My Blog

January 12, 2016

Completing Ouroboros (Gilgamesh)

Gilgamesh is part of Cerise Jacobs' Ouroboros Trilogy, produced by Beth Morrison Projects and the Friends of Madame White Snake. It centers around Ming, the half-demon son of Madame White Snake. Ming was abandoned during his mother’s epic battle with the Abbot. He encounters his mother for the first time in her human form while she is imprisoned by the Abbot in the Golden Mountain Monastery. She reveals his birthright—the power to control the waters—and begs him to use this power to save her. Ming returns home to find that his wife has just given birth to a white, iridescent baby girl who resembles her grandmother. He gives the baby to the green snake, who had saved him when his mother was defeated. He returns to the Monastery. A robe and empty alms bowl are all that are left. Ming dons the robe, takes the alms bowl and leaves.

I have been writing for the voice for years, but this is the first opportunity I have had to write a full-scale opera. The fact that it is part of a trilogy is even more exciting because the themes and motifs occur in each opera but are interpreted musically by each creator. I think when one has the opportunity to see all three works back to back, they will see the enormity of what Cerise has created, and how the world she has envisioned works.

I was interested in doing this project because I felt ready to embark on a full opera, and Cerise's text, with its layers, references, depth, and poetic approach, gave enough structure but left enough freedom for me to fully dive in. In addition, I love the concept of the Trilogy, and enjoy being part of larger collaborative teams. And I have a long history of working with BMP; they have been huge supporters of my work—I fiercely believe in Beth's taste and work!

For me, the highlights are the choral sections and how they support the work, the main characters (who are all extraordinary), and the structure of the piece. The energy of the first three acts is met with an epilogue that in my mind will deeply resonate and will allow the viewer to meditate on the action that has occurred. And I am super excited to work with Michael Counts, Hila Plitmann, Chris Burchett, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Heather Buck, and Andrew Nolen! All visionary artists.

This first phase of writing an opera is such a special process, and I was thrilled that I got to do it in a learning environment such as NEC and BU.

Here are some photos!


January 12, 2016

The music for Epiphany is something I am so proud of. It was a joy to work with Young People’s Chorus, and I hope you will come hear it this Friday at VIA’s FERUS Festival! The chance to hear youths sing about life and death is extraordinary—the breadth and perspective they give this work is nothing short of remarkable. 

Here are a few notes in librettist Niloufar Talebi’s own words, and some of my favorite text. Q2 will be streaming the event, and I will share the music soon!

"My aim was to structure and write a text of a dying person’s journey. To chart an atlas of this world, I interwove three separate narratives overlapping and departing from the Christian Latin Mass, pre–Day of the Dead Aztec poetry, and Buddhist guidance in The Tibetan Book of the Dead:

a. Soloist(s) (the dying): their most distilled personal thoughts and concerns.

b. Chorus (beloveds and mourners): grief and loss experienced by loved ones.

c. Chorus (priests and vigilers): instructions and vigil for the dying adapted from, among other sources, Robert Thurman’s translation of and supplementary writings on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the lyrical body of 14th Century Aztec poetry on life and death, and conversations with interfaith and alternative hospice caregivers, notably with Dr. Megory Anderson of the Sacred Dying Foundation."

From Epiphany:

It is my time.
Though I charted myself to life’s matrix 

On a treadwheel of airs and theatrics 

As razzle-dazzle flashing lights dim
I brace it alone awe-struck and grim

Where will I go? Oblivion? 

Will anyone know I lived?
Will I have been a small being 

On the vast prairie of dreams?  

Epiphany photos from BAM’s 2015 Next Wave Festival:

My Companies

January 12, 2016

National Sawdust

Looking back on the past few months, all I can say is, whoa!!! It’s been a ride—from opening National Sawdust, to having our VIA show at BAM, workshopping Gilgamesh, and now, stepping into VIA’s FERUS Festival at National Sawdust, and the final workshop and premiere of Aging Magician. It’s been nonstop, and it’s been the culmination of years and years of work. I’ve enjoyed it, endured sleepless eves, have questioned the notion of time, and have learned so much. One step at a time, as I’ve done in my life till now, I will get there—but where is "there"? There is now—in the moment, and breathing in all I am experiencing. Here are some highlights from the last several months!!!

Opening Night
You can hear the stream here, and this is our video of what the last several months have looked like! I was fortunate to have my song cycle with Royce Vavrek, Yoani, performed by Eve Gigliotti, Gyan Riley, and Jeffrey Zeigler, and am SO grateful to all the performers, who have our hearts.

Here is our year-end video and a gorgeous introduction video by the amazing Brigitte Lacombe…


The Ferus Festival this week is our 3rd annual FERUS Festival, designed to showcase and incubate new projects in our new home as the development branch of National Sawdust, and streamed with our digital partner, Q2 Music. FERUS means untamed, and I cannot think of a better artist than Agata Zubel to kick it off. A four-day extravaganza of new music, theater, and visuals, FERUS features discoveries and premieres from innovative international and local artists. I am so thrilled to be able to explore and experiment in our new home… Check out the whole festival here:


I am eager to share the music from Epiphany on Friday eve—and will share the project with Lullaby Movement, an amazing piece by Sophia Brous, in from Australia. More about her and this amazing project, here.

The Colorado

February, 2015

Friends, thank you for visiting my blog. I will write here at least once a month on my findings, projects, and musings. Below are some photos of my recent trip down the Colorado River. Here are two great little videos about this latest venture...

This video will give you and idea about the project:

And this is the trailer:

This Spring, I am honored to have several new commissions that are truly inspiring me, and also that are in many cases instigated by young artists I truly admire and organizations that are new to me. An example of this is Francesca de Pasquale. Francesca is the recipient of a two-year career grant from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Performing and Visual Arts, and with this grant, she is commissioning a violin fantasy from me that will go on her first album! I am beyond thrilled, and loved hearing about her Italian family, and their extraordinary background...

I am also the recipient of an ASCAP Commission for the Yoani Song Cycle, which will be performed by Hotel Elefant, run by two fabulous composers I admire, Mary Kouyoumdjan, and Leaha Villarreal. Their "speakOUT" season continues March 8, featuring yours truly. This all-female program also includes works by the wonderful composers Lainie Fefferman and Leaha Maria Villarreal. My Yoani songs are inspired by the blog, generation y. Librettist Royce Vavrek and I have had a great time exploring her perspective and views on Cuba, her frustrations, joys, and explosive unveilings.

The Klein competition opportunity gives me a wonderful chance to write for solo instruments. For the past 29 years, the Irving M. Klein International String Competition has attracted some of the world's finest young string players to San Francisco each June to compete for cash and performance prizes totaling over $25,000. This is a wonderful statement on their site:

We have always believed that musicians (and especially young ones) need to know the language of the music of their own time. Music continues to evolve and progress by absorbing the history, culture and sensibilities of the world around the composers and performers. Music exists, in part, to express the experiences of the present moment.

For these reasons, the Klein Competition has always required applicants to perform 20th/21st Century works, to demonstrate facility in performing music of the present. In addition, we have commissioned excellent composers to create new works to challenge the imagination and technique of our performers at the Competition.

The Composer for the 2015 Klein Competition is me!

Lastly, I am thrilled to be writing a new work for the Dalton Orchestra! They have a rich history of commissioning, and have commissioned many of my contemporaries, including Eric Nathan and Gregory Spears. I am excited to be writing for them, and can't wait to share the work this May!

I leave you with some photos taken by the filmmaker Murat Eyuboglu on our trip down the Colorado...till next time!


Thoughts Writing Gilgamesh

February, 2015

Writing my first opera has been an astounding process. The opportunity to write in this specific long form has created a different sense of priority for my writing technique. As usual, the words allow me to dive into the musical realm and palette as they inherently inhabit music, and call for specific colors. Each character and main event has it's own melody or motive, and as I work through the work, there is an internal logic that allows this cast of musical characters to weave their own logic, and it is thrilling. The priorities are now to create a reoccuring palette of motives that tell a story, and so I am looking at structure and timeline in a deeper way than ever. I am writing for two of my beloved muses, Hila Plitmann and Christopher Burchett, and several new muses, among them Anthony Roth Costanzo and Heather Buck. I am now done with two acts, and am moving on to the third. What is really unique about the process is the tremendous sense of camaraderie amongst the entire team. I have never written a work that contains the vision of other composers, and working and bouncing music off of Scott Wheeler has been a joy. We recently met at 3 Legged Dog in NYC, and had our first production meeting. Michael Counts took our breath away. Here is a sneak peak!

Gilgamesh is the story of Ming, the son of Madame White Snake, half demon-half man who was abandoned during his mother's epic battle with the Abbot. He is identified with the protagonist of the Sumerian Epic, "Gilgamesh", who was two-thirds god and one-third man. When the White Snake suddenly sends for him on his thirtieth birthday, he finds her in the form of a beautiful woman imprisoned in the Abbot's alms bowl. The White Snake reveals his birthright and his power to control the waters. Ming tests his powers and brings the world to the brink of another devastating flood. The Abbot appears and sows the seeds of doubt about his mother. When Ming goes back to see her again, he sees a white snake in the alms bowl. Ming returns home to find that his wife, Ku, has just given birth to a white, iridescent baby girl who resembles her grandmother. He gives the baby to the green snake, Xiao Qing, who had taken him as a baby away from the floodwaters. He returns to the monastery. There is no one there. A robe and empty alms bowl are left. Ming dons the robe, takes the alms bowl and leaves.

Gilgamesh is only one of three operas that the amazing librettist, Cerise Jacobs, has written. Each opera is interrelated. The OUROBOROS trilogy will consist of three operas: composer Zhou Long's acclaimed Madame White Snake, and two brand new operas, Gilgamesh by yours truly and Naga by Scott Wheeler. The new OUROBOROS trilogy will make its World Premiere in September 2016 in Boston. With libretti by Cerise Lim Jacobs, direction and design by MICHAEL COUNTS music direction by Steven Osgood, Gilgamesh will premiere at THE EMERSON CUTLER MAJESTIC in September, 2016, produced by Beth Morrison Projects and presented by Boston Celebrity Series, with participation by The Boston Children's Chorus, and the New England Conservatory (among others).

Aging Magician Process 

February, 2015

The aging magician process....what can I say? It's been amazing working with such talented and multi visioned artists. Above are a few pages from Rinde's notebook. I was blown away when I saw them...Rinde's journey through this piece has been rich, long, and deep. I think he's seen parts of himself in our protagonist, Harold, and I think for all of us in life, the moment when we deeply look into the meaning of time, its passing, and legacy, is not only important, but it can be a heart stopping moment. I've had immense fun working with Rinde and seeing how his agile mind works, and Julian, who has the eye of the audience and who in his own genius holds the every day beauty/understanding of humanity. Then add the brilliance of Dianne with her choir, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, the JACK Quartet and the imagination of Mark Stewart, and well, you get Aging Magician. I hope you'll join us at the Park Avenue Armory for the Prototype Festival and Opera America's New Works Forum! Here is a Sneak Peek!

Here is the note from Rinde:

I've become very fond of Harold, the clockmaker and storyteller. He has gone through various subtle personality changes as the narrative has evolved. Harold began as a somewhat repressed clockmaker who always wanted to be a magician. Stricken with a heart attack, his soul boarded a train to Coney Island, where he would remain eternally. Our next version of this piece focused on Harold's journey to deliver a watch to a client in Coney Island. In the process Harold revisited the death of his father, a cataclysmic event in his childhood. Yet this version missed the elegance of the train trip to Coney Island and representation of Coney Island as Harold's idea of heaven.

I was also interested in making the eponymous Aging Magician a character in the piece rather than a concept. I thought back to a book of diagrams and explanations by Eugene Robert-Houdin (considered the father of modern stage magic). Many magicians have since written similar books for posterity. It occurred to me that an aging magician, concerned with his legacy, might be compelled to find a protégé to pass on his book, the collected knowledge of a lifetime.

In the version we present to you as part of the PROTOTYPE Festival, Harold is a watchmaker who never pursued his dream of becoming a magician. Confronting his own mortality, he struggles to complete a novel about an elderly magician in crisis over his legacy. Harold becomes his fictional protagonist, freeing him from his cloistered life in the clock shop. The book begins with the aging magician on the operating table, having just suffered a stroke. As the magician gets closer and closer to his end (a personal heaven represented by Coney Island), Harold's dilemma comes into sharper focus: having become one with his character, how does the story end? A part of him will die in this process, and yet, with the book, Harold's legacy is created, a kind of immortality in the completed story.

The Aging Magician deals with notions of time, our relation to the material world, death, nostalgia, illusion, faith, and identity. We are inside Harold's small shop, where his world becomes immensely large, a magic trick in itself. - Rinde Eckert



Letting go of Oceanic...

February, 2015

People ask me often, "How do you write more than one work at a time?" It's like asking, "Can you imagine having more than one friend?" I mean, some people may have only one friend, but I don't. These pieces aren't just works of art, they're my life and the people I'm working with become my friends-I care about them, I want to learn from them. I tend to find myself with several of these long-process works, each being at a different stage of development, because you can't precisely predict funding, or your collaborators' schedules-you just don't know. I prefer to have several conversations going on at the same time; I find that they're very distinct languages.

Oceanic Verses is, and probably will remain, one of those pieces that I'm happy I wrote but that are hard to come back to. It took years to put together, and it's finally launched our new label, VIA Records. The piece faced many many hardships, including my worst NY Times review, which stalled me on the piece for about a year. Luckily, my collaborators, Beth Morrison and Julian Wachner, wanted to see me finish the piece. That gave me faith. Many many other obstacles were faced, and overcoming them was hard, but it made me learn about what it takes to see things through in this industry.

With Oceanic Verses, which began with a Carnegie Hall commission, I wanted to discover my Italian side and find its resonance in who I am today. As a child, I had, of course, a deep relationship with Italy-we went back every year, I felt culturally Italian-but I didn't really understand how that identity fit into the side that was also genuinely American and also influenced by Mexico. The best thing to do, I decided, was to go and discover the music that affected me the most. I went to a residency in Lecce, in the southern part of Italy. I had been to the Italian South before and really loved it, because that's where I saw waves of immigration and a cross section of music styles, but also a cross section of cultures.

Just on the side, I had studied Alan Lomax's sound and field recordings and used a few of them as inspiration points. But my intent was to record my own field samples. Being part of the Sound Res residency program allowed me to do a bit of work in a foster care home. I used my phone-just really simple technology-to create soundscapes. I asked the children to sing for me the song they loved the most, which was: "Fimmene fimmene ca sciati allu tabaccu ne sciati doi e ne turnati quattru." These were girls that ranged from eight to twelve years old; they sang in a dialect called Griko, and they jangled their bracelets and laughed. I asked, "What does that song mean?" They said, "Well, it means that it's hot in the tobacco fields, and the women were very hot, and it's beautiful here-" They were confused. I, of course, knew the meaning of the words; it's a song about rape. It means: women of the tobacco field, you go in two and return in four. In the opera, I juxtapose that field recording of those young girls singing with the plight of the women in the chorus, and you get a dark juxtaposition of innocence and depth that Helga Davis introduces in an amazing improvisation. I have to say that one of the things I love about this piece, but that many people found challenging, is that it really does bring together all different kinds of styles of singing. There is Helga, with a four-octave range, untrained, and an ability to bend the voice and color it with her life experiences, and improvise-which then became a tool for my language. Then, there is Claudio Prima, the folksinger who's from the area-I'd heard him one night in a bar and vowed that one day I would write a piece for him. And there are Hila Plitmann and Chris Burchett, whom I've been writing for, for years, and who inspire me greatly with their range and their lack of fear. I think that lack of fear in performance is what binds the four of these characters and muses for me. Oceanic Verses brings four people on stage that don't seem to belong together, but to me that made perfect sense. Both female characters struggle with trying to find their internal geography: the Peasant feels invisible because she is part of a system where she does not exist; and the Scholar-who is essentially a melding of Helga and me-is searching for artifacts, things that are forgotten across oceans, across time. Part of her internal geography is invisible, and she has to unearth that. So this piece maps and tracks their transformation and pits that against a global struggle with borders and immigration, and comes together with one's search for one's identity. Perhaps that is why this piece is so special but also so difficult for me-it hits all of these deep issues that have been with me since childhood.

Invisibility not being an option-it is something I profoundly believe in, and that this piece explores. Here is a photo of me at our Oceanic launch at the Dillon gallery! Oceanic has officially launched...I am happy to let it go into the world, finally. Next performance of Oceanic is at NYFOS's Paul Moravec & Friends, featuring Amy Owens on February 10th at 7p at the National Opera Center.

Photo: Jill Steinberg

My Companies

February, 2015

As many of you know, I founded VisionIntoArt while I was at the Juilliard School, studying. I've grown in every aspect through this company, and it has brought be the greatest joys! With the belief that collaboration sustains artistic innovation, VIA creates and commissions works that involve various disciplines, presented around the world for the general audience, and forged from the most exciting emerging and established artists living today as well as interdisciplinary experts including scientists and conservationists. VIA is a one-stop-shop for artists in various disciplines - by incubating, commissioning, and disseminating (via our label) cross disciplinary work, VIA inhabits a special place in the artistic eco-system. We recently launched our label and I can't wait to share the amazing plans we have for this year's releases...We love working with Mogollon, our design team, and the process is fun, collaborative, and marries the visual with sound, which is really VIA's DNA. They've done great work for SIA, Jeffrey Zeigler, my own Oceanic Verses (shown below), and for the new space I am creative director for...Original Music Workshop. And, speaking of OMW...

A few years ago, I got this phone call and I met this gentleman, Kevin Dolan, who's a retired tax attorney. His idea was to create a platform for up-and-coming musicians in less commercialized genres and, unique to New York, a performance space that could also be used as rehearsal and recording space on a 24/7 basis. In Kevin's own words: "I understand that, for many, music is fundamental to their being, and to some it represents a salvation of sorts. So the basic purpose of this endeavor is to help composers and performing artists-particularly younger folks and future artists-and their listeners, nurture whatever fundamental essence is inside of them and to help them, and their art, survive. It's that simple."

Over the last couple of years Kevin and I have put a team together and we have this incredible space in Williamsburg that is nearing completion. Original Music Workshop will open in the fall of 2015. As the creative director, I've curated two years of programs that show the philosophy behind the space. That, to me, is one of the ways in which I can contribute back to my field-by helping to nurture talent and supporting young artists' steps into professional life. As a composer, it's not enough to just worry about yourself. We live in a continuum, and if we don't care about the health of our industry, then we're going to suffer for that.

We will have a performing space doubling as a recording studio-it was designed by Arup, an acoustic consulting firm that did an impeccable job. It's called a box-in-box construction, which essentially means that it's acoustically completely isolated and pristine.

The space is set up as a hybrid model, so it's got the venue itself and on the other side it's got a restaurant. I'm designing residencies for about twelve groups that will be able to rehearse in the space, have subsidized recording rates, and in turn, will curate their own programs and discover artists that they love and want to help support. Everyone can benefit from the network of partnerships that we're developing. Those partnerships provide festival-like programming with young artists, or emerging artists, from across different styles of music. We're also working with a community center, El Puente, through one of our residents, Found Sound Nation, which will be mentoring kids through music production and technology. Please visit us here!