Art Out: "Triptych" at Brooklyn Academy of Music

Art Out: "Triptych" at Brooklyn Academy of Music

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

Images by Andrés Mercado

Triptych (Eyes of One on Another)
Composed by Bryce Dessner
Libretto by Korde Arrington Tuttle featuring words by Essex Hemphill & Patti Smith
Directed by Kaneza Schaal
Roomful of Teeth with special guests Alicia Hall Moran & Isaiah Robinson
Music direction & conducting by Brad Wells

Set and costume design by Carlos Soto
Lighting design by Yuki Nakase
Video by Simon Harding

Produced by ArKtype / Thomas O. Kriegsmann in partnership with The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

April 10, 2019/Brooklyn, NY—The work of legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe has inspired the creation of Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), a theatrical oratorio that integrates and questions his often provocative and always compelling images. Triptych spans Mapplethorpe’s entire body of work from the unique generational perspective of a diverse corps of visionary artists, working together for the first time. Composer Bryce Dessner (The National, El Chan with the Lebèques), librettist Korde Arrington Tuttle (Netflix’s Mixtape), director Kaneza Schaal (JACK &, 2018 Next Wave), and vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth create a hybrid experience from a deftly curated survey of rarely seen photographs, celebrating the duality inherent in Mapplethorpe’s work—its beauty and obscenity, dark and holy substance, inherent racism and poetic promiscuity. Mapplethorpe’s boundary-breaking perspective on classical archetypes continues to evolve our ability to see and understand each other in elegant yet elusive ways. 

Librettist Korde Arrington Tuttle has structured the piece in three parts based on Mapplethorpe’s notorious XYZ Portfolios. The first section speaks to the connection Dessner makes between Mapplethorpe’s work and Italian Mannerism. It features a re-interpreted Monteverdi madrigal set to Patti Smith’s poem for Mapplethorpe, “The Boy Who Loved Michelangelo.” Triptych then considers Dessner’s early exposure to the artist’s work, during the 1990 Mapplethorpe obscenity trial in Cincinnati, Ohio—“when art was put on trial,” says the composer. The work’s final section examines anew the controversial ways in which Mapplethorpe photographed and depicted black male bodies. The libretto features text by performance artist, poet, and activist Essex Hemphill (1957–1995) who, prior to his untimely death from complications from AIDS, articulated his aversion to Mapplethorpe’s photographs of black men (and of the art world’s embrace of the images) in his writings, questioning the artist’s intentions and exposing contradictions in the work.

With 10 singers on stage (eight members of Roomful of Teeth, soprano Alicia Hall Moran, and  tenor Isaiah Robinson), Triptych is scored for string trio, double percussion, piano, harmonium, clarinet, and horn, and features monumental projections of Mapplethorpe’s photographs, exhibited to the standards of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

Bryce Dessner is one of the most sought-after composers of his generation, with a rapidly expanding catalog of works commissioned by leading ensembles. Known by many as a guitarist with The National, he is also active as a curator—a vital force in the flourishing realm of new creative music. Dessner’s orchestral, chamber, and vocal compositions have been commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Metropolitan Museum of Art (for the New York Philharmonic), Kronos Quartet, BAM, Barbican Centre, Edinburgh International Festival, Sydney Festival, eighth blackbird, Sō Percussion, New York City Ballet, and many others. Dessner’s music—called “gorgeous, full-hearted” by NPR and “vibrant” by The New York Times—is marked by a keen sensitivity to instrumental color and texture. Propulsive rhythms often alternate with passages in which time is deftly suspended. His harmonies are expressive and flexible, ranging from the dense block chords of Aheym to the spacious modality of Music for Wood and Strings. Dessner appeared at BAM with The Long Count, created with Aaron Dessner and Matthew Ritchie (2009 Next Wave); Crossing Brooklyn Ferry (2012 and 2013 Winter/Spring seasons); Planetarium, with Sufjan Stevens and Nico Muhly (2013 Winter/Spring season); and Black Mountain Songs featuring the Brooklyn Youth Chorus (2014 Next Wave). Dessner’s latest classical release is El Chan (Deutsche Grammophon), an album of piano compositions performed by Katia and Marielle Lebèque. The National will release I Am Easy to Find on May 17 (4AD).

Korde Arrington Tuttle is a multi-disciplinary artist from Charlotte, NC. He is writer for the forthcoming series Mixtape (Netflix) and THEM: Covenant (Amazon). He is a recipient of New York Stage and Film’s 2018 Founders’ Award, 2018 Falco/Steinman Commission Award at Playwrights Horizons, 2018 Playwrights Initiative Fellowship at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and was selected as a finalist for both the 2017 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Contest and City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting Contest. Tuttle is a playwright in-residence at Lincoln Center Theater, Resident Artist at Ars Nova, and Middle Voice Theatre Company member at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre. His debut collection of haiku and photography, falling is the one thing i, was published by Candor Arts in May 2018. Tuttle completed his undergraduate studies at UNC Chapel Hill and received his MFA in Playwriting at The New School. Follow his work on Instagram via @HeyKorde 

Kaneza Schaal is a New York City-based theater artist. Her recent work JACK & showed in BAM’s 2018 Next Wave Festival, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Walker Arts Center, REDCAT, On The Boards, Center for Contemporary Art Cincinnati, and Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. Schaal received a 2018 Ford Foundation Art For Justice Bearing Witness award, a 2017 MAP Fund award, and a 2016 Creative Capital Award. Schaal’s GO FORTH premiered at Performance Space 122's COIL Festival. She has worked with The Wooster Group, Elevator Repair Service, Richard Maxwell/New York City Players, Claude Wampler, Jim Findlay, and Dean Moss. She is an arts-in-education advocate and has collaborated nationally and internationally with recent teen immigrants and asylum seekers; on intergenerational exchange between elders and teens; and on workshops and talks at Princeton University, Yale University, Emerson College, and her alma mater Wesleyan University. 

Brad Wells is the founder and artistic director of the Grammy Award-winning new music vocal group Roomful of Teeth. He has led the ensemble in premieres of over 75 works by many of today’s leading composers including Judd Greenstein, Caroline Shaw, Rinde Eckert, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Missy Mazzoli, Glenn Kotche, Terry Riley, Ted Hearne, and Julia Wolfe, among others. Roomful of Teeth’s 2012 debut recording was directed by Wells and praised as “sensually stunning” by the New York Times, included the Pulitzer-winning composition, “Partita for 8 Voices,” written by ensemble member Caroline Shaw. His own compositions—featured on the group’s Grammy-nominated second album, Render (2015) – have been described as “objectively and subjectively gorgeous” (I Care If You Listen). Wells’ permanent sound installation Silo Songs, featuring the earliest vocal music of the Shakers, opened at Hancock Shaker Village in 2018. Since 1999 Wells has been Artist in Residence in Vocal Music at Williams College. He has held conducting and teaching positions at Yale University, Trinity College, and University of California at Berkeley. A champion of Estonian choral music, he has led the US premieres of works by Estonian composers including Raimo Kangro, Jüri-Ruut Kangur, and Lembit Veevo. As a singer he has performed and recorded with such ensembles as Theatre of Voices and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (under Nicholas McGegan and Philip Brett). 

Roomful of Teeth is dedicated to reimagining the expressive potential of the human voice. Through study with masters from vocal traditions the world over, the eight-voice ensemble continually expands its vocabulary of singing techniques and, through an ongoing commissioning process, forges a new repertoire without borders. Founded in 2009 by Brad Wells, Roomful of Teeth gathers annually at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts, where they study with some of the world’s top performers and teachers in Tuvan throat singing, yodeling, Broadway belting, Inuit throat singing, Korean P’ansori, Georgian singing, Sardinian cantu a tenore, Hindustani music, Persian classical singing, and Death Metal vocals. Commissioned composers include Merrill Garbus (of tUnE-yArDs), William Brittelle, Toby Twining, Missy Mazzoli, Julia Wolfe, Ted Hearne, and Ambrose Akinmusire, among many others.

ArKtype / Thomas O. Kriegsmann (Producer) is a management and production company specializing in new work development and touring. Over the past 14 years ArKtype’s work has grown to encompass renowned artists from 30 different countries, multiple genres, and commercial and non-profit support structures resulting in new work for a variety of spaces. Kriegsmann’s acclaimed work as producer has been seen worldwide, proudly beginning his work in the production, development, and touring of emerging ensembles. His work includes projects with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Peter Brook, Victoria Chaplin, Yael Farber, Daniel Fish, Annie-B Parson & Paul Lazar, John Cameron Mitchell, Denis O’Hare & Lisa Peterson, Kaneza Schaal, Peter Sellars, Tony Taccone, and Julie Taymor. For three seasons he produced the Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota, Florida in partnership with Baryshnikov Arts Center, was director of programming for Spiegelworld’s South Street Seaport seasons, and most recently served as director of programs at New York Live Arts. Kriegsmann recently premiered Sam Green and Kronos Quartet’s A Thousand Thoughts; Byron Au Yong and Aaron Jafferis’ Trigger, based in communities nationwide in recognition of the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre; Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers' Cartography, Big Dance Theater/Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Man in a Case, the US premiere of Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theater’s Not by Bread Alone, and Andrew Ondrejcak & Shara Worden’s YOU US WE ALL (2015 Next Wave). Ongoing collaborations include 600 Highwaymen, Bryce Dessner, John Cameron Mitchell, Kaneza Schaal & Christopher Myers, Noche Flamenca, Aaron Landsman, Brent Green, Rude Mechs, Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen, Sam Green, Nora Chipaumire, Adrien M. & Claire B., and Compagnia T.P.O. More information at arktype.org.

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© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

© Andrés Mercado

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