For one week in May I swooped into town and collaborated intensely with Chicago’s Ensemble Dal Niente to produce a workshop performance of My Heart Iz Open, a chamber opera in progress. Scored for five sopranos and seven instruments, this is my most ambitious piece to date. It was also my first ‘theater’ project. The week in May followed on the heels of a weekend in Chicago, some months before, when I had the chance to meet individually with all the Dal Niente musicians. Because I have absolutely no idea about theater or opera I was incredibly relieved our initial fell under the generous and forgiving ‘workshop performance’ umbrella. This gave me license to fail and therefore eliminated the inevitable ‘this must be PERFECT’ freak out. That brought comfort, but after meeting the Dal Niente musicians I realized the real brilliance of treating this as a workshop was not my false sense of security, but the chance to get to know the musicians and have their personalities guide me through the writing process.
I don’t live in Chicago and I didn’t know many of the Dal Niente musicians before this project. Too often there is a disconnect between composer and performer. The composer writes, sends off the score, drops by to hear a rehearsal and sits in the audience to watch the premiere. For something so deeply personal as presenting a new composition, it can be a strangely impersonal process. But in this case, the chance to meet everyone before writing was a joyous affair. As I began the piece I wasn’t writing for soprano, flute or percussion, I was writing for Carrie, Shanna and Greg. I’m not totally sure if that feeling changed the notes on the page but I am certain it transformed my experience of creating the piece.
So what did we end up making? There were projections (by the incredible Laura Grey), there was lighting (by the ingenious Josh Nelson), there was staging (by the brilliant Kevin Simmons), and there was as an awesome party/experience (orchestrated by the tireless Molly Feingold). There were many people. There was a concert (with a full program of wonderful pieces in addition to mine). And there was my piece: 25 minutes, two scenes, musicians, video, and singers. I’ve got a post on my website that goes into what this piece is actually about, you can check that out here. For the adventurous amongst you, why not watch the whole thing! We have youtubes:
Did it work? Was it a success? Yes, but, I don’t mean the piece is perfect. No, it succeeded because we put it out there and got a response. Folks that came to the show stuck around for drinks and songs by the Grant Wallace Band, and all of us had the chance to receive instant feedback. There are kinks to work out, but the criticism was constructive. Before work shopping the piece I had very little idea how this piece would exist outside the confines of my brain. Now I have about 70% of an idea, a vast improvement.
for more about composer Robert Honstein, check out his website at http://www.roberthonstein.com