Big Ears 2023: US Premiere of Terry Riley’s 'Ki', Shara Nova sings 'The Blue Hour'

Big Ears 2023: US Premiere of Terry Riley’s 'Ki', Shara Nova sings 'The Blue Hour'
Terry Riley's 'Ki'

The Big Ears Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this weekend. Concluding its eclectic offerings on April 2, 2023, are two major works from the Wise Music catalog.  

Ki (2022) is a new, modular score written by Terry Riley for clarinetist Evan Ziporyn. Living in Japan since the Spring of 2020, Riley has been working on a number of open-form compositions that eschew linear notation and highlight the composer’s own calligraphy and illustrations. Ki is an expansive new suite of pieces based on the sights and sounds of the Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan. Ziporyn performed the world premiere of Ki in November at the ARS Musica Festival in Brussels, and delivers its US premiere performance at Big Ears; Riley’s unique, pictorial scores are the basis of an accompanying video by Christine Southworth. 

Describing the genesis of Ki, Ziporyn writes: “Terry wanted to compose a piece based on his experiences in Japan, and that the piece would have graphic elements that he would entrust me to interpret as I saw fit. I awoke on New Year's Day 2022 to a text from him reading, ‘OK I have begun...Here is the title page... 木 or "Ki" means tree in Japanese but also means life force, has got me thinking about energy flowing from the roots to the branches.’ 

"Over the next days and weeks he texted several more scans of drawings, which include notation, landscapes, abstract images, and occasional, often elliptical instructions. In conversation with text and Zoom he made it clear that I was to interpret it all as I saw fit, and - with some trepidation - I proceeded to do just that, sending him excerpts along the way.” 

The Blue Hour (2017) is a collaborative song cycle composed by Sarah Kirkland Snider, Caroline Shaw, Rachel Grimes, Angelica Negron, and Shara Nova. Nova will also be the featured vocalist in this hourlong work, backed by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and their Music Director Aram Demirjian. A gorgeous recording of The Blue Hour was released on Nonesuch Recordings in 2022 and was included in NPR’s Top 10 Albums of 2022.  

The work uses as its text Carolyn Forché's poem On Earth, which catalogs the scattered thoughts, visions, and imagery of a life passing ever closer to death, organized through the objective but arbitrary tool of alphabetization. This explicitly rationalized poetic form simultaneously evokes cold modernism and its ancient predecessors in biblical and gnostic abecedaries. The music that sets the poem draws similarly from an eclectic set of influences, at times setting the text quite literally (as with explicit references to Bach and settings that evoke plainchant and Renaissance polyphony), and at times using extended string techniques to create kaleidoscopic sound-paintings of Forché's moments of fantastical, jarring imagery. The work also gleams with power ballads — unapologetic lyricism and no-nonsense songwriting that is often associated with contemporary non-classical genres; here, it contributes to the intimacy and universality of the subject matter.  

For more information, please contact your local Wise Music Promotion Team. See Contact Us.

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