Reynolds ex­plores world of Amer­ica’s first pres­i­dent

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY EMILY CARY

Who was Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton? Born a Bri­tish sub­ject, he served his king as a sol­dier dur­ing the French and In­dian War, but the pros­per­ous Vir­ginia farmer seemed an im­prob­a­ble can­di­date for mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal fame un­til Colo­nial rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies urged him to lead a rag­tag army in quest of free­dom from Eng­land.

Un­like his fel­low Found­ing Fa­thers, our first pres­i­dent was not a univer­sity grad­u­ate, a pro­lific writer or an ac­claimed or­a­tor, but he read avidly. Two cen­turies later, he springs to life in The Fred W. Smith Na­tional Li­brary for the Study of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton at Mount Ver­non, where schol­ars and his­to­ri­ans can consult the col­lec­tion of books about agri­cul­ture, gov­ern­ment, war­fare and slav­ery that con­trib­uted to his per­sonal ed­u­ca­tion.

To co­in­cide with the Sept. 27 open­ing of the li­brary, the world pre­miere of com­poser Roger Reynolds’ mul­ti­me­dia project “ge­orge WASH­ING­TON” will be per­formed at the Kennedy Center this week by the Na­tional Sym­phony Orches­tra and con­ducted by mu­sic di­rec­tor Christoph Eschen­bach.

The re­cip­i­ent of a 1989 Pulitzer Prize in Mu­sic for “Whispers Out of Time,” Mr. Reynolds was teach­ing an arts ac­ti­va­tion course for the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Wash­ing­ton Center when the “serendip­i­tous op­por­tu­nity” arose to cre­ate a cel­e­bra­tory event for the li­brary open­ing. He had al­ways wanted to know far more about this coun­try’s first pres­i­dent than stan­dard text­book ac­counts re­veal, so he plunged into the chal­lenge with gusto.

“Even though most of our Found­ing Fa­thers left many writ­ings, Wash­ing­ton gave only three pub­lic speeches,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “To un­der­stand him, I stud­ied his bi­ogra­phies, let­ters, diaries and his spo­ken words. I learned that he was can­did, ded­i­cated and of­ten po­etic and thought­ful. Many do not know that he was pas­sion­ate about ed­u­ca­tion and pro­posed a univer­sity, even though it did not come to pass. Ev­ery morn­ing, he got up and rode across his plan­ta­tion. I wanted to know what he was think­ing and hear­ing as he rode, and so I be­gan an in­tense col­lab­o­ra­tion with a video team that recorded the sights and sounds at Mount Ver­non over the pe­riod of a year.”

The short video clips will be pro­jected on three mas­sive screens cov­er­ing the sides and back of the Con­cert Hall stage. At the same time, sur­round-sound placed through­out the hall will bring to life the birds, wind, grist mill and other char­ac­ter­is­tic noises of the plan­ta­tion. Three ac­tors will nar­rate the text Mr. Reynolds com­piled from words Wash­ing­ton spoke or wrote dur­ing his youth, mid­dle age and later years.

His mu­si­cal score of 24 min­utes uses tra­di­tional in­stru­men­ta­tion aug­mented by a broad range of wind in­stru­ments. “My goal was to present three parts of his life: the ori­gins, his en­gage­ment and his re­flec­tions on a new na­tion,” he said. “Putting this work to­gether turned out to be an in­trigu­ing and ab­sorb­ing weave of ideas in an im­mer­sive en­vi­ron­ment, one stim­u­lated by a num­ber of senses. My ob­jec­tive is to take the au­di­ence into Wash­ing­ton’s world through his own words, the sights he sees daily and and the sounds he hears as he makes his rounds of the plan­ta­tion, per­haps the call of a bird com­ing from the back of the hall. With the mu­sic con­ti­nu­ity, it adds up to one ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Mr. Reynolds be­gan study­ing pi­ano dur­ing childhood, yet af­ter per­form­ing suc­cess­fully in a solo recital in his home­town of Detroit, he put mu­sic aside and en­tered the Univer­sity of Michi­gan as a physics ma­jor. His first job fol­low­ing grad­u­a­tion was as a sys­tems de­vel­op­ment engi­neer in the aero­space in­dus­try with Mar­quardt Ram­jet Cor­po­ra­tion in Van Nuys, Calif. But he did not count on his pas­sion for mu­sic to pre­vail and al­ter the di­rec­tion of his life.

For­sak­ing physics, he com­pleted a mil­i­tary obli­ga­tion be­fore re­turn­ing to Michi­gan, this time as a se­ri­ous stu­dent of pi­ano per­for­mance. Shortly af­ter ar­riv­ing, fate in­ter­vened once again; the ul­ti­mate lure was a class in com­po­si­tion.

His de­ci­sion to be­come a com­poser soon bore fruit with his mu­si­cal set­ting of a Wal­lace Stevens poem. Com­posed in 1961, the mul­ti­me­dia “The Em­peror of Ice Cream” in­cor­po­rated his in­tense in­ter­ests in space, lit­er­a­ture and the­ater, lay­ing the ground­work for fu­ture ex­per­i­men­tal works. Dur­ing the next decade, sup­port by Ful­bright, Guggen­heim and Rock­e­feller fel­low­ships en­abled Mr. Reynolds to de­velop artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tions in Europe and Ja­pan.

Since 1969, he has taught in the mu­sic depart­ment of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego, where he is the first UC fac­ulty mem­ber in the arts to hold the ti­tle of univer­sity pro­fes­sor. His early at­trac­tion to com­puter mu­sic put him in the fore­front of the rev­o­lu­tion and en­ables him to in­ter­twine his teach­ing and com­po­si­tions with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy.

“In the late 1970s, I be­came so ab­sorbed in the sub­ject that I spent two sum­mers learn­ing all I could at Stan­ford Center for Com­puter Re­search in Mu­sic and Acous­tics (CCRMA),” he said. “Since then, it has be­come a key part of my work. In ‘ge­orge WASH­ING­TON,’ I have in­cor­po­rated many dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines. I hope they draw the Kennedy Center au­di­ence into his world and al­low them to em­pathize with him as a hu­man be­ing, not as a mon­u­ment.”

The com­mis­sion of “ge­orge WASH­ING­TON” is a part­ner­ship be­tween Mount Ver­non and the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Wash­ing­ton Center. To whet ap­petites, the Kennedy Center hosts “The Many Faces of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton,” a nine-panel ex­hibit fea­tur­ing fac­sim­i­les of paint­ings and im­ages owned by Wash­ing­ton and dis­played at Mount Ver­non. It will be on dis­play in the Hall of Na­tions through Sun­day. In keep­ing with the pe­riod, the Mil­len­nium Stage will present 18th cen­tury mu­sic by Colo­nial Mu­sic In­sti­tute’s David Hilde­brand on Fri­day, and the Gin­ger Hilde­brand Trio on Satur­day.

Com­poser Roger Reynolds cre­ated the mul­ti­me­dia “ge­orge WASH­ING­TON” to be per­formed by the Na­tional Sym­phony Orches­tra at the Kennedy Center.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.