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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Performing Place

By David Hsieh

I am lying in bed with him / He is asleep / I am lying in bed with him, my son / He is breathing regularly

I am staring at his birthday balloons / They have lost their lift / He is five years old / They lightly graze the ceiling

Stuck and strung up / Not knowing where I will live

My son / Does he know where I end and he begins?

Listen to this excerpt

Ted Hearne’s new vocal work Place starts with these intimate, gentle, almost painful words. It is a father owning up to his responsibility to his son. For this 36-year-old composer, one of the best-regarded of his generation and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Place is a questioning, a reckoning, and an inward look at his proper “place” as a father, as an evolving artist whose past interests often centered on national issues (Katrina Ballad, The Source, Sound from the Bench), as a highly educated middle class moving into a gentrified neighborhood, and as a white man living in a country that is finally coming to terms with that privilege. It is certainly his most personal work to date, of which BAM is honored to give the world premiere on Oct 11 (it continues until Oct 13 in the Harvey Theater). The work is scored for six singers and 18 musicians; many of them come from non-classical backgrounds, as the diverse music requires. Two of them, Josephine Lee and Steven Bradshaw, share their experience of working on this brand-new work.

Q: Where are you from? What’s your professional experience with music?

Josephine Lee: I was born and raised in Chicago, the only child of Korean parents. I studied piano, violin, voice, and conducting throughout my youth, and I dreamed of using my musical talents to impact the world in a positive way. I am also the president and artistic director of Chicago Children’s Choir (CCC), which has allowed me to do just that. Founded in 1956 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, CCC inspires and unites diverse youth to become global citizens through music. Today, CCC serves nearly 5,000 young people, ages 8—18, from all 57 Chicago zip codes, providing choral music training that exemplifies.

Steven Bradshaw: I’m a visual artist and professional vocalist of early and modern/ experimental music living in Philadelphia. I sing with The Crossing, Roomful of Teeth, Variant 6, Seraphic Fire, and many others. I perform and record music of all periods but with a heavy focus in new music written for voices.

Q: How did you get involved in Place?

JL: Ted and I have known each other for nearly 20 years. He was a member of CCC at the start of my career, and he sang in my choir during my first year as artistic director. Ted invited me to be part of the creative process of Place, along with other members of the CCC family (Sophia Byrd, Isaiah Robinson, Ayanna Woods) with whom I have had the pleasure of working.

SB: Ted and I worked together on his album Sound From the Bench with The Crossing. The titular centerpiece of that record eventually made him a Pulitzer finalist. We became fast friends and resonated politically and philosophically even though we didn’t always arrive at the same conclusion. I’ve also performed his piece Coloring Book on tour with Roomful of Teeth.

Ted later told me that he first realized he wanted me for this project after a long and labored conversation via text about the nature of appropriation. My role in this production is partly Ted’s alter ego. I’m playing Ted but I’m also playing me, which gets pretty tricky. There have been numerous personal synchronicities baked into Place that forced me to confront a lot of things about myself during this process. It’s been a strange, challenging, and beautiful trip.

Listen to an excerpt

Q: This is a brand-new work so the creative process has been long. What’s the most exciting/memorable thing about this process for you?

JL: Working on Place has been an incredible journey. It has been exciting to see Ted draw on his own experience growing up in Chicago to investigate the complex issues that we face as a nation. Ted and Saul are both world-class talents, and I am inspired by their insight and artistry. Place captures the multiplicity of our shared life and encourages us learn from one another, which is what makes us stronger as a people. I look forward to bringing this story to life with the entire Place team this October.

SB: Ted has written a ferociously personal piece. I learned a lot about my friend from studying this score.

Q: This piece addresses a lot of issues. Some are personal to Ted, some are socio-political, and some are historical. How do they relate to you personally?

JL: I resonate with Place’s exploration of the interplay between the physical and imaginative maps that chart our lives. We all carry many places with us—those of our past, our present, and our imagination—and we must work together to navigate the boundaries of these overlapping places. This interconnectedness is a gift—it gives us the opportunity to engage deeply with one another and to affirm the rich diversity that comprises our shared cultural life.

SB: The questions being asked through this piece are the very questions I’ve been asking myself and indeed what we as a society are asking ourselves. What is my place? What is the boundary as an artist and citizen? What is our responsibility to each other? What has been broken? What can we hope to mend?

Listen to an excerpt

David Hsieh is a publicity manager at BAM.

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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