World Premiere at Arts and Creativity Festival with Dr. Edward Kawakami
By Madison Kobe ’18
Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, and this year marks the world premiere of a three-piece collaboration concert inspired by Shakespeare’s Tempest. The concert will combine scenes from the play, pieces performed by the Carthage Philharmonic Ensemble. This concert celebrating Shakespeare has never been attempted before, and I was lucky enough to be able to talk to one of the collaborators, Dr. Edward Kawakami.
How is this production different from past productions that you have worked on? How has the experience been different for you so far?
As far as I know, this has never been done, at least not in this format. We are condensing The Tempest a little bit, we are also taking excerpts from the full suite by Sibelius, and we are putting on this production, so both Maggie and I are making this path. It’s been kind of fun because there is no wrong way to do it, but there’s also no example or anyone to say, “Hey this is a better way to do it.” It’s kind of interesting. Currently we are going down two separate production paths. We’ll put them together in a week and hopefully they’ll come together. You know how there are stories about when you build a road and you build towards the middle, but you end up being off by a foot? Hopefully that won’t happen; hopefully they will just meld together. And Maggie Spanuello is fantastic, and she comes with amazing credentials and she knows what we do here, so I have a feeling it is going to be great. But, like I said, there is no wrong way or right way to do it, and I feel like that is the biggest difference. It’s kind of exciting, but it is also an interesting process because we have to think things through a little more.
How has coordinating with other faculty members for this performance made your experience different than usual?
I enjoy doing collaborative pieces, so it hasn’t been too different. I enjoy collaborating with other faculty members and artists because we tend to silo ourselves in the arts. It’s music, and it’s not just music it’s classical music, and it’s not just classical music it’s orchestral music, etc. And then you have the wind ensemble and opera and the choir. And those silos don’t meet. You have Music Theatre, you have Music and you have Theatre, but rarely do Theatre and Music meet. So it is nice to be a part of that collaboration and to get the departments working together. We have great faculty here so it has been seamless. Dr. Mark Petering was kind enough to write this piece for us a few years ago when I first got here. I kind of put it off for a few years until we were mature enough to be able to perform this work. And he is a colleague and I want to make sure we represent his work well. It’s a world premiere, so I guess in that sense there are really three paths that we are putting together. It’s another path that has never been created and never been trodden on before so we want to make sure we present his work well to the world. We are establishing precedence, we are saying, “This is how it’s done.” There are certain markings in the score and I went up to Dr. Petering and asked him about them and what he meant by them and he said, “whatever you want; whatever you decide to do is how we will do it from now on.”
How do you feel this collaboration will affect the experience for the audience?
I hope they don’t even notice it, that it is so seamless and natural that they don’t even notice that it is something different and new. I talked earlier about how we have siloed ourselves, and I think between classical music and the orchestra we have built this wall. We have put classical music in this museum case and we say, “Don’t touch it, revere it, look at it, honor it, worship it, but don’t touch it.” I don’t like that. I don’t like sitting stock still in a concert hall for two hours; that’s not my idea of engagement, that’s not my idea of fun. If I get inspired by it I’m not supposed to react to it? There are stories about how, at his concert, Mozart wouldn’t be able to go on from movement to movement until the orchestra had done an encore performance of that movement. And what that suggests is that the audience was far more involved, that it wasn’t just a spectator sport but an audience engaged activity. And I hope by drawing in these other mediums, by drawing in these actors from The Tempest will hopefully get a little more audience engagement and let them know that classical music is not just meant to be observed but is meant to be actually experienced.
What challenges have you faced in preparing for this concert?
Plenty! Again, this is new ground so Maggie and I had to go through the music and pick the actual pieces. The actual piece is an hour and seven minutes long; we don’t have time for an hour and seven minutes of music, especially when it is inter-spliced with scenes. It would be like a three or four hour event. When we were making the choices, we didn’t have a rental copy of the music, we only had recordings. So we had to listen to the recording, which were titled after each scene or what was being portrayed, and we decided not to pair each scene with its complimentary movement. We had to hope that the movements we picked wouldn’t prove too challenging for our limited time frame. We had to rent the music through the publisher. We were a little late in getting the music, so we had a compressed time frame. And most of this is new stuff; it’s not in the standard canon, so the students haven’t heard or studied it. Sibelius is a big name composer, but is not up there with say Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart. But they have responded really well. There are some really gorgeous, gorgeous movements in piece, and some really fun things. “The Overture,” the first piece we’ll be playing, is the scene with tempest itself, the storm. And it sounds like a shipwreck, like the canvas of the sails ripping, like the timber of the ship breaking up on the reefs and rocks; it’s just tumultuous and exciting, and exhausting at the same time. Someone described it as the longest onomatopoeia they have heard.
What has been a highlight of preparing for this performance?
I think discovering this music. Again, it’s not in the standard canon, so finding this gem has allowed us to discover so many small things. And being able to discover those things and rehearse them with the students has been a lot of fun. It’s also good for me as a musician and artist to stretch myself; I’m not just doing the standard repertoire, I’m doing something that’s different, that has not been done before. And bringing this project to Carthage and tying it in with Western Heritage is great.
The Schubert songs were transcribed by the very first music director if the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He decided he wanted to take some of these Schubert songs that are written for a vocalist and piano, and transcribe and adapt them for an orchestra; this was done over a hundred year ago. Dr. Paul Luongo, my friend and colleague from my time at graduate school, did his dissertation on these transcriptions. He is taking a sabbatical this semester, and his sabbatical project is to go around and work on these pieces with various ensembles. This is actually going to be his project with us; he is going to conduct on the concert, and he will give a guest lecture in one of our music history classes.
We are also working with faculty soloist. Two of the three works involve a faculty soloist. There are a lot of collaborators and moving parts.
How do you think a project of this rarity will grow and develop the students as performers and professionals?
I hope it encourages them to be adventurous. And I hope it encourages them to expand their horizon and be willing to go outside their comfort zone, because that’s when they start to become better musicians and artists. So seeing us doing these different collaboration projects, even though it makes the process a little more difficult or challenging, they are able to see the rewards of it: it engages the audience, there is fantastic repertoire that isn’t a part of the master works canon, and there is a different style of playing. We are going from Dr. Petering’s work which was written in 2014, and then we are going to Schubert’s which was written in the 19th century, and then we go to Sibelius’ Tempest which was written in the 20th century. So there are all these different styles and different playing emphases, and they have to adapt to each one. They have to understand the Schubert transcription was originally written for piano, and it was written during the Romantic era so it is full of fire, passion, and angst. They need to understand Sibelius was a Finnish composer, and his pieces sound icy because he’s from a cold area, but there is nothing dispassionate about it. There are many challenges because the students haven’t played a piece that is quite this loud and in your face and then suddenly sections that are so gauzy and lovely. They have gotten a little of this from previous programs, but I think this piece will help emphasis that, and will help them reach outside, see what you can do, make it interesting. Sometimes when we silo ourselves it becomes about us, it becomes about our art, when it should be about sharing that art with other people.
Why did you think it is important that this performance is included in the Arts and Creativity Festival?
The Arts and Creativity Festival is great. We have so many great things happening on campus all the time that it is a little too much and you have to choose what you want to go do. We have this one week window where it is all concentrated where we can say, “hey, these are some things that are really worth looking at, hearing, and experiencing.” I looked at some of the things that are being offered that sound interesting and fascinating; I wish I had time to do and see them all! So to be privileged to be a part of that is important because it says that these collaborations are important, it says classical music is alive and well, and it will represent the Music department, I hope, well. It is great to be a part of the festival and the community, and to say, “This is all happening on campus and there are great things happening at Carthage; this is just part of what we offer. We have academics, the science center is gorgeous, the arts are flourishing here, the sports are great. All these wonderful things are happening; come check us out.” The Arts and Creativity Fest is just a concentration of that, like a snippet of what goes on here.
Especially with the talk of the silos, the Arts and Creativity of Fest includes all of the Arts and Humanities, which usually don’t mesh. I think it is really important for the students as well because they are exposed to arts forms they usually don’t experience. The arts were never made to be siloed, but we have become so specialized. I can understand that because there is so much to learn in every single discipline. In the 16th Century, there was only so much literature and there was very little science, so you could be a pan-scientist and be a genius at chemistry, physics, and math. Now you take one tiny sliver of physics, and you take a sliver of the sliver and do you doctorate on that, so it is no wonder we are insulated from each other. But the Festival is a way to remind everyone that we are all in this together and it is meant to be experienced holistically.
The concert on March 12 is free and open to the public, and will take place in the A. F. Siebert Chapel at 2 p.m. For additional information, please contact Carthage Fine Arts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 262-551-5859. Be sure to like us on Facebook facebook.com/carthagefinearts for upcoming events and information about Fine Arts at Carthage.