In early October, a group called The Riga Project Choir gave three performances in Latvia of “The Arc in the Sky,” composer Kile Smith’s choral cycle based on Robert Lax’s poetry. According to the RPC website, “The choir is comprised of former members of Latvia’s top professional and amateur choirs, who now work primarily in other fields.” Smith reports that this was the choir’s first performance of a substantial American composition and the first presentation of his choral cycle in Europe.
Two of the concerts took place at the National Library of Latvia in Riga, while the third was performed at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Daugavpils, in a heavily Russian ethnic area near the Belarus border. It soothes the soul to think of Lax’s poetry being sung so close to a war zone.
The concerts, sponsored in part by the US embassy in Latvia, were scheduled before Covid hit, which means before the war in Ukraine began. In another example of Laxian fortuity, they were postponed twice, allowing them to take place when the area most needed a Lax-like vision of peace.
Kile Smith speaks to the choir during a rehearsal for his Lax-based work. The choir’s director, Christopher Walsh Sinka, studied choral conducting under Donald Nally, the director of The Crossing, who commissioned Smith’s piece. Sinka lives in Riga now with his Latvian wife. Smith and his wife Jackie were able to attend two of the performances.
The September 2021 issue of the Robert Lax Newsletter has just gone out to subscribers. The newsletter, now in its 6th year, is a compendium of the latest Lax news alongside features about his relationships to individuals, the arts, poetry, Greece, and many other subjects. It is filled with photographs and links.
The latest issue includes:
A meditation on Lax and the visual arts.
News about the death of Corcaita “Corky” Cristiani, the last performer Lax knew personally in the family of acrobats he loved and was inspired by–with links to Corky’s film career and other Cristiani information.
Images of some of Lax’s first poems, published when he was 18.
News of new Lax-related publications.
Words by Lax on how to be present and truthful and soulful in writing.
Newsletter subscribers receive stories and news before they’re posted on the website, as well as exclusive information, stories and meditations.
The newsletter is free. To subscribe, click here and enter your email on the left side of the page.
This past spring, Cirkus Cirkör, the Swedish circus company that co-produced Philip Glass’s new opera, “Circus Days and Nights,” based on Robert Lax’s circus poems, asked me to be help with a video introducing Lax to its audience. The video won’t be released until dates for the opera’s upcoming world tour are ready to be announced, but Cirkus Cirkör has given me permission to give Lax fans a sneak peak.
Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the schedules of virtually all arts organizations. Malmö Opera, where composer Philip Glass’s circus opera based on Robert Lax’s poems is set to debut, is no exception. The opera house has been dark since December. Happily, though, the premiere of “Circus Days and Nights” will go on as scheduled on May 29, 2021.
Here’s what Henrik Sundin, marketing manager for co-producer Cirkus Cirkör, just wrote to me about the potential audience for the premiere: “At the moment, the restrictions in Sweden is 8 persons. But it’s reviewed every month so we don’t know. Maybe it will be a digital premiere. Maybe we will have 8, 50 or 300 in the audience.“
Because of the uncertainty, ticket sales have been suspended and the dates for the opera’s world tour are yet to be set. I’ll pass on further information when I have it.
You’l find more information on the opera, including costume sketches and set models here.
The images above are of the cover and information page from the original hardcover edition of Lax’s The Circus of the Sun (only 500 copies printed).
Shortly after Germany ended its coronavirus lockdown in May, the Kunstverein Röderhof Gallery near the small town of Halberstadt opened an exhibit called “Robert Lax Remembered.“ The show ran through the end of July. Here are some pictures of it.
Lax admirer Jörg Kowalski and painter Olaf Wegewitz designed the exhibit, which included “text flags” that were three meters long, photos by Lax and of Patmos, objects from Kowalski’s Lax collection, and materials from the Mailart project “PATMOS–PROJEKT: Hommage á Robert Lax.”
I announced this several months ago but now it’s official: “Circus Days and Nights,” the new circus opera by Philip Glass, based on poems by Robert Lax (with libretto by David Henry Hwang and Tilde Björfors), will have its world premiere at Sweden’s Malmö Opera on May 29, 2021.
Cirkus Days and Nights is a co-production between Cirkus Cirkör and Malmö Opera. After its premiere at Malmö Opera, Cirkus Cirkör, Scandinavia’s leading contemporary circus company, will take it on tour.
Here’s a description from the press release sent out this week:
“An entirely new work meets an entirely new form: Circus Days and Nights is a circus opera in three acts, written by legendary composer Philip Glass. Its inspiration is Robert Lax’s masterwork Circus Days and Nights, a collection of poems that draws us into the poet’s fascination with acrobats and the circus lifestyle and takes us on the road with him when he “runs away” and joins a circus in 1940s America. For Lax, the circus becomes a metaphor for life itself – the cycle of life and death –and for human yearning and striving. Circus Days and Nights will be a boundary-crossing performance that brings the circus ring into the opera house.”
You can read the full press release here and see photographs ofCirkus Cirkör shows here.
Some quotes from those who created the opera:
”I have had the rights to the poem for about ten years, but I couldn’t write the piece because I hadn’t found my circus. When I saw Tilde’s staging of ‘Satyagraha’ it struck me: Here’s my circus.” –Philip Glass
“In Robert Lax’s poem and vision of the circus as a metaphor for life, I discovered a soulmate and ever since, Circus Days and Nights has had a permanent place on my nightstand. In Philip Glass’s music, I heard the ultimate circus music, music that commingles with the circus disciplines. Having the opportunity to bring together these two sources of inspiration is dizzying and fills me with a sense of humility in the face of life’s breathtaking leaps of faith.” –Tilde Björfors
“I read the poems and I was really touched by their beauty, their simplicity in a sense, and yet their profundity. The way Lax envisions Circus as an act of creation and the cycle of putting up a show and taking it down is the cycle of life itself.” –David Henry Hwang
The course is part of being offered by the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University. Below are details and a short bio for the instructor:
Course Title: Robert Lax: Mystic Poet Dates & Times: June 8-12 | 9 a.m.-noon | Monday through Friday Presenter: Dr. Joshua C. Benson
This course will explore the life and mysticism of Robert Lax. Utilizing new biographical information and new sources from the Lax Archive at St. Bonaventure University’s Friedsam Library, the course will introduce Lax’s life, including his connection with St. Bonaventure and the Franciscan Institute, explore his thoughts on the virtue of Charity, and study his introspective poetic mysticism.
Dr. Joshua C. Benson is chair of the Department of Theology and Franciscan Studies at St. Bonaventure University. His prior research includes studies of St. Bonaventure and other Franciscans. His most recent research has focused on unpublished materials in the Robert Lax archive, some of which appeared in the recent publication of Lax’s “21 Pages and Psalm” by the Franciscan Institute.
I just learned from composer Kile Smith that The Crossing’s performance of his composition “The Arc in the Sky,” a choral arrangement based on Lax’s poetry and other writings is a finalist for a 2020 Grammy Award!
Here’s what Smith wrote about the news on his website this morning:
“When The Arc in the Sky was thrown into the Grammy hat a couple of months ago, I thought the chances were slim of its advancing, just because of how large the pool is at that stage. And since The Crossing won Grammys the last two years in a row, those chances, to me, felt even slimmer. But now The Arc is one of the finalists, it’s up against all worthies, including great friends of mine, and so here we go. See you January 26th!”
January 26 is the date the Grammy Awards will take place and the winners will be announced.
Here’s a full list of the finalists in Best Choral Performance:
Boyle: Voyages, Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)