Washington, DC; New York, NY; Cambridge, MA – Composer, producer, vocalist and Rome Prize-winner Lisa Bielawa will have three major new works premiered in Washington, DC (Washington National Cathedral, March 13), New York (Carnegie Hall, March 25), and the Boston area (First Cambridge Church, April 2), performed by the Cathedral Choral Society and Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra (ACO), and the Radcliffe Choral Society with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), respectively.
On Sunday, March 13, 2022 at 4pm, the world premiere of Bielawa’s Voters’ Litany, commissioned and presented by the Cathedral Choral Society, Orchestra and Organ led by Music Director Steven Fox, will be part of a concert of music by women composers titled I Have Something to Say at Washington National Cathedral (3101 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC). The performance will also be livestreamed and available on-demand for one week. Bielawa explains of Voters’ Litany, “While it has been 102 years since women in the United States got the vote with the historic passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, Voters’ Rights is still a vital issue in our country today. The diversity of American citizenry is storied, issuing out of complexity and struggle as well as freedom and opportunity.”
The texts for Voters’ Litany are excerpted from postcards created through Sheryl Oring’s ongoing project I Wish to Say. Launched in 2004, I Wish to Say consists of performances where Oring and sometimes a pool of typists set up stands in well-trafficked public areas where people can walk up and dictate their messages to the current President, or – in election years – to the next President. As part of the day’s activities, audience members will also get to dictate a postcard to a real or imagined President as a part of Sheryl Oring’s work I Wish to Say.
Bielawa clarifies, “The piece does not focus on the qualities or identities of the Presidents and candidates addressed (these encompass all sitting Presidents and Presidential candidates in primary and general elections since 2004), but on the emotional reality of American people in relation to their elected leaders. In German when one votes, one ‘gives one’s voice’ (‘I voted’ = ‘Ich habe gestimmt’ [I gave my voice]). Voters’ Litany is dedicated to all of those who give their voices, through singing and by voting.”
On Friday, March 25, 2022 at 7:30pm, American Composers Orchestra (ACO) led by guest conductor Marin Alsop, will give the New York premiere of Lisa Bielawa’s work, Sanctuary, a violin concerto for Jennifer Koh co-commissioned by ACO, presented by Carnegie Hall in Zankel Hall (57th St. and 7th Ave).
Bielawa researched Sanctuary in 2018 and composed it in 2019, at a time when the word had a new, charged meaning in the cultural climate. Inspired by the role of sanctuary in the lives of American people, including people in her own life and in soloist Jennifer Koh’s life, Bielawa undertook a large-scale research project around the word. Seeking a greater understanding of its layered meaning within the American consciousness, she read hundreds of texts dating back to the nation’s founding – including broadsides, poetry, political speeches, and novels – during a fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society. The violin concerto for Koh is in three movements that articulate a journey towards sanctuary – “Speak,” “Threshold,” and “Breathe.”
Bielawa says, “So many people on our stages and in our audiences are immigrants and refugees. Personal journeys and tribulations also find us urgently seeking new ground. Music provides a sanctuary; through it we create sacredness and refuge for ourselves and for each other.”
Sanctuary was co-commissioned by the Orlando Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and Carnegie Hall, for violinist Jennifer Koh.
On Saturday, April 2, 2022 at 8pm, the Radcliffe Choral Society (RCS) will present a concert titled Un Nouveau Départ (A New Beginning), featuring the world premiere of Land Sea Sky at First Church Cambridge (11 Garden St), led by Director of Choral Activities, Andrew Clark. The program, which also includes Nancy Galbraith’s Four Nature Canticles and Faure’s Messe des pêcheurs de Villerville, will also be livestreamed. Commissioned by RCS, which has celebrated treble choral music-making within the Harvard community since 1899, Land Sea Sky responds to this particular point in these young singers’ life journeys – a pandemic-interrupted education, and an uncertain path forward to destinations increasingly unknown.
Bielawa says of the inspiration and collaborative process behind Land Sea Sky, “[The Radcliffe Choral Society and I] decided together to respond with a joyful retelling of three young women’s stories of journeying: Land, which recounts Nairobi-based writer Edith Knight Magak’s bus trip across Kenya to her nephew’s eighth birthday party; Sea, which is a setting of diary excerpts by British-born actress Fanny Kemble as she traveled by steamship across the Atlantic into New York harbor in 1832; and Sky, which celebrates the audacious opera diva Elisabeth Thible, the first woman to ascend in a hot air balloon – while singing – in 1784 in Lyon, France.”
About Lisa Bielawa: Composer, producer, and vocalist Lisa Bielawa is a Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition and takes inspiration for her work from literary sources and close artistic collaborations. Her music has been described as “ruminative, pointillistic and harmonically slightly tart,” by The New York Times. She is the recipient of the 2017 Music Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and a 2020 OPERA America Grant for Female Composers. She was named a William Randolph Hearst Visiting Artist Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society for 2018 and was Artist-in-Residence at Kaufman Music Center in New York for the 2020-2021 season.
Bielawa consistently executes work that incorporates community-making as part of her artistic vision. She has created music for public spaces in Lower Manhattan, the banks of the Tiber River in Rome, on the sites of former airfields in Berlin in San Francisco, and to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1997 Bielawa co-founded the MATA Festival, which celebrates the work of young composers, and for five years she was the artistic director of the San Francisco Girls Chorus.
She received a 2018 Los Angeles Area Emmy nomination for her unprecedented, made-for-TV-and-online opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser, created with librettist Erik Ehn and director Charles Otte. Vireo was filmed in twelve parts in locations across the country and features over 350 musicians. Vireo was produced as part of Bielawa’s artist residency at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California and in partnership with KCETLink and Single Cel. In February 2019, Vireo was released as a two CD + DVD box set on Orange Mountain Music.
In addition to Voters’ Litany, recent and upcoming large-scale participatory works include Broadcast from Home, Voters’ Broadcast and Brickyard Broadcast. Described by The Washington Post as “spellbinding,” …Broadcast from Home was realized online during the first four months of Covid lockdown, featuring over 500 submitted testimonies and recorded voices from six continents. Voters’ Broadcast; commissioned as part of the Democracy & Debate theme-semester by the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with support from its School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and developed in partnership with Kaufman Music Center, stimulated voter engagement, political awareness, and community participation through the act of giving voice to the concerns of citizens during the lead-up to the 2020 Presidential election. Brickyard Broadcast is a spatialized work for hundreds of musicians commissioned by North Carolina State University that was premiered in a Virtual Reality environment in November 2020. Bielawa’s other recent and current work includes a concerto for violinist Jennifer Koh, a solo work for cellist Matt Haimovitz, and an orchestral song cycle for mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin.
Bielawa’s work has been premiered at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, SHIFT Festival, Town Hall Seattle, and Naumburg Orchestral Concerts Summer Series, Rouen Opera, Helsinki Music Center, Arsenal de Metz, MAXXI Museum in Rome, among others. Orchestras that have championed her music include The Knights, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, American Composers Orchestra, the Orlando Philharmonic, and ROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra). Premieres of her work have been commissioned and presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Rider, Seattle Chamber Music Society, American Guild of Organists, Radio France the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C, and more. She is recorded on the Tzadik, TROY, Innova, BMOP/sound, Supertrain Records, Cedille, Orange Mountain Music and Sono Luminus labels.
For more information, please visit www.lisabielawa.net.