'Journey' applies to recital, process

4:01:30 PM CDT - Thursday, February 01, 2007

By Shannon Littlejohn

The word "journey" imparts so much more than "travel" or "trip." In Franz Schubert's "Winterreise," the winter journey is complex and revelatory. The subject is lost love.

The journey to Rodney Miller's Feb. 11 recital of Schubert's intense 24-song cycle has been complex and revelatory, too. But the subject of this journey is collaborative love, because the performance itself has morphed into quite the extravaganza.

"It's an hour and forty minutes of songs that are at the apex of German angst," said Miller, dean of the College of Fine Arts. "If Ingmar Bergman had written a song cycle, this would be it."

Miller said that Schubert composed his music to reflect the tone poems of Wilhelm Müller, a German poet whose death preceded Schubert's by only a year. Many scholars have noted that both artists' minds were on their own impending deaths and therefore allusions to lost life, in addition to lost love, can be found in the last half of the work.

Though the nature of the work is somber, there will be a lot of action onstage. Miller, a bass-baritone who loves German lieder, will perform with pianist and interim School of Music director Julie Bees and director of dance C. Nicholas Johnson. Mime and dance, choreographed by Johnson and Sabrina Vasquez, will be joined onstage by computer images of nationally renowned artist Mark Brown's "Winterreise" series of abstract paintings.

Steve Wilson, a graduate student involved in string professor John Harrison's CRATEL project, will work with a CRATEL-produced video synthesizer to project the interactive showing of Brown's paintings. Ray Clithero, director of facilities, is doing technical design.

So, as Miller points out, it's not exactly "his" faculty recital anymore. And that's fine with the dean, who sees these types of collaborative and creative approaches as ways to reach younger audiences attuned to multiple images.

He even writes a gentle warning to his audience in the recital's program notes:
"I have no doubt that some will be put off by the ‘non-traditional' approach that this recital has taken."

He further notes that the intent is to highlight developing trends of collaborations in the arts and emerging technology that has sprung from those collaborations, and, most important, to assuage synthetic protocols that serve as a barrier to a generation that has been raised on instantaneous access of information.

"When you think about it," Miller said, "Mozart and Bach existed and wrote in a paradigm that did not include what we think of as classical music traditions, which are only 200 years old.

"It's not like we are breaking some hallowed holy tradition that Schubert himself set down and set in stone," he said. "We have to acknowledge that there is a difference between the way this younger generation accesses knowledge and their own aesthetic environment. As long as we are willing to be open to new ideas, Schubert himself will continue to survive and thrive."

Franz Schubert's "Winterreise," part of the College of Fine Arts Faculty Artist Series, will be performed at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, in Wiedemann Recital Hall. Tickets are $6; call the Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233 for more information.

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