The new Philip Glass opera “Circus Days and Nights,” based on Robert Lax’s poetry, will be live-streamed starting with its premiere on May 29. The premiere is sold out, but you can still get tickets to other shows.
To order tickets (which cost approximately $12 US) and read more about the show, click here.
Poking around on YouTube today, I found these two old blurry videos of the Cristiani circus family, the second of which I’ve posted before.
The Cristianis, of course, are the stars of Robert Lax’s poetry cycles The Circus of the Sun and Mogador’s Book, the basis for the Philip Glass opera “Circus Days and Nights,” which will premiere in a live-streamed show from the Malmö Opera building on May 29.
Notre Dame editor Kerry Temple asked me to write the piece shortly after last November’s election because he was tired of hearing only about badness. Then he built an entire essay around the theme of Goodness–something this past year has left us all wanting more of.
You’ll find links to the many other thoughtful and inspiring pieces in the issue in a sidebar next to my essay.
On Sunday, March 28, 2021 (at 18:00, Budapest time) Frog Peak Music (a composers’ collective, aka FUGA) will present:
SONGS FROM THE HILL AND ELSEWHERE, featuring Nikolaus Gerszewski’s compositions “songs from the hill” (2012) and “new songs from the hill” (2019) will be presented along with composer Chris Newman’s “modest songs” (2012)
Gerszewski’s compositions are based on Robert Lax’s poem “the hill.”
The concert at the Budapest Architecture Center will feature Orsolya Anna Juhász (soprano voice) and Bálint Baráth (piano). It will be broadcast live on the group’s YouTube channel, where you can watch it later too: https://www.youtube.com/user/fugabudapest/videos
Before the concert, György Bartók and Nikolaus Gerszewski will talk about the works.
(The image above, of Nikolaus Gerszewski, is from the FUGA website)
Here’s what Gerszewski says about his compositions:
I chose the lyrics from the volume “the hill” by the minimalist poet Robert Lax, who has lived half of his life as a hermit on the greek island Patmos. His poetic style transcends literary genres, sometimes oscillates between narrative prose and abstract lyricism, even touches the border of concrete poetry; the single word can be emphasized in its phonetic objectivity but is at the same time embedded in a descriptive context.
The music I wrote is sometimes chromatic, sometimes appearently modal, yet not following any musical system in its tonal shaping. The compositional technique is actually rather conceptual, in the sense of using a selfmade precompositional setup to reduce the possibilities of choices. Yet the music itself is very intuitional, which is not a contradiction. We have this relation of a conceptual approach with an intuitional, so to speak lyrical result in the works of many great artists of the conceptual period, like Ad Reinhard, Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin or Eva Hesse.
As regards content, these songs are all about solitude; a man living in a world of his own creation, waiting for a companion who may never come.
And here’s Newman talking about her composition:
I think that art is definitely trying to get away from personal feelings that we all feel – this way or that way. Art has the ability to embody, make concrete & transcend, help us ‘get through’ those feelings. Not therapeutic, but transcendent.
When writing music I don’t use pitches or rhythms, I use musical material as a job-lot, not its components & really like a job-lot I take what it gives me. I apply ‘things’ to the job-lot of music. The vista of music, the panorama of music. I suppose what interests me is the phenomenon of music & our relationship to it, how it combines itself with us, or at least making models for this. The phenomenon of music & how it combines itself with us. I am wondering if the medium is also ‘merely’ a model for the outside world.”
Nikolaus Gerszewski was born in 1964 in Hamburg and lives now in Hamburg and Budapest. He is a trained visual artist and a self-trained composer of ‘experimental music.’
Since his early 20s, he has been engaged in non-representational art, as both a painter and a theorist. In 2005, he came in touch with Cornelius Cardew’s graphic score “Treatise,” and ever since he has developed his own musical notation, in form of graphic scores, text scores, alternative systems of signs, semi-conventional, and even fully conventional sheet music. In 2008, he introduced his own generic term ‘ordinary music’, expressing his view, that the making of sounds should be considered a natural means of expression, accessible to everyone, rather than being banished into the realms of art and entertainment; this having said he still considers himself a natural born artist.
Since 2013, Nikolaus has been teaching ‘experimental sound production’ at the university of fine arts, Budapest (MKE), and at the university of science, Pecs (PTI).
Chris Newman was born in London 1958. While a music student at King’s College London he found himself involved in translating Russian poetry into English (with Russian poet Eugene Dubrov) & this act of translation in the broadest sense – either from one artistic medium to another (this mediums in his case embrace music, poetry, performance, painting, video & dual presentations thereof), or from the act of perception into the artistic medium – has formed the basis of his endeavors. He moved to Cologne in 1980 & has more or less lived in Germany ever since.
I spent several hours recently looking through my collection of Robert Lax books, booklets, pamphlets, recordings, letters, and drawings and thought I’d post images of a few of them. The ones I value most, of course, are those Lax gave me himself, inscribing them to me. But others have special meaning as well. Among them are:
The multi-language version of The Circus of the Sun I was amazed to find in a Seattle bookstore just months after I first met Lax (the first of his books I owned); the pristine copy of the original hardcover version or The Circus of the Sun its publisher, Emil Antonucci, sent me after I interviewed him; the copy of A Poem for Thomas MertonLax’s cousin Soni gave me one of the last times I saw her (image below); and the four copies of the extremely fragile and rare Pax broadsheet Lax sent out to friends and a few paying customers in the 50s and 60s (which I was able to purchase online before prices for that kind of thing rose out of sight).
What struck me most as I looked over all of these treasures was the sheer number and variety of people Lax collaborated with or simply allowed to use his poems in whatever way they chose. The two most consistent and therefore important publishers of his work were Emil Antonucci, who started Journeyman Press just to disseminate Lax’s poems, and Gladys Weigner und Bernhard Moosbrugger, who did something similar with Pendo-Verlag. But there were countless others: poets, painters, photographers, lithographers, musicians, radio personalities, magazine editors, and multimedia artists. All of them were touched by something in Lax’s writings but also by something in him: a spirit, a way of seeing, an ability to bring the world and ourselves into clearer focus. And all of them found Lax to be a willing and enjoyable partner.
While musicians are generally used to collaborating, most artists and writers create alone. And many of them—of us—are difficult to work with when a collaborative opportunity comes along. Even playwrights, who work in a collaborative medium, often have a tough time letting go of their work so directors and actors and stage designers can turn it into something alive on stage.
But although Lax lived alone and wrote his poetry alone, he was a natural and cheerful collaborator. His first collaborations were with his college friends—in creating issues of Jester at Columbia College and when they lived together during college summers at the Marcus cottage. Out of these times—and his later observations of jazz musicians jamming together and circus acrobats perfecting their timing with one another—came his view of the ideal life: not only living fully in the moment, under God, but also performing whatever art or practice you have worked to perfect—spontaneously, in a spirit of love, in community with others.
May we all learn from Lax to be better collaborators and enjoy the synergy that can be released only when we trust and say yes to one another.
Renowned Swedish soprano Elin Rombo will headline a talented and diverse cast of singers and circus performers in the May 29th premiere of Philip Glass’s “Circus Days and Nights,” based on poems by Robert Lax.
To read Rombo’s biography, listen to an audio clip of her singing, and watch her in two short movie clips, click here.
For a full list of the “Circus Days and Nights” cast, click here.
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).
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