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)
Iconic American composer Philip Glass, known for his minimalist approach, is working on a “circus opera” based on Lax’s Circus Days and Nights. Since Lax has often been called a minimalist himself, this seems like a perfect match.
A cooperative venture between Cirkus Cirkör, a well-known circus group in Sweden, and the Malmö Opera, the new Glass/Lax work will have its world premiere in Malmö, Sweden, in May 2021. After that, Cirkus Cirkör plans to take it on a world tour.
A circus opera in two acts, based on the American poet Robert Lax’s book by the same title. Circus Days and Nights is a collection of existential poems where the Circus acts as a metaphor for life and the human condition.
This brand new opera, commissioned by Cirkus Cirkör and Malmö Opera is composed by the legendary Philip Glass with a libretto written by Tony Award winner David Henry Hwang. The piece is co-conceived and directed by the Swedish circus director Tilde Björfors, recipient of the Premio Europa/New Theatrical Realities.
The story follows a travelling circus company from day into night, and investigates the circularity of time, the constant travelling and seeks the joy in the repetition of the daily chores of everybody involved in this extended circus family. The circus tent acts as an image of the world, and of a greater spiritual side to the world’s perpetual journey through space, here interpreted as a circus act.
For more information, go to Cirkus Cirkör and download the “info sheet” PDF.
“I have had the rights to the poem for about ten years, but forgot to write the piece. But when I saw Tilde’s staging of ‘Satyagraha’ it struck me: They could do it!” –Philip Glass
(from “Circus Days and Nights” info sheet.)
Here are a few more details from the Cirkus Cirkör website and a recent press release (with thanks to Tomas Einarsson for translations):
Since the 1970’s, Philip Glass has been one of Americas most successful composers. His music is sometimes labeled as minimalism but it is powerful and suggestive, and often has a hypnotic force. He has a large fan base all over the world through his rich production of film music, operas, world tours with his own ensemble, and cooperations with artist such as David Bowie and Laurie Anderson.
Cirkus Cirkör began when Tilde Björfors (artistic leader and co-founder, who will direct the new Glass/Lax work) and several other artists traveled to Paris and fell in love with the possibilities the contemporary circus offered. They decided to stop dreaming big and living small and instead give their all to make a reality of their dreams. Twenty years later, more that 2 million people have seen a Cirkus Cirkör show on stage and in festivals around the world. In addition, 400,000 children and youth have been trained in contemporary circus techniques. Contemporary circus is now an established art form in Sweden. You will find it in all sorts of places, from preschools to universities and homes for the elderly.
Cirkus Cirkör and Philip Glass:
In 2016, Cirkus Cirkör, together with Folkoperan, performed the Philip Glass opera “Satyagraha” in Stockholm, which began a relationship between the circus and the composer. “Satyagraha” played almost 70 sold-out shows. It also made guest appearances in Göteborg, Copenhagen, and BAM in New York. All of the New York shows were sold out and Philip Glass attended the premiere.
A great crowd of Lax fans and other poetry lovers showed up at Poets House in NYC on November 30 to listen to biographer Michael N. McGregor and poets John Beer and Stacey Tran read and talk about his work. Now, Poets House has made the entire evening available for free on their website. Just click here and scroll down to “Related Audio.”
You’ll hear presentations on Lax’s life and development as a poet, the rhythms and musicality in his work, and similarities between his approach and those of artists in other media. The recording includes discussion among the panel members and their answers to audience questions too.
If you’re going to be anywhere near New York City at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 30 (Lax’s 103rd birthday), come on down to Poets House at 10 River Terrace for an evening of talks and readings by poet and former Lax literary assistant John Beer, poet Stacey Tran, and Michael N. McGregor. For a mere $10 ($7 for students and seniors; free for Poets House members), you can hear Lax’s poetry as well as stories about him. (His niece and literary executor Marcia Kelly will be in attendance too.)
The Crossing’s concert of The Arc in the Sky, Composer Kile Smith‘s 65-minute musical composition using Lax’s poetry and prose, will be on broadcast online at WRTI.org at 4-6 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, Oct 28. The show will probably not be archived, so you’ll have to listen while it’s streaming. You’ll find more information about the broadcast at:
Poets John Beerand Stacey Tran and Lax biographer Michael N. McGregor will headline a tribute to Robert Lax at Poets House in NYC at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 30, Lax’s 103rd birthday. The celebration will take place in Elizabeth Kray Hall at Poets House (10 River Terrace, New York, NY 10282–Tel: (212) 431-7920).
Admission: $10, $7 for students and seniors, free to Poets House members
Here’s the Poets House description of the event:
“Thomas Merton, the religious writer and poet, described his friend Robert Lax as “a potential prophet, but without rage” with “a mind full of tremendous and subtle intuitions.” A Roman Catholic convert, Lax abandoned New York City literary life for seclusion on the islands of Greece, where he moved in 1962 and continued to write minimalist poems for 30 years, earning him a following by major poets, from E.E. Cummings to Ginsberg to Denise Levertov, even as mainstream academic circles ignored his work. This tribute reading and conversation honors the late poet on the evening of his birthday and on the occasion of the reissue of his 33 Poems.”
Composer Kile Smith, whose spiritually-inspired work has been praised by publications from the Philadelphia Inquirer to the Miami Herald to the Boston Classical Review, spent much of the past year working on a new composition featuring poems and other writings by Robert Lax. The work, called “The Arc in the Sky,” will premiere as part of the “Month of the Moderns” at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 30 at The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia. For tickets or to learn more about the premiere, go to the website for The Crossing, which is sponsoring the show.
You’ll find a long write-up about the show’s origins and contents, as well as Smith’s thoughts on Lax’s work and some of the Lax poems featured in his composition, at Smith’s blog.
The Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State is hosting an exhibit dedicated to the creative works of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax. According to The Public, an alternative publication covering Western New York, “The exhibit materials include framed literary items—mostly poems—and photos, and vitrines containing some of their books and other published works.” You can read more of The Public‘s write-up about the show here.
The exhibit, titled “Merton & Lax: Image and Word,” is an expanded remounting of the Lax exhibit displayed at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University last year. Among its highlights are rarely-seen issues of Pax, the limited-circulation broadsheet Lax produced in the 1950s and 1960s with poems by friends such as Merton, Jack Kerouac, Mark Van Doren, and E.E. Cummings, and illustrations by painter Ad Reinhardt and graphic artist and publisher Emil Antonucci.
The exhibit, which runs through August 26, is curated by Anthony Bannon, two-time director of the Burchfield Penny Art Center, and Paul Spaeth, Rare Books and Special Collections Librarian at St. Bonaventure University, who is also the curator of the Thomas Merton and Robert Lax Archives at St. Bonaventure. For more information, see the exhibit posting on the Burchfield Penney website.
I just learned that my keynote address at the International Thomas Merton Society conference at 7 p.m. (Eastern time) this Friday, June 16, will be live-streamed. The talk is titled “Harpo and the Clown of God: The Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”
The other keynotes–by Scott Russell Sanders, M. Shawn Copeland, and Luke Timothy Johnson–will be live-streamed too.
To tune in, go to http://merton.org/2017/default.aspx#stream when it’s time for the talk and look for the blue box (where you’ll find the schedule too):