The Houri and the Poet Comes To Tenri Cultural Institute 9/25


Composer Lisa Bielawa's The Houri and the Poet will have its world premiere on Sunday, September 25 at 7pm in a free concert performed by soprano Mary MacKenzie, cellist Andre Emelianoff, and pianist Vicky Chow at the Tenri Cultural Institute (43A W. 13th Street, NYC). The concert will also include new works by composers Aaron Jay Kernis (Morningsong with Mist performed by pianist Evelyne Luest), Dan Visconti (Drowning With Others performed by MacKenzie and Luest), and Andrew Norman (Sonnets performed by MacKenzie and Chow), all commissioned and premiered in celebration of former Baltimore Symphony Orchestra president John Gidwitz's 70th birthday.

The text for Bielawa's The Houri and the Poet is taken from Goethe's epic poem entitled West-Eastern Divan. This section was written when the poet was 70 years old and at the height of his "Orientalist" period, which brought forth many rich poems influenced by forms and topics from the East. The dialogue used in the song is taken from the "Book of Paradise," which was the twelfth and last section of the Divan.

Bielawa explains what transpires in the song, "A Houri (one of the pure beings in Paradise who provide celestial partnership to those who enter) is guarding the gates of Paradise. She questions the Poet when he approaches because she knows she is only supposed to let heroes enter Paradise, and he doesn't seem to have any battle scars. He beckons her to look more closely, explaining that as a Poet he bears the wounds of Life and Love deep within him - and is therefore even more heroic than those who wage battle, because his wounds have enabled him to inspire others and ignite passion and love within them."

Composer and vocalist Lisa Bielawa is a 2009 Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition. She frequently takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. Gramophone reports, "Bielawa is gaining gale force as a composer, churning out impeccably groomed works that at once evoke the layered precision of Vermeer and the conscious recklessness of Jackson Pollock," and The New York Times describes her music as, "ruminative, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart."

Born in San Francisco into a musical family, Lisa 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 University, and became an active participant in New York musical life. She began touring with the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1992, and in 1997 co-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers.

Lisa Bielawa's music is frequently performed throughout the US, and in Paris, Italy, the UK and Rome. Recent highlights included the world premieres of Graffiti dell'amante performed by Bielawa with the Brooklyn Rider string quartet in Rome and Harrisburg; Emerald Waltz in Boston; Portrait-Elegy, written for pianist Bruce Levingston, in New York; The Project of Collecting Clouds at Town Hall in Seattle by cellist Joshua Roman and chamber ensemble; the world premiere of In medias res, a concerto for orchestra commissioned by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), the culmination of Bielawa's three-year Music Alive residency with that orchestra; the premiere of The Right Weather by the American Composers Orchestra and pianist Andrew Armstrong at Carnegie Hall; and the premiere of The Lay of the Love and Death at Lincoln Center's AlIce Tully Hall.

Following the New York performance of Bielawa's Double Violin Concerto by BMOP, Russell Platt commented in an entry on the New Yorker blog, "Bielawa walked into the hall as a professional, but she may well have walked out a star: the piece caused that kind of excitement."

Chance Encounter, a piece comprising songs and arias constructed of speech overheard in transient public spaces, has been performed by soprano Susan Narucki and The Knights in Seward Park in Lower Manhattan and at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, in Vancouver, on the banks of the Tiber River in Italy, as part of the opening of the celebrated new MAXXI Museum in Rome, and in Venice.

Tempelhof Broadcast, a 60-minute piece for more than 600 musicians which will be performed on the tarmac of the former Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. On several days in September 2012, Bielawa will turn the abandoned runways into a vast musical canvas, as professional, amateur and student musicians execute a spatialized symphony.

Bielawa's discography includes A Handful of World (Tzadik); The Trojan Women on a disc entitled First Takes (TROY); Hildegurls: Electric Ordo Virtutum, (Innova); The Trojan Women in a version for string quartet performed by the Miami on The NYFA Collection (Innova); In medias res (BMOP/sound), a double-disc set of Bielawa's solo and orchestral works; the world premiere recording of Chance Encounter (Orange Mountain Music), and Elegy-Portrait on pianist Bruce Levingston's 2011 album, Heart Shadow (Sono Luminus).

Bielawa has appeared in performances of her own works in Italy, Japan, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Canada and Russia, at the Bang on a Can, Other Minds, and Lincoln Center Festivals and, most recently, at the Venice Architectural Biennale. She has sung major roles in operas by Anthony Braxton and Michael Gordon, and has toured and recorded with the early music group Pomerium.

In addition to a 2009 Rome Prize, Bielawa has received fellowships and awards from the Alpert-Ucross Foundation, Creative Capital, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy, the Fund for U.S. Artists at International Festivals, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Joyce Dutka Arts Foundation, ASCAP, and the Fondation Royaumont in France. In 2007-2008, Lisa Bielawa was a Radcliffe Institute Fellow.

An enthusiastic advocate for the field, Bielawa now serves on the board of the MATA Festival. In addition to her work as a vocalist with the Philip Glass Ensemble, she tours and records with John Zorn and has premiered and recorded works by numerous other composer colleagues. For more information, visit

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