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Festival Concert 3

  • Darrows Barn 3 Round Top Lane Damariscotta, ME 04543 USA (map)

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25th Anniversary season
Music of Our Common Earth

Festival Concert 3

August 9
7:30 pm – Festival Concert at Darrows Barn
6:30 pm – Pre-concert lecture by Mark Mandarano
Darrows Barn at Round Top Farm


Marcos Balter Alone (2013)

              Claire Chase, flute

Claude Debussy Chansons de Bilitis, L. 97 (1898)

              Hyunah Yu, soprano; Thomas Sauer, piano

Claude Debussy Syrinx, L. 129 (1913)

              Claire Chase, flute

Barbara Strozzi “Che si può fare” (1664)

              Hyunah Yu, soprano; Thomas Sauer, piano

Richard Strauss “O mein Leukippos” from Daphne (1937)

              Hyunah Yu, soprano; Thomas Sauer, piano


Marcos Balter Pan (concert version) (2018)

              Claire Chase, flute


Program Notes

Of the importance of the role of myth in human understanding, the foundational psychologist Carl Jung wrote:

The protean mythologem and the shimmering symbol express the processes of the psyche far more trenchantly . . . than the clearest concept; for the symbol not only conveys a visualization of the process but, it also brings a re-experiencing of it, of that twilight which we can learn to understand only through inoffensive empathy, but which too much clarity only dispels.

The key word in Jung’s paragraph may well be “empathy”—to feel in oneself the affliction of another. Within the timeless myths referenced on tonight’s program, we see the consequences of aggression on female figures. In the present, during the #metoo movement, the timelessness of such tales is in many ways regrettable. Witnessing the endless repetitions of mistakes and crimes, one might desire instead to see solutions and methods of prevention. Perhaps art, experienced as catharsis rather than entertainment and by resonating empathetically with communities, can effect growth and help to push these uncomfortable legends further into history.

The work of Claire Chase epitomizes the idea of the modern innovative collaborator: a founder of ensembles and programs, a commissioner of new works in multiple interdisciplinary formats, and a creator who seeks out thematic concepts that tie the most far-ranging musical ideas to relatable issues, events, and places. The ambitious commissioning project Density 2036, of which Pan is a part, has already captured the attention of audiences and fellow artists, galvanizing efforts at expression and meaning. In Pan, a collaboration with the director Doug Fitch and Brazil-born, U.S.-educated composer Marcos Balter, the flutist assumes the role of the Greek demi-god, performing and enacting episodes from the life and death of the heretofore immortal being. Community members from the audience are given instructions about how to take part in the performance in order to re-enact the cyclic ritual of Pan’s moral tale. “The genesis of Pan amounts to the creation not just of a work of art, but of a community. Pan attempts to actually demonstrate, rather than to speculate about, how music-making creates spaces for societies to come together in times of uncertainty.” (Jennifer Judge)

Pan, whose name also means “everything,” is the god of animal lust, a kind of id loosened upon the world. He is associated with humor and the fulfillment of desires. That these desires can be satisfied just as often through consensual encounters as through non-consensual ones says something important about the perspective through which his “humor” is perceived. In one of the myths of Pan’s lust, he chases after the nymph Syrinx as she runs toward the river. In a desperate plea to escape, she asks the river god to save her. The god transforms her into hollow reeds that, upon contact with the unfulfilled sighs of Pan, make musical notes. These notes, which blend lust, fear, salvation, transformation, memorialization, and regret, are ones that Pan binds to him by creating his pipe, with which he is ever after associated.

This theme also intrigued Claude Debussy on several occasions, such as when he composed his piece for solo flute, Syrinx. This work was premiered in 1913 as incidental music for a play by Gabriel Mourey, Psyché, to accompany the death of Pan. The sinuous single line descending in embroidered steps achieves that characteristic quality of Debussy’s music, breathing fresh, strange, and appealing air, avoiding anything off-putting while side-stepping all sense of routine.

Earlier, in 1897, Debussy chose the poem “La flûte de Pan” as one of three poems by Pierre Louÿs he set to music in the Chansons de Bilitis. The poems of Bilitis join a curious pantheon of extraordinarily successful literary frauds. Pierre Louÿs claimed that the original poet had been a contemporary of Sappho and that he, Louÿs, had merely translated these poems from an ancient Greek source discovered on Cyprus. When the fraud was eventually unmasked, it hardly made a difference in their popularity, ideas of “authenticity” being rather different at the time. In 1894, the poems made a sensation with their frankly erotic subject matter and lesbian point of view. About these poems Debussy once wrote to Louÿs, saying, “[they] contain, couched in marvelous language, all that is passionate, tender, and cruel about being in love, so that the most refined voluptuaries are obliged to recognize the childishness of their activities compared to the fearsome and seductive Bilitis.” 

Richard Strauss frequently engaged with ancient tales as the subjects for some of his most “modern” music, as in Salome and Elektra. In Strauss’s opera Daphne, the plot is more complex than the story in Ovid (the libretto was created by Joseph Gregor), incorporating episodes from Euripides as well. But the essential element, that Apollo’s pursuit of Daphne leads to her transformation into a tree, remains intact. Added to the story is her childhood friend, Leukippos, who also woos Daphne without success. Upon seeing the two friends dancing, Apollo strikes down Leukippos in jealousy. In the aria, Daphne desperately laments the death of Leukippos and turns for consolation and escape to the surrounding beauty of nature and pleads to become one with her “verdant brethren” as a symbol of eternal purity.

The exceptional career of one female composer from the 1600s, Barbara Strozzi, can provide insight into how the struggles of women have hardly been limited to myths and legends. The following quote from historian Richard Taruskin offers some context:

Musical accomplishments did not bring women performers enhanced social status; rather the opposite. Women who sang or danced in public still bore a stigma in Christian Europe, where such activities were traditionally associated with prostitutes (or courtesans, as they were known in more elevated social circles) . . . unless married to a nobleman, a professional woman singer was thought of as a remarkable renegade to be looked at, applauded, but not included in polite society. The fact that Barbara Strozzi published eight books of madrigals, cantatas, and arias, and did so at a time when prejudice against the creative abilities of women ran high, bears impressive witness to her excellence as a composer in the eyes of her contemporaries.

Strozzi’s aria “Che si può fare” displays the cutting-edge qualities typical of her contemporaries, often associated with the sixth book of madrigals by Monteverdi. This new method, called seconda prattica, means doing away with the polyphonic, contrapuntal methods favored since the Renaissance and developing a more stratified texture with a clear foreground voice and rhythmically pronounced, harmonically grounded accompaniment. With a readily perceptible division between a background and foreground, the solo voice is liberated, independent, and free to be expressive, varied, and dynamic.


By Mark Mandarano

Earlier Event: August 9
Open Rehearsal
Later Event: August 11
Outdoor Concert