January 16 & 17 at 7pm
Stranger Love follows two lovers whose romance unfolds to the rhythm of the seasons: in springtime, they meet; in summer, their love flourishes; autumn and winter, they face threats from without and within; a second spring brings resignation and the chance for renewal. Over time the frame broadens beyond the individuals to offer an archetypal picture of human love, and ultimately, an astral envisioning of the divine, a love supreme. Created by composer Dylan Mattingly and librettist Thomas Bartscherer, Stranger Love is inspired by the writings of Plato and Octavio Paz and is scored for a 28-piece orchestra (including three microtonal pianos). With a run time of over five hours, the full production of Stranger Love unfolds across an expansive time-scale and is a grand celebration of life itself, evoking the visceral thrill of a gospel revival, the ethereal calm of watching snow fall, the wonder of staring into the night sky. PROTOTYPE will present a work-in-progress concert of Act I.
Composer Dylan Mattingly
Librettist Thomas Bartscherer
Conductor David Bloom
Commissioned by Contemporaneous. This performance made possible through the generous support of Beth Dawson.
Co-Presented with Roulette
Show run time: 3 hours, 45 minutes
Image by Mervyn O'Gorman, Thomas Bartscherer, and Dylan Mattingly
Dylan Mattingly (Composer) – Called “visionary magic” by Susan Scheid, composer Dylan Mattingly’s work is fundamentally ecstatic, committed to the extremes of human emotion, drawing from influences such as Olivier Messiaen, Joni Mitchell, and the microtonal folk singing of Polynesian choirs and the Bayaka of Central Africa. Mattingly is the founding co-artistic director of Contemporaneous and was previously the co-director of Formerly Known as Classical, a youth-run new music ensemble whose members play only music written in their lifetimes. Mattingly performs frequently as a cellist, bassist, pianist, guitarist, and percussionist. Among the ensembles and performers who have commissioned Mattingly are the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, the Berkeley Symphony, the Del Sol String Quartet, John Adams, Marin Alsop, Contemporaneous, Sarah Cahill, and many others. Mattingly, whose work has been described as “gorgeous” and “beautifully crafted” by the San Francisco Chronicle, was the Musical America “New Artist of the Month” for February 2013. In 2016, he was awarded the prestigious Charles Ives Scholarship by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Mattingly holds a B.A. in Classical Greek and a B.M. in Music Composition from Bard College. He holds an M.M. in Music Composition from The Yale School of Music, where he studied with David Lang, Martin Bresnick, and Christopher Theofanidis, and is mentored as well in Berkeley by composer John Adams. Mattingly is also an avid painter, poet, and pitcher, having played for Bard College’s first ever baseball team.
Thomas Bartscherer (Librettist) works on literature and philosophy in the ancient Greek and modern German traditions, focusing on tragic drama, aesthetics, and performance. He has collaborated with Contemporaneous on two previous projects, writing Long After Hesiod for the performance of Stacy Garrop’s String Quartet No. 3: Gaia and narration for Dylan Mattingly’s The Bakkhai. Bartscherer also writes on technology, new media, and contemporary art, and has published translations from German and French. He is co-editor of Erotikon: Essays on Eros Ancient and Modern and Switching Codes, both from the University of Chicago Press. He is a research associate on the Équipe Nietzsche at the Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes (Paris) and has held research fellowships at the École Normale Supérieure, the University of Heidelberg, and the LMU in Munich. Bartscherer teaches in the humanities at Bard College and previously taught at the University of Chicago. He holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and a PhD from the University of Chicago.
David Bloom (Conductor) is founding co-artistic director of Contemporaneous, a New York-based ensemble of 21 musicians dedicated to performing the most exciting music of the present moment. A devoted advocate for new music, David has conducted over 200 world premieres at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, (le) poisson rouge, Merkin Concert Hall, Walker Art Center, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. He has worked with artists and ensemble as diverse as David Byrne, Donnacha Dennehy, JACK Quartet, Courtney Love, Dylan Mattingly, Andrew Norman, Present Music, NOW Ensemble, Dawn Upshaw, and Julia Wolfe. Especially active as a conductor of new opera and theater works throughout the US and Canada, David serves as music director on projects with Experiments in Opera, Beth Morrison Projects, PROTOTYPE Festival, New Amsterdam Presents, and Pig Iron Theater Company. He has recorded for the Innova, New Amsterdam, Mexican Summer, Mona, Roven, and Starkland labels. Also a passionate educator, David is the orchestra conductor for Special Music School High School and the nation’s only new music youth orchestra, Face the Music. Along with Contemporaneous, he has led residencies at such institutions as City University of New York, the University of New Orleans, Williams College, and his alma mater, Bard College.
Contemporaneous (Ensemble) is an ensemble of 21 musicians whose mission is to bring to life the music of now. Recently recognized for a “ferocious, focused performance” (The New York Times), Contemporaneous performs and promotes the most exciting work of living composers through innovative concerts, commissions, recordings, and educational programs. Based in New York City and active throughout the United States, Contemporaneous has performed at a wide range of venues, including Lincoln Center, (le) poisson rouge, Merkin Concert Hall, Baryshnikov Arts Center, St. Ann’s Warehouse, National Sawdust, and the Bang on a Can Marathon. The ensemble has worked with artists as diverse as David Byrne, Donnacha Dennehy, Julia Wolfe, and Dawn Upshaw and has premiered over 80 new works. The ensemble was founded in 2010 at Bard College by co-artistic directors David Bloom and Dylan Mattingly.
Dylan Mattingly, Composer
Stranger Love is not practical.
Inspired by Plato’s Symposium and tracing a love story and the story of love against the passing of seasons and the geological history of the earth, Stranger Love is roughly five hours long. And with 8 singers, 6 dancers, and an orchestra built on the engine of three microtonal pianos, it is more an out-of-body gospel revival than an opera — a never-ending ecstatic dance party and a gargantuan celebration of being alive.
With the cultural zeitgeist pushing language to fit into 140 characters, few things could be further removed from the aesthetic expectations of the modern public sphere than a five hour long piece of music and theater that presupposes the power of abstraction and the importance of total joy.
I’ve chosen to write this massive opera not for any monetary gain (there is none) or compelled by any external factor, but because I know it to be the best thing that I can do. I want to write music not because it adheres to the world we accept, but because it offers an experience of the world as we might hope to live it. Once we’ve imagined something, it already exists.
I often tell people that I’m writing a five-hour long opera and receive a quizzical and somewhat terrified look, as if to say, “nothing in my life is 5 hours long!” And that is exactly it — there is no place in our lives where we can go, together, to pull back from the speed at which we think and the mechanisms we’ve put in place to carry us through the present into the future. Yet it is from such a vantage point that we can best look with perspective upon who we are and what it means to be alive, together, in a universe exploding at every turn with love and agony and joy.
If you could choose to live five hours in a world where time bends to love like gravity and moments of bliss, of fear and of rapture — the moments in which you’ve felt most alive — are the colossal pillars that hold up the fabric of the stars — wouldn’t you?
That’s what Stranger Love is. It’s an endless love letter to the world we might dream to inhabit. It’s not practical. It’s on the other side of life. – Dylan Mattingly
Thomas Bartscherer, librettist
In a strange and beautiful book titled The Double Flame, Octavio Paz writes that love is “a wager against time and its accidents.” Through it, “we catch a glimpse, in this life, of the other life. Not of eternal life, but… of pure vitality." Something like that intuition or hope or delusion has inspired the making of Stranger Love. The work is the fruit of a conversation about music and language conducted over the course of years. This conversation yielded the initial impulse to compose a vocal work that, many visions and revisions later, would become Stranger Love. In the making, music and words were composed in response to one another—at times one, then the other coming first—and both also in response to images and ideas. The working rhythm was call and response.
The sources—musical, textual, and visual—are many and diverse. Plato’s Symposium informs the overall structure of the three acts, and his conception of love (erôs) has been a tutelary spirit throughout the work. With regard to Act I, the story of star-crossed lovers is familiar, even archetypal, while the specific threats any given couple encounters, their losses and gains, their defeat, triumph, or détente, are poignantly unique and indelibly marked by the time in which they come to be. Rousseau’s Julie and St. Preux are nothing like Héloïse and Abelard, and yet Julie is also the new Heloise. A friend who heard an early performance of a few scenes from Stranger Love said afterward, “it doesn’t sound like music.” We took this as an encouraging sign. Through the interplay of abstract and particular, dialogue and diegesis, we’ve endeavored to tell a new story, a new kind of story, that’s also somehow familiar, and that invites the spectator and auditor to dwell within it and, in the end, to complete it with us. “Another opera about love?,” someone recently asked me, in only half-feigned disbelief. The right answer, I think, is that we could do no other. We couldn’t not make this very thing. But also, as one of Shakespeare’s poems puts it, love, like the sun, is daily new and old. Just so, Stranger Love is also telling what is told. - Thomas Bartscherer
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[Mattingly's music] attains critical mass and blasts off into an interstellar realm where time, space, and perspective take on an entirely different meaning.
— Jim Farber, San Francisco Classical Voice
[Mattingly's music] strikes the live listener, with almost palpable force, as a Scamander-River-like onrush of music... like a pulsating pillar of light.
— Patrick J. Vaz, The Reverberate Hills
Contemporaneous attacked, with passion…a ferocious, focused performance.
— Zachary Woolfe, The New York Times