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Cal Performances Explores Relationship Between Technology & Creative Expression in “Human & Machine”: Six “Illuminations” Programs Featuring U.S. Premiere of William Kentridge’s SIBYL, West Coast Premieres of Steve Reich’s Traveler’s Prayer & Michel van der Aa’s Blank Out, & More (Oct 30–May 6)

(September 2022)—Now in its third season, Cal Performances at UC Berkeley’s “Illuminations” series presents “Human and Machine”: six mainstage performances addressing the complex and changing relationship between technology and creative expression. The series’ centerpiece is the eagerly anticipated U.S. premiere of William Kentridge’s hit multi-disciplinary theatrical production SIBYL, which offers a meditation on the ultimately unknowable nature of the future (March 17–19). This follows three fall concerts: keyboard artist Kristian Bezuidenhout makes his Cal Performances recital debut with “The Evolution of the Fortepiano,” a program charting the development of keyboard technology (Oct 30); the Colin Currie Group and Synergy Vocals give the West Coast premiere of Steve Reich’s Traveler’s Prayer, highlighting a celebration of the electronic innovator at 86 (Nov 3); and Sō Percussion gives the Bay Area premieres of works for percussion and electronics by Angélica Negrón and Nathalie Joachim (Nov 12). Rounding out the series next spring are two operatic productions: the West Coast premiere of Blank Out, a chamber opera featuring 3D film from multi-genre storyteller Michel van der Aa (April 28 & 29), and the Bay Area premiere of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, an Afrofuturistic opera from the daughter-mother team of Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon (May 5 & 6). Complemented by artist talks, symposia and other public events, these six performances explore the ways technology impacts communication and the creative process; the relationships between technology creators and users; the growing role of artificial intelligence; and the ways we as a society understand our future.

Jeremy Geffen, executive and artistic director of Cal Performances, explains:

“This concept of ‘Human and Machine’ has never been so pertinent to so many. Particularly over the course of the pandemic, the rapid expansion of technology’s role in improving communication and in helping us emotionally process unforeseen and, at times, extraordinarily difficult events has made a permanent mark on our human history. Our reliance on technology to communicate throughout time has, for better or worse, influenced how we understand others as well as ourselves. Throughout this ‘Illuminations’ season, we will investigate how technology has contributed to our capacity for self-expression, as well as the potential dangers it may pose.”

Launched in the 2020-21 season, Cal Performances’ “Illuminations” series brings the public into the heart of the groundbreaking research that distinguishes the work of UC Berkeley, providing a platform for civic engagement, public discourse, and social and cultural transformation by connecting UC Berkeley’s scholarship to the performing arts. “Illuminations” performances and events bring together a diverse community – longtime Cal Performances patrons, first-time visitors, academics and teachers, students, visiting artists, and members of the wider public – to make visible the dynamic relationships between campus scholarship and pressing issues in the wider world as seen through a lens of artistic inquiry.

U.S. premiere of William Kentridge’s SIBYL (March 17–19); Opening Night Gala (March 17)

South African artist William Kentridge has been revered in the art world for more than 40 years. Best known for prints and animated films that address his homeland’s legacies of colonialism and apartheid while celebrating its vibrant culture, he has also created original productions for such leading opera houses as the Metropolitan Opera, English National Opera and Sydney Opera House. Drawing on his talents as both artist and director, SIBYL represents his most recent theatrical production, and its U.S. premiere marks a centerpiece of the coming “Illuminations” season (March 17–19). Featuring Kentridge as the guest of honor, there will be a special Gala on the opening night of the work’s three-performance run to benefit key Cal Performances initiatives (March 17).

Inspired by the classical myth of the Cumaean Sibyl, SIBYL comprises two parts that contemplate the eternal impossibility of predicting the future. Both feature music by two of Kentridge’s compatriots: Nhlanhla Mahlangu, who previously collaborated on his acclaimed production The Head & the Load, and Kyle Shepherd, a nominee for the South African Music Award. The evening opens with “The Moment Has Gone,” a short film by Kentridge that combines live footage with time-lapse animation, set to live musical accompaniment, featuring a piano score by Shepherd and Mahlangu’s South African men’s chorus. Next follows “Waiting for the Sibyl,” a chamber opera for a full company of singers and dancers, who interact with Kentridge’s signature hand-painted backdrops, animated ink drawings, swirling projected text, collages and shadow play. After premiering in Rome, SIBYL came to London’s Barbican, where, in a five-star review the UK’s Telegraph pronounced it “a powerful, prophetic 40-minute masterwork.” Hailing the production as “an extraordinary achievement,” The Times of London marveled: “To call it stimulating would be an understatement. It is also cumulatively, and sometimes almost inexplicably, moving.” Click here to watch a trailer for William Kentridge’s SIBYL.

Fall concerts: Kristian Bezuidenhout (Oct 30), Colin Currie Group (Nov 3) & Sō Percussion (Nov 12)

The series launches with the Cal Performances recital debut of Kristian Bezuidenhout (Oct 30). With works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Clara Schumann and Mendelssohn, the South African-born, London-based keyboard artist guides audiences through the development of his instrument, charting the development of keyboard technology from Baroque harpsichord to Classical fortepiano in “The Evolution of the Fortepiano.” Equally at home on both instruments as well as the modern piano, Bezuidenhout currently serves as joint Artistic Director of the Freiburger Baroque Orchestra and his recordings have been recognized with awards including the Diapason d’Or de L’année, Caecilia Prize, ECHO Klassik and Edison Award. As The Guardian put it in a recent five-star review, “Above all, Bezuidenhout knows how to make a fortepiano sing.”

“Illuminations” continues with a two-part Percussion Festival. This opens with a “A Steve Reich Celebration” from the Colin Currie Group (Nov 3), to honor the 86th birthday of the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer whose experimentation with looping, “phasing” and other electronic sounds has proved transformative for 21st-century chamber music. Founded by its namesake expressly to interpret Reich’s music, over the course of its 15-year history the Colin Currie Group has developed a close collaborative relationship with the composer. Joined by Synergy Vocals, the ensemble performs an all-Reich program combining the composer’s Music for 18 Musicians and Tehillim – the first work in which he explored his Jewish heritage – with the West Coast premiere of Traveler’s Prayer. A Cal Performances co-commission, the new work sets three texts from the Old Testament; as Reich observes, “While these verses can certainly apply to travels by air, car or boat, they can also be applied to travel from this world to the next.” When the Colin Currie Group and Synergy Vocals premiered the piece at London’s Royal Festival Hall, their performance impressed The Guardian as “an exhilarating occasion.”

For 20 years and more, Sō Percussion has redefined chamber music with its “exhilarating blend of precision and anarchy, rigor and bedlam” (New Yorker). For the Percussion Festival’s second concert, the new-music quartet returns with a program of recent works featuring musical “machines” and electronic environments (Nov 12). This opens with two short pieces by Angélica Negrón, a Puerto Rican-born composer known for her “wistfully idiosyncratic and contemplative” music (WQXR). Both receiving Bay Area premieres, go back and gone – a work originally written for Sō Percussion – explore interactions between percussion instruments and pre-programmed electronic noisemakers. Also receiving its Bay Area premiere is Note to Self by Grammy-nominated Haitian-American composer Nathalie Joachim, who represents “a fresh and invigorating cross-cultural voice” (The Nation). Created in collaboration with the quartet at Carnegie Hall, Joachim’s work combines percussion writing with pre-recorded loops of her own voice. To complete the program, Sō Percussion reprises neither Anvil nor Pulley, as heard on its 2013 recording, by Guggenheim and MacArthur awardee Dan Trueman. I Care If You Listen reports:

“Created in collaboration with Brooklyn-based quartet Sō Percussion, nAnP provides a compelling vision of 21st century music-making, where boundaries between digital and acoustic universes dissolve and beguiling new soundscapes arise.”

Spring theatrical productions: Blank Out (April 28 & 29) & Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower (May 5 & 6)

SIBYL is one of three theatrical productions in this season’s “Illuminations” series. Spring also brings the West Coast premiere of Michel van der Aa’s new chamber opera, Blank Out, which explores memory, trauma and loss through innovative storytelling that incorporates 3D film (April 28 & 29). As the sole performer on stage, Swedish soprano Miah Persson interacts with video footage of her character’s grown son, portrayed by award-winning British baritone Roderick Williams, as well as with recording of the Netherlands Chamber Choir and with layered recordings of her own voice. She also films herself as she navigates a miniature set of a country house, as the images she captures are projected in real time, to create the 3D backdrop she inhabits onstage. In van der Aa’s creation, reality, memory and feeling become intertwined, as Persson and Williams reveal a shared trauma, inspired by the life and work of South African poet Ingrid Jonker. When Blank Out premiered at Dutch National Opera’s Opera Forward Festival, the work was hailed as “a wonderfully fluent and effective piece of music theatre,” and Persson’s performance as “an astonishing tour de force” (The Guardian). Click here to watch the trailer for Blank Out.

To complete the “Illuminations” theatrical offerings and entire 2022-23 season, Cal Performances presents the Bay Area premiere of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower (May 5 & 6), an evening-length opera from the daughter-mother creative team of musical polymath Toshi Reagon, winner of the 2021 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, and Bernice Johnson Reagon, best known at Cal Performances as a founding member of Grammy-winning a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. Described by the pair as a “congregational opera,” Parable of the Sower is based on the startlingly prescient post-apocalyptic 1993 novel of the same name and its sequel by Octavia E. Butler, the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. Set in a dystopian America wracked by climate change, addiction, and social and political upheaval, it tells the story of a young Black woman who develops a new religion rooted in empathy and collective action. Directed by Obie Award-winner Eric Ting and Drama League Directing Fellow Signe V. Harriday, the fully staged production draws on a cast of more than 20 singers, actors and musicians. “Built on a dynamic fusion of blues, gospel, folk, and funk,” the Reagons’ score “surges and swells like a mighty wave,” wrote the Boston Globe, after the opera’s Boston premiere. “Parable of the Sower ultimately leaves you with the feeling that perhaps the fate of humanity might be in pretty good hands after all.” Click here to watch the trailer for Parable of the Sower.

For high-resolution photos, visit Cal Performances’ online press room at CalPerformances

Cal Performances’ “Illuminations” series presents “Human and Machine”

University of California at Berkeley

Oct 30
Kristian Bezuidenhout, harpsichord and fortepiano (Cal Performances debut)
“The Evolution of the Fortepiano”
BACH: Toccata in D minor
MOZART: Fantasia in C minor, K. 475
BEETHOVEN: Sonata in C minor, “Pathétique”
SCHUBERT: Andantino from Moments Musicaux
SCHUBERT: Allegretto quasi andantino from Sonata in A minor
Clara SCHUMANN: Romance in A minor
MENDELSSOHN: Selections from Songs without Words
MENDELSSOHN: Three Fantasies or Caprices

Nov 3
Percussion Festival: “A Steve Reich Celebration”
Colin Currie Group, led by Colin Currie, conductor and percussion
With Synergy Vocals
Steve REICH: Tehillim
Steve REICH: Traveler’s Prayer (West Coast premiere of Cal Performances co-commission)
Steve REICH: Music for 18 Musicians

Nov 12
Percussion Festival: Sō Percussion
Angélica NEGRÓN: go back (Bay Area premiere)=
Angélica NEGRÓN: gone (Bay Area premiere)
Nathalie JOACHIM: Note to Self (Bay Area premiere)
Dan TRUEMAN: neither Anvil nor Pulley

March 17–19 (Opening Night Gala March 17)
William Kentridge’s SIBYL (U.S. premiere)
Music by Nhlanhla MAHLANGU and Kyle SHEPHERD
Part 1: The Moment Has Gone
Part 2: Waiting for the Sibyl

April 28 & 29
Michel van der Aa’s Blank Out (West Coast premiere)
Michel VAN DER AA, composer, film and stage director
Miah Persson, soprano
Roderick Williams, baritone (film)
Netherlands Chamber Choir (film)
Klaas Stok, conductor
Sophie Motley, dramaturg
Floriaan Ganzevoort, lighting designer
Frank van der Weij, production development
Thom Stuart, movement advisor
Joost Rietdijk, director of photography
Melvin Kant, film producer
William Griffioen, film producer

May 5 & 6
Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower (Bay Area premiere)
Toshi REAGON, creator
Bernice Johnson REAGON, creator
Eric Ting, director
Signe V. Harriday, director

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© 21C Media Group, September 2022


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