Monday, November 24, 2008

Ontmoeting, een net niet sprookje...

L to R: Louis-Pierre Patron (bar), Marc Stoffels (dir), Nienke Otten (sop), me, Anthony Hardweiller (creator and overseer of the Marco Polo project)

A packed house. Waiting for the performance to begin.
Nienke enters from outside (you can see her in the window). Rosa Arnold playing violin inside.

Five months ago, I was approached by the Nederlandse Opera to be one of 12 composers to write a 5-minute "micro" opera to be performed as part of a large effort to connect Amsterdammers with opera music. To make art music more accessible and enticing to folks who aren't willing or able to spend substantial bucks on season tickets.

This project ran in conjunction with the Opera's four-week run this month of Tan Dun's Marco Polo.

The 12 original micro operas (mine included) were assigned performances places on the Zeedijk. One of the oldest streets in Amsterdam, a main thoroughfare in the Red Light District and what one might call Amsterdam's Chinatown, this street was known until only the last decade as a hangout for junkies and thieves. But now, it has seen renovation and upgrades, and hosts many retail establishments, bars and restaurants.

My assignment, along with that of Marc Stoffels (the director enlisted to work with me), was in the Limebar - a cocktail lounge seated next to the Chinese Temple.

Our piece, titled "Ontmoeting, een net niet sprookje" (The meeting, not quite a fairy tale) is the story of a man and woman who come to a bar who could be destined to meet, but become distracted and end up leaving without redeeming fate's offer of one another. To great extent, my contribution to the concept stems from Dave's and my experience of meeting in Los Angeles (an event that happened - quite ironically - five years TO THE DAY of the premiere two weeks ago).

We were allowed up to four players of any kind. I wrote for soprano (Nienke Otten - Netherlands), baritone (Louis-Pierre Patron - France), violin (Rosa Arnold - Netherlands) and cello (Antonis Pratsonakis - Greece). The violin being the alter ego of the sopran, the cello being that of the baritone.

There is no text for the singers. Only open vowels and vocal gestures. This came per Marc's request to allow for the audience to write their own details of the story and for the movement of the singers to say as much as what they sing.

The piece was performed ten times over the last two Sundays and we had a wonderful turnout at each show. In total, over 400 people attended (quite a feat in such a wee little cocktail bar! Let's just say that fire codes aren't as strictly honored as back home).

This project was such a fantastic initiative. Dun's Marco Polo and the Zeedijk project were planned performance events. But in addition, there were three other branches of events going on. One involving school-aged children in their classrooms. Another, assembling a massive community choir (over 2,000 voices) for a performance. And yet another which involved video stations being placed throughout the city where people could record family songs or those of their heritage to be played back during this festival in a huge city bus-turned performance stage.

There were six television stations covering the Zeedijk event (in fact, our piece was featured on the news last week). And representatives of 31 opera companies from around the world came to town this month to look at this as a pilot project.

I've never seen - not to mention PARTICIPATED in - such a large and successful vision for bringing a community together with music. I was honored to be invited.

(note: We will be recording the piece formally in January. So for now, a few snapshots from a rehearsal and a performance.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

There's no place like home...

In general, our daily lives in Holland look like something out of a euphoric time capsule, mostly having to do with the incredible amount of time we have in our days to just simply live. Morning walks with the dog, cooking every night and an obscene amount of Wii Star Wars adds up to a hefty amount of leisurely hours for Dave and me. An amount that would have made me guffaw in disbelief five years ago.

Sounds like a fairy tale as I speak.

But certainly nothing in life comes without a price.

The foundation behind all that free time is rooted in anonymity. Not that we are without friends. But that, even after four years, we often wonder if we just landed here and we allow ourselves to long for the creature comforts of being in the Homeland. And if the feeling lingers for more than just a moment, we are probably headed for a week or two of malaise. It seems to go like that. Either it passes as quickly as a cloud, or it sticks like gum on the bottom of your proverbial shoe.

In spite of the obvious good times and the ridiculously fantastic weather in recent days, my inner dialogue in recent days has taken Scrooge-like proportions. Biking to the grocery store on cold days (Dear Mom...please send Gortex), spending what amounts to $14 at the American market for a tiny box of Grape Nuts (oh hallowed import cereal that always stays crunchy in I yearn for thee), and missing the generally-accepted practice in America for spas to have separate male/female changing rooms...and for people walking around public spaces in said spas to just generally just be not naked...

I know, I know. I'm asking too much of our current postal code. But if I may - and with accompanying stomping of feet, balling of fists and pouting lip - I just want this place to be...America!

At least just this week.