Jason Eckardt Pays Tribute to Sculptor John Chamberlain With an Unconventional Composition

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Guggenheim Museum Premieres Work by Music Professor

May 18, 2012

Following the news of his second prestigious commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, Associate Professor of Music Jason Eckardt shows little sign of slowing down. In fact, his newest piece, a six-minute composition titled “to be held…” (audio mp3) performed by violinist and singer Wendy Richman, incorporates a novel twist — Richman must compete against herself via an electronically manipulated prerecorded performance.

“It’s all mixed together and then reproduced out of a speaker, so the idea is that everything sort of blends together to become one large dense fabric,” says Eckardt, who collaborated on the electronic portion with Nicholas Nelson ’10 M.Mus., who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in composition at the CUNY Graduate Center.

The composition, which premiered on April 22, is part of a multimedia collage commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum for its performing arts series titled Works & Process. It is part of a retrospective about John Chamberlain, a sculptor best known for creating abstract pieces out of automobile parts, who passed away in December 2011 at age 84.

The exhibition included jazz piano performances, discussions with the curators and reading selections from the Black Mountain College poets, including Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. Chamberlain attended the college in the mid-1950s and credited his time there as intensely influential. Eckardt found inspiration in the work of Olson, in particular.

“One of the things that was really important to the piece was an essay by Charles Olson called ‘Projective Verse,’” says Eckardt of the poet’s 1950 essay that focused on “the idea of breath as a sort of carrier of language, and speech, but also the importance of breath in showing a kind of punctuation in the poetry, getting back to the idea of recitation.”

“I’m trying to actually write music where the performer has a certain amount of struggle in order to actually articulate it,” Eckardt elaborates, adding that the composition is “sort of an act of defiance in just the mere fact of trying to make art in this current climate.”

The composer dedicated “to be held…” to Anne Solomon, a friend who passed away during the writing of the piece. While Eckardt continues work on the ambitious commissioned piece for piano and strings, he will also provide a composition for a CD of violin and piano music, which is due to be released in January 2013.


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