 2014 he made his debut as principal soloist with the New York Philharmonic in Steven Mackey's oratorio Dreamhouse, with whom he co-wrote the libretto.

In addition to three librettos written for composer Paul Dresher, Eckert has also written and directed for Paul two music theater pieces for instrumentalists: Sound Stage (with Zeitgeist) and Schick Machine (with Steven Schick). In 2017 Rinde was asked by Renee Fleming to do a solo concert at The Kennedy Center as part of her Voices Festival. He wrote the libretto and sings the lead role in Aging Magician with music by Paola Prestini (west-coast premiere this May 2022 at San Diego Opera). His latest solo CD The Natural World came out in 2019. In 2021 he co-created Migratory Passages, a dance/film duet with Margaret Jenkins. He is currently working on Global Moves, with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Co., premiering June 2022 in San Francisco. During the height of the pandemic in 2020 Eckert began a series of short performances with his wife actress/playwright Ellen McLaughlin, broadcast from his home studio. It was called Toybox Live. The series will be starting up again soon. Learn more at rindeeckert.com.

About Vân-Ánh Võ
A fearless musical explorer, Vân-Ánh Võ is an award-winning performer of the 16-string đàn tranh (zither) and an Emmy Award-winning composer who has collaborated with Kronos Quartet, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, and Yo-Yo Ma. In addition to her mastery of the đàn tranh, she also uses the monochord (đàn bầu), bamboo xylophone (đàn t'rung), traditional drums (trống) and many other instruments to create music that blends the wonderfully unique sounds of Vietnamese instruments with other genres, and fuses deeply rooted Vietnamese musical traditions with fresh new structures and compositions.

Coming from a family of musicians and beginning to study đàn tranh (16-string zither) from the age of four, Vân-Ánh graduated with distinction from the Vietnamese Academy of Music, where she later taught. In 1995, Vân-Ánh won the championship title in the Vietnam National Đàn Tranh Competition, along with the first prize for best solo performance of modern folk music. In Hanoi, Vân-Ánh was an ensemble member of Vietnam National Music Theatre as well as a member of the traditional music group Đồng Nội Ensemble, which she founded and directed. She has since performed in more than fourteen countries and recorded many broadcast programs in and outside of Vietnam.

Since settling in San Francisco's Bay Area in 2001, Vân-Ánh has collaborated with musicians across different music genres to create new works, bringing Vietnamese traditional music to a wider audience. She has presented her music at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, NPR, Houston Grand Opera, Yerba Buena Performing Arts Center, UK WOMAD Festival, and London Olympic Games 2012 Music Festival. Vân-Ánh has been a composer, collaborator and guest soloist with Kronos Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma, Southwest Chamber Music, Oakland Symphony, Monterey Symphony, Golden State Symphony, Apollo Chamber Players, Flyaway Productions for aerial dance works, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, jazz and rap artists, and other World Music artists. Additionally, she co-composed and arranged the Oscar nominated and Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner for Best Documentary, Daughter from Danang (2002), the Emmy Award winning film and soundtrack for Bolinao 52 (2008), and "Best Documentary" and "Audience Favorite" winner, A Village Called Versailles (2009).

Under President Obama's administration, Vân-Ánh was the first Vietnamese artist to perform at the White House and received the Artist Laureate Award for her community contributions through the arts. Learn more at vananhvo.com.

About Jonathan Berger
Described as "gripping" by both The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune, "poignant", "richly evocative" (San Francisco Chronicle), "taut, and hauntingly beautiful" (NY Times), Jonathan Berger's recent works deal with both consciousness and conscience. Similar to My Lai, his other chamber operas, Theotokia and The War Reporter, also explore hallucination and haunting memories.

Berger's "dissonant but supple" (NY Times) compositions are often inspired by science and the human condition, including the adaptation of satellite imaging data to turn the dispersal of an oil spill into music (Jiyeh), spatial representation of brain activations of a schizophrenic hallucination (Theotokia), and sonic expression of the chemical spectroscopy of cancer (Diameters). His symphonic, chamber, vocal, and electroacoustic works are performed throughout the world.

Thrice commissioned by The National Endowment for the Arts, Berger has also received major commissions from The Mellon and Rockefeller Foundations, Chamber Music America, and numerous chamber music societies and ensembles. A winner of the Rome Prize, Berger was composer-in-residence at Spoleto Festival USA. His violin concerto, Jiyeh, paired with that of Benjamin Britten, was recorded for Harmonia Mundi's Eloquentia label by violinist Livia Sohn, who also recorded Berger's War Reporter Fantasy for Naxos and solo works on Miracles and Mud, his acclaimed Naxos recording of music for solo violin and string quartet.

Berger is the Denning Family Provostial Professor in Music at Stanford University, where he teaches composition, music theory, and cognition at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). He was the founding co-director of the Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts (SICA, now the Stanford Arts Institute) and founding director of Yale University's Center for Studies in Music Technology. Berger's next projects, which will comprise his Guggenheim Fellowship, include a cantata based upon folk tales as told by refugees, migrants, and the homeless, and a work based upon acoustic models that approximate and recreate the sounds of extinct species and lost habitats. Learn more at at jonathanberger.net.

About Harriet Scott Chessman
Harriet Scott Chessman is a fiction writer and librettist living in Connecticut. Her new opera, Sycorax, created in collaboration with Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas, will be performed at Buehnen Bern Theater in Bern, Switzerland, opening September 17, 2022.

Harriet is the author of five novels, including The Beauty of Ordinary Things, The Lost Sketchbook of Edgar Degas, Someone Not Really Her Mother, Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, and Ohio Angels. Her fiction has been translated into seven languages, and featured in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, NPR's All Things Considered, Good Morning America, and The Christian Science Monitor.

Having received her PhD in English at Yale University in 1979, Harriet taught at Yale full-time for eleven years. Since 1991, she has taught various courses in English and creative writing at Yale University, Bread Loaf School of English, Wesleyan University's Graduate Liberal Studies Program, and Stanford University's Continuing Studies Program. After twelve years in the San Francisco Bay Area, she now lives in Connecticut, and is at work on new fiction and a new libretto. Learn more at harrietchessman.com.

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