The String Orchestra of Brooklyn (SOB) releases its new album, enfolding, on New Focus Recordings. The album features the world premiere recordings of Scott Wollschleger’s Outside Only Sound and Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti’s with eyes the color of time, a finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Music. With this album, the SOB brings Lanzilotti and Wollschleger’s compositional voices together, enfolding these encounters and explorations of sonic space.
In Lanzilotti’s with eyes the color of time, the titles of the movements refer to works of art that were featured in The Contemporary Museum (Spalding House) in Honolulu when it first opened in the late 1980s: George Rickey’s kinetic sculpture “Two Open Triangles Up, Gyratory III” (1988); Deborah Butterfield’s “Nahele” (1986); James Seawright’s “Mirror XV” (1987); Toshiko Takaezu’s “moons,” a series of sculptures she often referred to by the Hawaiian word “mahina;” and David Hockney’s “L’Enfant et les sortilèges,” originally conceived as a set for Ravel’s opera of the same name. The title of the piece comes from a phrase in the Ravel opera.
The movements are framed by interludes referencing the bronze doors created by Robert Graham at the entrance of the museum, which feature silhouettes of women. SOB principal cellist Ken Hashimoto describes the fourth movement, “les sortilèges (the wound / the torn page)”, as “quietly sad, bound up with repetition and, ultimately, more than a little terrifying.” The Pulitzer committee described the work as a whole as, “a vibrant composition… that distinctly combines experimental string textures and episodes of melting lyricism.” SOB’s premiere of Lanzilotti’s work, which was planned for the orchestra’s new-music festival in late March 2020, was canceled due to public health restrictions imposed to limit the spread of COVID.
By the summer of 2020, those same restrictions had fundamentally altered the ways in which music couldbe presented to audiences: Indoor public performances were indefinitely canceled, and orchestras could not gather even to rehearse. The SOB recognized that these limitations could potentially be solved by composers, and commissioned new works tailored to the forced new environment. The composers had to meet two conditions: the work had to make sense in an outdoor environment and the orchestra would not need to rehearse the work for more than a few minutes prior to the performance. Wollschleger’s solution was “to structure music material in which each player was like a single cicada and there was never a need for a conductor. Instead, each player used a stopwatch and functioned as one of a group of insects in a field, or like a gaseous cloud of sound.” His intention was to express the internal world everyone had been living in 2020 in an outdoor space, “The body is the boundary between inside and outside space, and becomes a liminal space in which to process experience: the listener’s inner world, the listener’s outer world.”
Wollschleger scored Outside Only Sound for string orchestra and 6 percussionists who bow a variety of large metal mixing bowls. The work begins and ends with each musician of the full ensemble playing a series of small bells to create a magical atmosphere. The live recording captured here, in a park in Brooklyn, with ambulance sirens, people talking, children laughing, and occasional dogs barking, portrays the resilience of New York City and its commitment to art and creation, even at the height of the COVID pandemic.
with eyes the color of time was eventually premiered in August 2021 with the support of an emergency grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Of the performance, Night After Night wrote, “The music… was alive and vital, the kind you feel in your earbones and your viscera, infused with the specific manner of acoustic alchemy that makes us attend live concerts to begin with. The whole thing lasted no more than 45 minutes, but it was a deeply moving, profoundly satisfying experience – one I intend to repeat soon, and hopefully often.”