Lembit Beecher Premieres New Chamber Opera
Former Opera Philadelphia Composer in Residence Lembit Beecher debuts his latest work, Sophia’s Forest, this September. This inventive chamber opera scored for five voices, custom-built sound sculptures, string quartet and percussion will premiere September 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. in the Black Box Theater at the URBN Center Annex at Drexel University, 3401 Filbert Street. Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch wrote the libretto. Tickets cost $25 for General Admission and $15 for Students and Seniors. Tickets and more information are available at: lembitbeecher.com/treeofsound/
Sophia’s Forest is a 65-minute chamber opera that focuses on the interior world of a nine-year old girl named Sophia, a new immigrant to the United States, who uses her imagination to deal with the traumatic experience of escaping a civil war in her native country. During the course of the work, the audience sees glimpses of Sophia’s life with her mother, father and sister several years earlier in her homeland, and many years later, as an adult. These storylines are woven together into a nuanced portrayal of the refugee experience and the complicated nature of memory.
Forming an integral part of the opera’s set is a series of nine tree-like, sound-producing sculptures. As an evocation of Sophia’s inner thoughts and memories, they act both as a musical instrument and as a character in the drama. Though electronically controlled, the sculptures generate a range of sounds acoustically, using everyday objects like wine glasses and bike wheels, objects which occupy an important role in Sophia’s life. Within Sophia’s vivid, inner landscape, the sounds of these objects are reinvented into a unique sonic world that combines the sounds of the sculptures, string quartet and singers. Design and construction of the sculptures is being led by Youngmoo Kim, who directs Drexel University’s ExCITe Center, along with architect Simon Kim and engineer Mark Yim of the University of Pennsylvania.
This experimental collaboration between the worlds of opera and technology will be presented in an intimate production directed by Brian Staufenbiel. Paige Seber is the Lighting Designer. Principal Guest Conductor of the Dallas Opera, Nicole Paiement will conduct. The cast is led by Soprano Kiera Duffy, as Sophia. Duffy had a breakout performance in Opera Philadelphia’s Breaking The Waves last year. The rest of the cast includes: Jennifer Beattie (Anna), Michael Weyandt (Wes), Maggie Finnegan (Emma), and Francesca Luzi (Young Sophia).
The instrumental ensemble will feature the Aizuri Quartet, winners of the 2017 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in Japan, and previously the quartet-in-residence at the Curtis Institute of Music (2014 – 2016) and ensemble-in-residence at the Barnes Foundation (2015). Eric Derr will play percussion.
“Working with the ExCITe Center to build these sculptures has allowed me to experiment with a new range of sonic possibilities and I hope that audiences will be excited by the beautifully unusual sounds created in this opera. But more importantly, I hope audiences are captivated and moved by the story we are telling about a mother and daughter’s tragic journey to the United States, and the ways in which the young girl’s imagination becomes an outlet for her trauma,” said Beecher.
Major support for Sophia’s Forest has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.
About Lembit Beecher
Praised by The San Francisco Chronicle as “hauntingly lovely and deeply personal,” Lembit Beecher’s music combines “alluring” textures (The New York Times) and vividly imaginative colors with striking emotional immediacy. Noted for his collaborative spirit and “ingenious” interdisciplinary projects (The Wall Street Journal), Lembit is currently the composer-in-residence of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, having previously served a three-year term as the inaugural composer-in-residence of Opera Philadelphia in collaboration with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theatre Group. A constant across his wide range of works is a potent sense of drama, which manifests itself through a quirky, thoughtful musical language, filled with both poignant intimacy and propulsive rhythmic energy. Born to Estonian and American parents, Lembit grew up under the redwoods in Santa Cruz, California, a few miles from the wild Pacific. Since then he has lived in Boston, Houston, Ann Arbor, Berlin, New York and Philadelphia, earning degrees from Harvard, Rice and the University of Michigan. This varied background has made him particularly sensitive to place, ecology, memory, and the multitude of ways in which people tell stories.
Recent and upcoming premieres include “The Conference of the Birds” for the chamber orchestra A Far Cry, as well as new works for the Diderot Quartet, Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings/University of Michigan Symphony Band, Opera Philadelphia, the Juilliard Quartet, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Many of Lembit’s latest projects involve the incorporation of untraditional elements into operatic form, working with baroque instruments, electronic sounds, animation, new technologies, and devised theatre actors. In 2015 he received a major grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage to develop and produce Sophia’s Forest, a chamber opera for soprano Kiera Duffy, the Aizuri Quartet, and a multi-piece sound sculpture, built in collaboration with architects and engineers at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University’s ExCITe Center. Lembit’s New York City opera debut came in 2014 with Gotham Chamber Opera’s premiere of “I Have No Stories To Tell You”, written with librettist Hannah Moscovitch and staged in the medieval sculpture hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Grand Prize Winner of the S&R Foundation’s 2015 Washington Award, Lembit has been in residence at the MacDowell Colony, Copland House, Penn Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, White Mountains Festival, and Scrag Mountain Music, was a graduate fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities, and served as Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at Denison University. His primary teachers have included Evan Chambers, Bright Sheng, Karim Al-Zand, Pierre Jalbert, Kurt Stallmann and Bernard Rands.
About Hannah Moscovitch
Hannah Moscovitch has been dubbed “an indie sensation” by Toronto Life Magazine; “the wunderkind of Canadian theatre” by CBC Radio; “irritatingly talented” by Eye Weekly; and the “dark angel of Toronto theatre” by Toronto Star. The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and Now Magazine have all hailed Hannah as “Canada’s Hottest Young Playwright”.
Hannah possesses a unique ability to combine the tragic, the humorous and the shocking while also delivering an intellectually and emotionally complex work. The Globe and Mail hailed The Russian Play as “that rarest of all theatrical experiments: a clever satire with a beating heart”, while Variety Magazine’s review of East of Berlin noted that “[Moscovitch is] not afraid to plunge right through areas that others might consider poor taste in order to come out the other side in search of a deeper truth.”
In 2016, Hannah became the first Canadian playwright to with the prestigious Windham Campbell Prize administered by Yale University. She’s also the first playwright to win Ontario’s Trillium Book Award (2014). Other accolades include the Gascon-Thomas Award, the Toronto Critic’s Award for Best Canadian Play, the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play, and the SummerWorks Prize for Best Production. Her work has been nominated for the Siminovitch Prize, the Governor General’s Award, the Carol Bolt Award, the Toronto Arts Council Foundation Emerging Artist Award, the K.M Hunter Award, and the international Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.
Hannah’s writing for the stage includes Bunny, Infinity, What a Young Wife Ought to Know, East of Berlin, This is War, Little One, Other People’s Children, The Russian Play, The Huron Bride (a ghost story) and In This World (for young audiences). Hannah’s plays have been produced in Australia, Japan, Greece, Austria, Germany, Ireland, Britain and the United States, as well as across Canada, including at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the National Arts Centre, the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, Yukon Arts Centre, Banff Centre, Great Canadian Theatre Company, Theatre Network, Tarragon Theatre, Factory Theatre, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Firehall Arts Centre, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Neptune Theatre, Persephone Theatre ,and Alberta Theatre Projects among others.
Hannah’s opera with award-winning composer Lembit Beecher, I have no stories to tell you, commissioned by the Gotham Chamber Opera, premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in February of 2014. She’s also written for television: CTV/Muse/Back Alley’s Played and CBC/Temple Streets X Company.
Hannah is a playwright-in-residence at Canada’s leading new works company, Tarragon Theatre.
Aizuri Quartet Biography
Praised by the Washington Post for “captivating” performances that draw from its notable “meld of intellect, technique and emotions,” the Aizuri Quartet was awarded First Prize at the 2017 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in Japan, and Third Prize at the 2015 Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition in London. Through its engaging and thought-provoking programs, the Quartet has garnered critical acclaim for bringing “a technical bravado and emotional power” to bold new commissions, and for its “flawless” (San Diego Union-Tribune) performances of the great masterpieces of the past in which “every note is lovingly crafted and savored” (Washington Post). Based in New York City, the Aizuri Quartet is the 2017-2018 String Quartet-in-Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, presenting five unique programs throughout the season. Previously the Quartet was the 2015-2016 Ernst Stiefel String Quartet-in-Residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, and from 2014-2016, the String Quartet-in-Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. The Quartet has performed extensively throughout the United States, Japan, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Paris, Dresden, Bremen, Salzburg and Abu Dhabi, and has commissioned and premiered new works by Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw, Lembit Beecher, Paul Wiancko, Yevgeniy Sharlat, Gabriella Smith, Rene Orth, and Alyssa Weinberg. Formed in 2012, the Aizuri Quartet draws its name from “aizuri-e,” a style of predominantly blue Japanese woodblock printing noted for its vibrancy and incredible detail.
About the Drexel ExCITe Center
The Drexel Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center was established in 2013 as a University-wide strategic initiative for research innovation. The Center’s mission is to inspire transdisciplinary research and discovery connecting technology and communities. Utilizing a transdisciplinary approach, emphasizing the arts-integrated approach of STEAM, ExCITe employs a diversity of perspectives to foster creativity, personal expression, curiosity, and group collaboration.
September 8 and 9 at Drexel University
Sophia’s Forest Features Soprano Kiera Duffy, the Aizuri Quartet and
Sound Sculptures Built in Collaboration with Drexel University’s ExCITe Center