I sat for an interview with Rebecca Gross from the NEA Art Works Blog to discuss the shape of the Indie Opera Scene and the work of Experiments in Opera.  Rebecca was a great interviewer, with thoughtful questions and a strong sense of what makes creating new works especially challenging and rewarding.  I was glad to espouse my view that new opera should be equally experimental and fun, and to make an argument for the power of failure in the artistic process.

Read the entire interview at NEA Art Works Blog.

My review for Philanthropy News Digest a new non-profit management book,  Mission Control, by Liana Downey, is a look at the applications of a thorough mission review strategy for organizations looking to strengthen the intent and impact of their work.

Read the entire review at Philanthropy News Digest

Somehow this year, I have gotten myself entangled in a pair of old stories. And I don’t mean last year. I mean like thousands of years ago.

The first story is the myth of Sisyphus, which my friends Jason Cady, Matthew Welch and I are adapting into a collaborative opera. We are all telling the story of Sisyphus from different points of view. Our separate sections of music and text will be arranged in a collage of stories, genres and musical styles.

The second story is the biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac.  In my telling of this story, the narrative of Isaac’s almost sacrifice is submerged beneath the narrative of Abraham’s visions of angels and gods who tell him to kill his son.  I am exploring this idea as a way to understand how stories in general are expressions of often abstract and disconnected visions.  How these visions become a reality is the stuff of artistry, whether or not the story teller considers herself an artist.

May 2-3, 2014 | 8pm

Tickets: $20
Purchase Tickets

Experiments in Opera presents a full production of EiO co-founder Aaron Siegel’s evening length opera, Brother Brother directed by Mallory Catlett, with designs by Mimi Lien and performances by Mantra Percussion and Cadillac Moon Ensemble under the musical direction of David Bloom.

This 90-minute opera, which has been in development with Experiments in Opera for the last two seasons, explores the relationship between Orville and Wilbur Wright following their first flights in 1903.  This fascinating story of family drama, business struggles and legal fights is layered over a secondary story detailing the challenges of contemporary brotherhood and the complexities of growing up with an unusual idea of brotherly intimacy.  Aaron Siegel drew on his own experiences as a twin while writing the libretto that provides both sets of brothers a range of intimate language to express their wonder in the world and in each other.  The music for Brother Brother draws on Siegel’s wide range of experiences with percussive minimalism, early music, American shape-note singing, ambient electronic music and improvised jazz.  Brother Brother is a timely look at the personal side of innovation and entrepreneurial optimism in America.

Cast :
Michele Kennedy, Soprano
Patrick Fennig, Countertenor
Marc Day, Tenor
Julian A. Rozzell, Jr., Red
Danyon Davis, Blue
Marie Ortinau, Soprano Chorister
Jamie Ehrenfeld, Alto Chorister
Billy Lowrimore, Tenor Chorister
Adrian Rosas, Bass Chorister
Mantra Percussion
Cadillac Moon Ensemble
David Bloom, Musical Director

Production Team:
Mallory Catlett, Director
Mimi Lien, Stage Designer
Jeanette Yew, Lighting Designer
Caley Monahon-Ward, Sound Designer
Andreea Mincic, Costume Designer
Esti Bernstein, Stage Manager

Prior to each Brother Brother performance, Experiments in Opera will share two ‘Opera Trailers,’  90-second videos that offer a sneak peek at new opera ideas and characters.  Featured artists include Jason Cady,Dave RuderMatthew Welch and the partnership of Daniel Kushner,Noelle Evans and Jascha Narveson. Additionally, in partnership with CultureBot.org, composers and collaborators featured on Brother Brother will take part in a free public discussion – Opera in Dialogue #3on Saturday May 3, 20145:00 PM, at the PlayhouseAbrons Arts Center  exploring the ideas and motivations behind this premiere production.

I studied percussion with the same teacher for 10 years as a young musician and learned many important things.  But none of the technical challenges of playing an instrument impacted on me as an artist as much as the first time I visited my teacher’s home.  I went there with several of my fellow students and afterwards there was much discussion of the cool instruments and the record collection.  But what impressed me most was that I had seen what an artist’s life was like up close.  And it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.  I reflected on this feeling after having learned of the death of Robert Ashley last night, and it occurred to me that, despite my relatively limited interaction with Bob, he had confirmed some of these same ideas.  Bob was a walking embodiment of his work—thoughtful, sharp, digressive and funny.  And from my point of view, he lived his art with dedicated flair of purpose and exploration.

I have always been an admirer of Bob’s work.  I remember the first time I happened upon Perfect Lives in the university library and was awestruck at his strange vision of the world.  Especially amidst the structured environment of a music conservatory, his articulation of a warped world, floating right there in the middle of consciousness, but somehow still inviting, was a revelation.  I learned more about Bob’s work as a student of Alvin Lucier, and the stories of their musical adventures together formed a foundation for some of the collective work I have made a big part of my life as an artist.

But I got the full ‘Bob’ experience when I was asked to be one of the performers in a re-staging of his classic work ‘That Morning Thing’ at the Kitchen in 2012.  The performances were odd and sublime, and the group of people involved will be friends for a long time to come.  But what will stick with me is walking for the first time into Bob and Mimi’s loft on Beach Street in Tribeca.  This was a loft like the ones that have been written about in the history books about experimental music in the 70’s–large, industrial and somehow reeking of the kind of independent determination that has shaped the last 50 years of American music.   In the ‘studio’ there were large cabinets full of scores and special equipment for various pieces, there was inspiring art on the walls, a small kitchen, rows of microphone stands and in the middle of the room a tent set up with a mixing board and recording equipment.  The living area of the building, on a different floor was similarly elegant, art from peers and family lining the walls, a well-used easy chair and an inspired warmth that said ‘come right in, we have nothing to hide.’

Bob invited all of the performers in, and in the last years of his life seemed to embrace the reality that his work has had a huge impact on a younger generation of artists.  For me, the impact is musical and personal.  I know that he was a complicated person, but he also was a walking lesson in how to keep your work close to you, how to tell stories that resonate from within with the confidence that they too will resonate with others.  It takes courage and a certain amount of hard-headedness to live the kind of life that Bob did.  I, for one,  am deeply grateful for my brief encounters with the man.

I wanted to give an update to those of you who have expressed interest in the plans for Brother Brother.  Things are going really well and on schedule for the full production on May 2 and 3 at the Abrons Arts Center.  I am currently working on the music for the final scene of the opera (see above) and excited about how its coming out, but also a bit wistful about leaving my friends, Orville and Wilbur Wright and Red and Blue. I have spent a lot of time with these men and will miss them when I am done writing all of the music.

Does everyone know about the opera story?  It’s about the Wright Brothers and the difficult times they had following their first flight in Kitty Hawk, NC.  They had a very hard time personally and professionally in the three years after their first flight since they were eager to sell their planes, but not so eager to share their technological advances with other inventors.  The opera is also about Red and Blue, two fictional brothers who live in the late 20th century.  I like to think they are informed by my relationship with my twin brother, but they also are modeled after friends and other brother relationships.  These two stories happen concurrently and sort of connect, but you will have to see the opera to know for sure! Brothers are a unique bunch and I hope that the opera captures some of the intensity of these relationships.

The other big news is that the cast for the opera is almost complete!  The musicians, actors and production team are like a dream.  Really, sometimes I dream about these people and they are just awesome.

Here is the current line up of brilliant artists:

Mallory Catlett, Director
Mimi Lien, Designer
David Bloom, Musical Director
Michele Kennedy, Mother Fate
Patrick Fennig, Orville Wright
Marc Day, Wilbur Wright

This is all just another way of saying that I hope you can come on May 2 and 3 to hear and see the work that we are all putting into this production.  I will try to send along more regular updates as the project progresses, but here are the details so you can make sure to put it on your calendar:

Brother Brother
Produced by Experiments in Opera
May 2 & 3, 2014
Abrons Arts Center
New York, NY


You may or may not know it, but this is the year of Brother Brother.

I started working on the music of what would become my second opera, Brother Brother, in 2010 when my friends at Iktus Percussion and Cadillac Moon Ensemble commissioned me to write a piece for percussion, strings and flute.  I wrote another section that year for the percussion duo, Beaten Paths, and recorded the full first act of the opera in early 2011.

Brother Brother explores the relationship betwen Orville and Wilbur Wright following their first flights in 1903.  This fascinating story of business, family and legal fights is layered over a secondary story of contemporary brotherhood and the complexities of growing up with an unusual idea of brotherly intimacy.

I have shared 6 of the 9 scenes of the evening-length opera at showcase performances produced by Experiments in Opera and Mantra Percussion in New York and The Industry in Los Angeles.  Over the last four years, there have been 7 performances of sections of Brother Brother, by over 20 different musicians in venues ranging from Reanimation Library Gowanus in Brooklyn to the Hammer Museum on the campus of UCLA.

And now, four years later, I am pleased to announce that there will be a full production of Brother Brother at the Abrons Arts Center in May 2014. The team of artists in the production includes the director Mallory Catlett, designer Mimi Lien, conductorDavid BloomMantra PercussionCadillac Moon Ensemble and singers Michelle Kennedy and Patrick Fennig among others.

Mark your calendars NOW:  May 2 & 3, 2014.  Full Production of Brother Brother at Abrons Arts Center.  

Tickets for Brother Brother are on sale now when you buy a subscription to Experiments in Opera’s full season residency at Abrons Arts Center.  Tickets to just Brother Brother are not on sale yet, but I encourage you to purchase tickets to Experiment’s in Opera’s full season since the second event, ‘Radio Operas,’  will feature a reprise of my opera short ‘The Collector,’ and because the first event ‘Chorus of All Souls,’ features four amazing works by Jason Cady, Matthew Welch, Jessica Pavone and John Zorn!!

Just to give you a taste of Brother Brother, I wanted to share the video that The Industry put together in support of the performance of 3 scenes in June 2013.  This short video will give you a sense of where this piece comes from in my life and what to expect from the story.

This year, I will be in touch with you throughout the process of our planning and production and I hope that youwill join me and Experiments in Opera as we bring Brother Brother to life.  I have never worked on a project of my music as big and rewarding as this and have never taken this much of a risk artistically.  This is a big deal and I need you with me to make it as much of a success as it will be.   Please join me on this adventure!

After a year or so of writing smaller-scale instrumental and choral works for single events, I have returned to my opera-in-progress, Brother Brother. I am sharing excerpts from this work in June at the Industry’s First Take event in Los Angeles and have begun to plan for a premiere performance of the full piece sometime in the next year or so. Very exciting and also daunting. As I try to get my head back into the piece, I have been looking at some of the original images that inspired this project when I began it several years ago.

The top blueprint is for one of the Wright Brother’s kites that inspired their airplane design.

The below image is a early 1900 photograph of a house fire, which I associate with the fire in the Wright Brother’s workshop that features prominently in the third act of Brother Brother.

Often, as I am beginning to work on a new piece, I have to think about what it will look like before I begin to describe in musical notation what it will sound like.  These are two examples of how I organize a work visually before I get started with the process of writing.  They both come from a new piece I am working on for 30 percussionists, each with a pair of claves.