Through the Amplifying Voices program, the Oregon Symphony, Boise Phil, Fresno Philharmonic, Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, Las Vegas Philharmonic, and London Philharmonic Orchestra are proud to be collaborating with composer Vijay Iyer.
Co-commissioners: Oregon Symphony (lead), Boise Phil, Fresno Philharmonic, Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra, Las Vegas Philharmonic, and London Philharmonic Orchestra.
- October 1, 2022 – Vijay Iyer’s Human Archipelago, cellist Inbal Segev and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (world premiere) – London, England
- January 14-16, 2023 – Vijay Iyer’s Human Archipelago, cellist Inbal Segev and the Oregon Symphony (U.S. premiere) – Salem & Portland, OR
- February 25, 2023 – Vijay Iyer’s Human Archipelago, cellist Inbal Segev and the Illinois Philharmonic Orchestra – Palos Heights, IL
Composer Statement for his commissioned piece, Human Archipelago:
Human Archipelago, a concerto for cello and orchestra, borrows its title from a book project by author Teju Cole and photographer Fazal Sheikh. Their work concerned with the entanglement of climate change and forced migration, and the political clashes born of this fraught, haphazard process. “Who counts as family?” reads Cole’s solitary line on one page, opposite Shaikh’s photograph of a small child, a refugee, ears pierced, head shaved, gazing back at the viewer with searing determination. With this juxtaposition, the reader-subject is called into a contentious relationship with state power and human life. How might a piece of music speak to this grim state of affairs? Ideally the approach works not through a simple “heartstrings” sentimentality, but rather by involving the listener in the relationship between cello and ensemble.
As a lifelong performer and a lifelong listener, I have learned that the most effective way to make music “listenable” is to feature the listening process itself in the act of music-making. As an observer detects these qualities, this process of listening, she becomes drawn into the musicians’ work, compelled to ask: what are they listening to and for? Now, to manage this quality in music-making, we must consider: what does listening sound like? For the solo performer, the listening process is audible in the way they express an awareness of the space around them, in how they interact musically with the sound of the room. In chamber music, listening sounds like interdependence, or relationality among players, audible in mutual breathing, attunement, blending, dynamics, the ebb and flow of pulse, and in the non-visual coordination of action. The concerto format involves a bit of both: the soloist projecting into space in a feedback loop, and the ensemble relying upon one another. The barrier to this is the conductor, who fosters less aural and more visually-guided coordination, making up for the non-simultaneity of sonic communication in a large ensemble; the act of conducting affords a kind of simulation of listening, to make up for what a large ensemble is unable to achieve together.
What I would like to do with Human Archipelago is remove the conductor from this scenario, indeed remove the visual element entirely, and push the manageable limits of purely aural relationality between the soloist and ensemble members. The obvious precedent is the conductorless classical orchestra of the past, where ensemble synchrony had to be forged from within. I have worked in this manner many times in smaller group formats; when I perform as a pianist-bandleader with my ensembles, it is mostly with my eyes closed, because the communication, synchronization, and interaction unfolds entirely aurally. I have also implemented such listening strategies in various moments in my chamber music, where a real-time process is required of musicians: e.g., asking a string quartet to improvise a unison line, to play a slow glissando in perfect synchrony, or to make similar relational choices that determine the course and pace of the music. In these moments the only element linking the musicians, indeed the only generative force in the music, is the players’ mutual aural attunement. Such tactics foster a performative vulnerability that brings the music to life, brings performers to the brink of possibility, and expresses human inter-reliance.
I envision this piece not as a straightforward linear score, but as a system of ethical relations that afford individual and collective sonic agency across the ensemble. The piece would amount to a set of strategies for building musical structure, creating coincidence and consequence, based purely on specific practices of listening, responding, aggregating, and synchronizing: an enactment of individual and collective action that brings forth a genuine, audible interdependence.
The point is to employ this risky strategy not as a mere gimmick, but as a productive advance in the language of ensemble music. The piece would equip players to proceed, through a careful cooperative listening practice, from emptiness to form – dramatizing the ongoing precarity of shared life, and embodying the ultimate ethical challenge of Human Archipelago.
Human Archipelago was commissioned by the London Philharmonic, Oregon Symphony, Fresno Philharmonic, Las Vegas Philharmonic, Boise Philharmonic, the Illinois Philharmonic, and Inbal Segev.
Described by The New York Times as a “social conscience, multimedia collaborator, system builder, rhapsodist, historical thinker and multicultural gateway,” Vijay Iyer has carved out a unique path as an influential, prolific, shape-shifting presence in twenty-first-century music. A composer and pianist active across multiple musical communities, Iyer has created a consistently innovative, emotionally resonant body of work over the last twenty-five years, earning him a place as one of the leading music-makers of his generation. He received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a United States Artist Fellowship, a Grammy nomination, the Alpert Award in the Arts, and two German “Echo” awards, and was voted Downbeat Magazine’s Jazz Artist of the Year four times in the last decade. He has been praised by Pitchfork as “one of the best in the world at what he does,” by the Los Angeles Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star,” and by Minnesota Public Radio as “an American treasure.” A longtime New Yorker, Iyer lives in central Harlem with his wife and daughter. He teaches at Harvard University in the Department of Music and the Department of African and African American Studies. He is a Steinway artist.
Palos Heights, IL
Collington Senior Living Community, Auditorium, 10450 Lottsford Rd, Mitchellville, MD