Program Note: FRAGMENTS 2
About this Piece
AT A GLANCE
In Alisa Weilerstein’s groundbreaking, multiyear performance series FRAGMENTS, new music by some of the most compelling composers of our time meets the timeless beauty of J.S. Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello in an immersive, multisensory audience experience.
In FRAGMENTS 2, individual movements from Bach’s second suite are thoughtfully integrated with selected new works from five composers to create a wholly original emotional arc. Enhanced by responsive lighting and scenic architecture, the music is performed without pause or printed program details, creating an atmosphere of enchantment, adventure, and discovery. With FRAGMENTS, cellist Alisa Weilerstein creates a space for performer, composer, and listener that is at once physically intimate and philosophically expansive.
In each FRAGMENTS program, five or six composers are featured. There are 28 FRAGMENTS composers in total: Andy Akiho, Johann Sebastian Bach, Courtney Bryan, Chen Yi, Alan Fletcher, Gabriela Lena Frank, Osvaldo Golijov, Joseph Hallman, Gabriel Kahane, Daniel Kidane, Thomas Larcher, Tania León, Allison Loggins-Hull, Missy Mazzoli, Gerard McBurney, Jessie Montgomery, Reinaldo Moya, Jeffrey Mumford, Matthias Pintscher, Gity Razaz, Gili Schwarzman, Caroline Shaw, Carlos Simon, Gabriella Smith, Ana Sokolović, Joan Tower, Mathilde Wantenaar, and Paul Wiancko.
In early December of 2020, during yet another of what seemed to be endless lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I started scribbling ideas down on paper, anticipating a time when we would be able to reconvene with one another in the concert hall. I knew I wanted to create a visceral, emotional, and personal concert experience that would embrace the world we live in without sacrificing the intellectual aesthetic qualities that make our art form—concert music—such a singular mode of human expression and communication. I also was searching for a way to strip away our own natural instincts to categorize and contextualize everything we hear and see. I thought, what would our experience of music be like if we could be given the chance to simply listen first?
The entire FRAGMENTS project integrates all of Bach’s cello suites with 27 new commissions in original multisensory productions to make six programs, each an hour long, for solo cello. Every program, or FRAGMENT, is played without pauses, and the program details are distributed after the performance.
The composers who have been commissioned to write for FRAGMENTS are diverse with respect to compositional approach, race, gender, age, nationality, and ethnic background. There is also an even mix of well-known voices and young composers or composers whose work has heretofore not been adequately appreciated by the wider public. I asked all the composers to write multi-movement pieces for solo cello and to kindly grant me permission to insert the movements at different points throughout the program. That being said, FRAGMENTS is not a project about people who write music but rather about the music they write. The context and narrative—in the sense that we are used to in our art form—are far less important than listening to how these disparate voices interact with one another and create an entirely original, unified whole.
Although FRAGMENTS began as a flickering of thoughts and images, it has become something much greater. The remarkable group of artists with whom I am collaborating on this project and their joyful and thoughtful enthusiasm have been nothing short of inspirational to me. At its core, FRAGMENTS is about deep connection; links between disparate compositional voices, between concert music and theater, and most importantly, between audience and performer. I invite you to embark upon this adventure with us. —Alisa Weilerstein
FRAGMENTS suggests various stages in life, emotional landscapes, drifts into memory, structural interplay between musical colors and their associative powers, and much more. Music by 27 living composers woven together with Bach’s cello suites merges old and new to create infinite possibilities. This approach of combining unique voices into a tapestry is what lies at the heart of this multiyear project. The ability to hear each voice while also seeing how it connects and responds to others is what shifts FRAGMENTS from a series of distinct solo works to one of musical voices in community, creating a continuum from the past to our present moment to effect new meaning.
The design of FRAGMENTS elevates the senses to provide an opportunity to go deeper into the music. Each FRAGMENT is framed within a unique installation born of an emotional and architectural response to the musical arc Alisa Weilerstein curates and performs. The lighting within each FRAGMENT amplifies the music, while the scenic elements frame Alisa to awaken a new space within the familiar hall. The overall effect is that Alisa in performance and the hall itself take on an enlivened hue enhancing our overall experience and exciting our senses toward deeper listening to her extraordinary playing.
This invitation to embark on a musical journey of old and new is intentionally without hierarchy or narrative. History, biography, a sense of place, and timeline fall away to celebrate the primacy of varying musical voices in dialogue. Sound paints on our soul a picture that conveys human truths beyond words, and our aim with each FRAGMENT is to illuminate and embrace the music Alisa performs toward more profound connection. —Elkhanah Pulitzer