From the Archives: An Intro to Philip Glass

By Alex Ross
Originally published January 5, 2017, as part of the Glass at 80 festival.

When Philip Glass was studying at the University of Chicago in the 1950s, he formed a music-listening club with several friends, one of whom was the future astronomer Carl Sagan. As Glass relates in his recent memoir, Words Without Music, the group made a particular study of the symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler. (Glass’s father ran a record store in Baltimore, and the young man had access to a large library of records.) What struck him most was not the late-Romantic grandeur of the music—at the time, he was more attuned to the lyrical modernism of Bartók and Berg—but simply the scale on which Bruckner and Mahler worked, the “very big canvas” they employed. In the mid-twentieth century, when the god of modern composition was the hyper-compressed serialist Anton Webern, Glass caught a glimpse of future vastness, of music that would unfold before one’s ears like a landscape reaching to a far horizon. 

Philip Glass sitting at a sound board.

A few decades later, after a wide-ranging education that included counterpoint with Nadia Boulanger and ragas with Ravi Shankar, Glass was ready to exhibit his big canvases: Music in Twelve Parts for instrumental ensemble (1971-74), which generally lasts four hours in performance; and Einstein on the Beach, for singers, actors, dancers, and musicians (1975-76), which goes on for five hours or more. Although Glass has composed much music since that time, and his output is still evolving, those masterworks of the seventies are sufficient to carve his name in music history. They brought several new kinds of wonder into the world: a revitalization of the most basic materials of music; a renovation of our experience of musical time; a mysterious emotional warmth that rose up from a cool, almost mathematical process. Bruckner’s symphonies are an apt point of reference, and it’s fitting that the Bruckner Orchestra Linz, which appears in this Glass at 80 Festival on Feb. 17, has become one of the composer’s strongest advocates. 

I vividly recall the moment at which the full extent of Glass’s achievement became clear to me. Before Einstein went on a global tour in 2012, it had gone unperformed for twenty years. I was too young to have seen the early outings, and missed the 1992 revival, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. No video was available, and the Nonesuch recording, bewitching as it was, told only part of the story. In January, 2012, I traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to see a preview of the tour. I wondered how well the work would hold up against its legend. For an hour or so, I felt detached from the experience, as if observing a museum piece. Then Lucinda Child’s dancers came out to perform “Dance 1,” and I entered a state of bliss that persisted until the end. The dancers were beautiful to watch, swirling about in elegant ecstasy, and they also pointed up the complexity of Glass’s rhythmic schemes, the way he sustains constant repetition through constant change. (The 1979 piece Dance, which the Lucinda Childs Dance Company will present on February 7 is a large-scale extension of the Einstein collaboration.) 

People think that Glass’s music depends upon a recycling of familiar gestures: a slow-moving arpeggio in the manner of an old-fashioned Alberti bass; stately chord progressions, often in the minor mode; curt melodic ideas that recur in ritualistic fashion. We should remember first that this air of familiarity is a latter-day phenomenon: Glass’s trademark style sounded radically strange when it was first deployed. And what really matters is not the material you find in any given bar but the luminous structure that rises from those simple building blocks. Glass said of Music in Twelve Parts: “Music is placed outside the usual time scale, substituting a non-narrative and extended time sense in its place. It is hoped that one would then be able to perceive the music as a ‘presence’, freed of dramatic structure, a pure medium of sound.” Glass’s big forms don’t overpower you, in the Romantic manner; they envelop you, offer a space of habitation. 

This idea of the art-work as “presence” did not, of course, originate with Glass. It proliferated all over lower Manhattan in the golden age of the downtown avant-garde, in the sixties and seventies. In a way, it emerged from the older American experimental tradition, the open-ended universe of John Cage and Morton Feldman. Glass’s aesthetic of endlessly unfurling textures also had something in common with the hypnotic drone music of the Velvet Underground, which was itself rooted in the proto-minimalism of La Monte Young, and of the seventies-era David Bowie, who registered Glass’s influence strongly (see the Heroes Tribute on Feb. 3). And the phenomenon of Einstein helped to open the field to new forms of large-scale performance art—notably, the verbal, musical, theatrical, and cinematic conceptions of Laurie Anderson, who, fittingly, will appear alongside Glass in the course of this festival (Feb. 10).

“Music is placed outside the usual time scale, substituting a non-narrative and extended time sense in its place. It is hoped that one would then be able to perceive the music as a ‘presence’, freed of dramatic structure, a pure medium of sound.”

philip glass

Glass’s ease in sharing the stage with like-minded spirits points up the social and political dimension of his career. Through his film work and pop-music projects, he has achieved a level of stardom comparable to that of John Williams, of Star Wars fame. In a world that tends to view classical music as a culture devoted exclusively to the dead—no great distortion of the mentality of many major institutions—Glass has become, alongside Williams, the one living composer everyone knows. Moreover, he has consistently aligned his celebrity with progressive causes: no other composer could have exited a performance at the Metropolitan Opera and seamlessly joined a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Lincoln Center Plaza, as happened during the Met’s run of Satyagraha in 2011. Behind the scenes, Glass has been unstintingly generous to younger composers who catch his ears, and not only those who show his influence. He is a beneficent presence in the often disputatious world of contemporary music. 

Celebrity came later. Early on, Glass famously took on all manner of odd jobs to make a living: he drove cabs, he worked as a plumber, he briefly ran a moving company with his fellow minimalist Steve Reich. Once, when he was installing a dishwasher in a SoHo loft, he looked up to see Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine. “But you’re Philip Glass!” Hughes exclaimed. “What are you doing here?” Glass finished installing the dishwasher. It is a classic Horatio Alger story—the scrappy outsider rising to the height of an élite profession. Let’s not forget, though, that Glass had immersed himself in classical music from an early age, avidly consuming his father’s records. His revolution arose from tradition: he listened to the old and heard the new. You know his place in history is secure when you encounter a churning, cyclical passage in Bruckner and find yourself thinking, “That almost sounds like Philip Glass.” 

Idalis’s Stay Home and Stream Guide

A What to Watch Guide from CPA’s Patron Services Coordinator

A woman wearing a bright dress and jean jacket stands in front of window boxes filled with plants, her hand on her hip.

Hey y’all! Hope this time at home is treating you all kindly, as it’s not a normal time. Many of us are having to transition to a work-from-home lifestyle which, I’ll admit, hasn’t been super easy – at least not for me. Although this is a challenging time, trying to retain a sense of normalcy and comfort has been a major key to me keeping some of my sanity. Below are four shows that currently have my attention.

Gilmore Girls – Netflix

Quality wholesome television. A pop culture classic. I’m on my first watch of seeing the Gilmore women take on the world, and I can’t complain. If I had to pick a small town to live in, it’d be Stars Hollow. One of the few shows where I don’t have the urge to press the “skip intro” button, mainly because I can’t help but sing along to the theme song, “Where You Lead” by Carole King.

3rd Rock from the Sun – Amazon Prime Video

Oh, the nostalgia. For some reason, I have very vivid memories of watching reruns of this show during the early mornings when I was home from elementary school. I’ve been working my way through this comedy since last fall, but now that we’re in full social distancing mode, I’ve found myself going back to this comedy. Quite frankly, I’d give almost anything to be Sally Solomon right now because who wouldn’t want to be an alien during a pandemic?

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness – Netflix

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge binge watcher. Every time I’ve tried, I usually don’t succeed. But y’all, Tiger King is just that wild – it’s worth the binge. There are only 7 episodes, not including the after show hosted by Joel McHale. Each episode is like traveling further down a never-ending rabbit hole of things that really happened. Even if you’ve been fighting the urge to watch because you don’t want to seem too mainstream, I guarantee you it is worth caving to peer pressure. This series does depict some very heavy topics and even though they aren’t always presented in a serious manner, I encourage everyone who watches to take a step back when necessary.

Good Mythical Morning – YouTube

Led by North Carolinians Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, Good Mythical Morning (GMM) has recently been a source of many early morning laughs – which are definitely needed during this strange time. Honestly, GMM is one of my favorite channels on YouTube and while we’re holed up, I highly recommend giving them a watch. Most of the videos are no longer than 20 minutes and sometimes feature special guests, which makes whatever challenge, game, or taste test that much funnier.

-Idalis Payne

Fill Us In: Lang Lang

Welcome to Fill Us In, our rapid fire fill-in-the-blank questionnaire inspired by the famous Proust questionnaire where we take a peek inside the minds of Carolina Performing Arts’ artists.  

In  this  edition, we’re talking with renowned pianist Lang Lang, whose performance of the Goldberg Variations was planned to be the culmination of our season. 

CPA: What is the best way to start your day?
Lang Lang: A hot shower 

CPA: What is the worst way to start your day?
LL: A cold shower 

CPA: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
LL: Be patient 

CPA: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever given someone else?
LL: Be patient  

CPA: What smell can transport you back to your childhood?
LL: Popcorn 

CPA: What would the title of your memoir be?
LL: Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story 

CPA: What is your favorite meal?
LL: Homemade dumplings 

CPA: What is your idea of a perfect day?
LL: A nice walk in the park, a wonderful concert and dinner with family and friends afterwards  

CPA: What one thing is necessary for you to make art?
LL: A piano 

CPA: If you weren’t an artist, what would your profession be?
LL: Football player 

CPA: What does the perfect “room of one’s own” look like to you?
LL: One with a Steinway piano inside  

CPA: If you could transform into an animal, what animal would it be?
LL: A dragon 

CPA: What advice do you have for artists just starting out?
LL: Look for a good mentor 

CPA: What do you splurge on?
LL: Good albums  

CPA: What person do you most admire?
LL: At the moment: Glen Gould 

CPA: Ocean, pool, or bathtub?
LL: Ocean 

CPA: Who is your role model, dead or living?
LL: Leonard Bernstein 

CPA: What do you want your tombstone to say?
LL: Music was my life 

Staff Intro: Laura Pinto-Coelho

We’re missing all our CPA colleagues, so it feels like a good time to introduce you to another incredible staffer: Laura Pinto-Coelho, Development Manager, who’s got some great recommendations for when we’re all out and about in the world again! #CPAatHome

💼What’s your role at CPA?💼
I support CPA’s development officers with everything from tracking the budget and sending acknowledgment letters after donations to event planning and stewardship.

❤️What’s your favorite part of your job?❤️
The events. I love executing event planning and socializing with our donors.

🍔Where’s your go-to place for food on Franklin St?🍔
Imbibe for a blackened catfish po boy and curly fries.

☕How about coffee?☕
Dunkin’ for a hazelnut iced coffee.

☀️It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon. Where would we find you?☀️
Playing board games with friends at either Vecino in Carrboro or Bull City Ciderworks in Durham.

💡What’s the most memorable performance you’ve ever seen?💡
When I saw the Tallest Man on Earth in Durham. I listened to them a lot in college, so it was super nostalgic for me.

Statement Regarding Silent Sam Decision

Statement on Silent Sam Decision 

As an arts organization whose work is rooted in fostering opportunities for experiences that expand one’s understanding of the world and encourage individuals to engage with their communities, we are appalled at the agreement entered into on our behalf by the UNC System Board of Governors. Granting money from the earnings of UNC’s endowment to an organization that is dedicated to a distorted and false version of history is an action contrary to this University’s search for truth. 

The arts present countless opportunities to spark understanding, foster discourse, and nurture empathy. Every day, the individuals who represent Carolina Performing Arts exercise these ideas through the work we do together, considering it ever more important to do so as part of a university community.

We work at the first public university in America. But we do this work on a campus that was built by enslaved people, surrounded by physical reminders of the Confederacy and institutionalized racism. Indeed, we present and produce art in a building filled with these reminders. As such, we consider it our responsibility to reckon with the truths of our collective history, listen, and create safe spaces, as part of our dedication to the principles of social justice, equity, inclusion, and diversity that support the mission of this 21st century global research university. 

We are working toward creating a better future, for our students, our community, our state and nation, and the world, as fervent believers in the power of the arts to transform individual lives and, indeed, institutions. 

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis. 

James Moeser
Interim Executive and Artistic Director
Carolina Performing Arts
Chancellor Emeritus
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Statement on Silent Sam Decision

Listening Guide: The Future is Female

The Future is Female: Sarah Cahill, piano will be performed on Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Studio at CURRENT. For more information and tickets, click here.

Written by Dan Ruccia

“Like most people who play classical music,” Sarah Cahill says, “I grew up with the classical canon, which is all white male composers. But when you get past Bach and Mozart and Beethoven, even the minor composers and the minor-minor composers are men.” Her project The Future is Female, which she calls a “ritual installation and communal feminist immersive listening experience,” attempts to fill in some of those missing women. For the project, Cahill collected roughly sixty relatively short pieces by women, both famous and obscure, spanning over 300 years of musical history.

To get a feel for the breadth of music in The Future is Female, I’ve selected eleven representative pieces which may or may not be part of Cahill’s five-hour marathon performance on November 16 at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio. While the list includes giants like Clara Schumann, Fanny Hensel, Yoko Ono, and Kaija Saariaho, I’ve generally leaned towards lesser-known composers, with a few exceptions. Cahill’s list only barely scratches the surface of what’s out there. Which says that women have been making fantastic music just as long as men have. We just haven’t chosen to pay attention until recently.

Composer Sarah Cahill wearing a yellow, vintage dress sits amongst foliage, a flower crown in her hair.

Anna Bon Sonata No. 6 in C Major (1757)

“Altezza Serenissima!” (the most serene heights) Thus the 18-year-old Anna Bon began the dedication of her six harpsichord sonatas to Princess Ernestina Augusta Sophia of Weimar. This, the final sonata of the set, is dutifully serene, its tenor unflappable through three short movements that seem to draw on Telemann’s stateliest airs. The second movement’s use of space is especially delightful.

Teresa Carreño Un rêve en mer (1868)

Teresa Carreño’s dream by the sea is anything but serene. This nocturne thrashes about violently, with minor-key waves crashing from the depths of the piano. Even the sighing, major-key middle section is wracked with the nervous energy of a constantly rushing pulse. Whether the mood is autobiographical or just a burst of imagination is unclear. However, even at 15, this prodigy had had plenty of experience with the sea: emigrating to the U.S. from her native Venezuela in 1862, touring twice in Cuba, and traveling to Europe where she toured extensively beginning in 1866.

Johanna Beyer Dissonant Counterpoint V & VII (1930s)

After emigrating to the U.S. in 1924, Johanna Beyer fell in with some of the most progressive musical thinkers in New York City at the time: Ruth Crawford, Henry Cowell, Dane Rudhyar, and Charles Seeger. “Dissonant counterpoint” was a concept of Seeger’s, an attempt to invert the rules of traditional, tonal counterpoint differently from Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone music. All the composers in this circle used dissonant counterpoint to varying degrees throughout the 1930s, but this is the only piece that takes the method as its title. In Beyer’s hands, dissonant counterpoint is fluid, spectral, and playful. “V” is a kind of canon, but one where the relationship between the two voices is constantly in flux. And in “VII,” the two hands of the piano sometimes feel entirely disconnected, like watching two cats meandering in parallel, completely oblivious to what the other is doing.

Germaine Tailleferre Partita (1957)

Growing up, Germaine Taillefesse’s father didn’t support her musical aspirations, once equating the study of music with prostitution. Nevertheless, she persisted. She would go on to be the only female member of Les Six, a grouping of modernist Parisian composers including Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, and Francis Poulenc which came together shortly after World War I. Written for her daughter, François, Partita feels like a rainstorm, sometimes splashing in puddles, sometimes floating in the clouds just as the water begins to form into droplets, and sometimes falling in deluges. Occasionally the sun shows up, setting all the droplets ablaze with a thousand different colors at once.

Sofia Gubaidulina Chaconne (1962)

One of the earliest pieces in Sofia Gubaidulina’s catalog, Chaconne was written while she was still a graduate student at the Moscow Conservatory. It marks the beginning of her long obsession with Baroque music, though you’d barely know from listening to the opening gesture. Those huge, granite-like chords cycling through odd harmonies at eight-bar intervals would seem to have next to nothing to do with Bach. But slowly, Bach begins to seep through the cracks: a flash of figuration here, a gesture there, a walking bassline (that could just as easily be from a Shostakovich march) somewhere else. And before you know it, a chromatic line resolves itself (for the briefest of seconds) into a two-part invention in C major before quickly dissolving into something much more complicated (though no less rigorous).

Margaret Bonds Troubled Water (1967)

A student of the great Florence Price (whose spectacular Piano Sonata is also part of The Future is Female), Margaret Bonds remains one of the best known African American women composers, a list that is still painfully short. She was the first African American woman to play with the Chicago Symphony in 1933, the same year the group performed Price’s First Symphony. This piece, written when Bonds was 54, is a rhapsodic adaptation of the Spiritual “Wade in the Water.” She seamlessly blends jazz harmonies and rhythms with more classical structures and techniques to make a work that brims with energy.

Tania León Rituál (1987)

Rituál begins in languid meditation, with notes floating up lazily from a few heavy bass notes. After a few minutes of quiet reverie, León falls again to the bottom of the piano, to begin the ritual for real. Piece by piece, she constructs a rhythmic machine, a Yoruba translation of Stravinsky’s “Danse Sacrale” from the Rite of Spring, with irregular accents, staccato attacks everywhere on the piano, and an abiding sense of building towards some unknown climax. In dedicating the work to Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook from the Dance Theater of Harlem, León says the work is about “the fire that kindles the spirit of those who inspire others, for these others see something they themselves do not perceive: the fire of initiation.”

Linda Catlin Smith A Nocturne (1995)

This is another bit of musical ritual. But whereas Rituál is full of ecstatic density, A Nocturne is about ecstatic space. Smith allows every gesture to ring and decay before moving on to the next, allowing silence to overwhelm the listener. But it is the process of arriving at that silence, the way different notes vibrate, clash, and evaporate that gives the piece shape. “As I was writing this piece,” Smith writes, “the material seemed more and more to be disappearing.”

“As I was writing this piece, the material seemed more and more to be disappearing.”


Meredith Monk St. Petersburg Waltz (1997)

When you think of Meredith Monk, piano is not the instrument that comes to mind, but she has played piano since childhood and written occasional works for piano since 1972. This song feels like her ecstatic vocal music made into mallets and strings, a billowing waltz that loops and twirls through the darkness with moody grace. All that’s missing are her signature contorting ululations, of which the piano can only create the merest simulacra. Left unanswered is what we’re doing in St. Petersburg.

Kui Dong Earth, Water, Wood, Metal, Fire (2001)

This is one of nearly a dozen pieces in The Future is Female commissioned by Sarah Cahill. Over five movements, Dong reshapes various piano improvisations into representations of the five elements that are believed to make up the world in traditional Chinese philosophy. The final element, “Fire,” is by far the most complicated of the set, blazing through ideas at an alarming clip. Just as one texture gets established, it floats off, replaced by a new, equally intriguing flurry of notes.

Theresa Wong She Dances Naked Under Palm Trees (2019)

Nina Simone, North Carolina’s favorite musical daughter, haunts this, one of the newest pieces in The Future is Female. It’s not just the fragments of her song “Images” (itself an a cappella setting of the Harlem Renaissance poem “No Images” by William Waring Cuney) which Wong embeds within the sweeping glissandi which open the piece. It’s also Simone’s mystical invocations of the power of womanhood, embodied by the lopsided 13/8 groove that underlies the second half of the piece. “After I began to first compose with this meter,” Wong writes, “I learned how the now ‘unlucky’ number originated in many ancient cultures as a symbol of the divine feminine. For example, there are 13 cycles of the moon and menstrual cycles a year, and Friday (from the Norse goddess Freya or in Neo-latin languages, Venerdi from Venus) the 13th represented the day of the Goddess—a day to celebrate the cycles of creation, death and rebirth.”

Staff Intro: Dani Callahan, Business Operations Assistant

We’ve got another star staffer to introduce to you today!⭐ This time we caught up with the radiant Dani Callahan, Business Operations Assistant.

💼What do you do in your day-to-day at CPA?💼
I handle all the daily finances and expenses, anything from artist payments to office supplies.

❤️What’s your favorite part of your job?❤️
I love that I get to touch a little bit of everything at CPA. Whether it’s an artist’s contract or new equipment, almost everything CPA does has to pass through the business office.

☕Where’s your go-to place for a caffeine kick?☕
When I was a student it was ExpressOasis, but now it’s The Meantime for a hot caramel latte.

☀️It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon. Where would we find you?☀️
In my apartment with the blinds open to let the sun in as I clean. I love cleaning—I like to think if you put love into your laundry, it’ll love you back.

🎉Which performance are you most excited for this season?🎉
London Symphony Orchestra—when they’re here you better believe I’ll be in that auditorium. A close second is “The Future is Female” by Sarah Cahill because the concept is so cool.

💡What’s the most memorable performance you’ve ever seen?💡
In high school, a lot of my friends were in the musical “Footloose.” I wasn’t because I had stage fright, but I went to see it. It was TERRIBLE, haha, but I loved it because it was all my best friends.

Changes at CPA

We are incredibly proud to support Emil Kang, our executive and artistic director, as he tackles a new challenge in his career, starting fall 2019. Emil founded Carolina Performing Arts 15 years ago, and built it up from a single desk and a staff of three to an internationally renowned artistic organization that presents artists from across the world, fosters artist engagement with the academy and the community, and is a leader in paradigm-shifting models of work in our field.

We look forward to seeing Emil’s vision manifested in his new role as Program Director for Arts and Cultural Heritage at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, an organization that has made possible the groundbreaking artist residencies we’ve forged here in Chapel Hill. Although we will miss hearing strains of classical music floating from his office, we are geared up for our 15th anniversary season and beyond, and are pleased that Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser will be serving as interim executive and artistic director of CPA.

Learn more about this news by reading the Mellon Foundation’s announcement and this message from UNC’s Interim Chancellor Guskiewicz and Provost Blouin.

Not Manet’s Type

This is a guest post written by Lauren Turner, Assistant Curator for the Collection at the Ackland Art Museum. 

When Carolina Performing Arts presents Carrie Mae Weems’s Past Tense on April 19, the audience will see an internationally renowned artist lead a multimedia performance that investigates tensions of race, instances of violence, and demands for justice by combining spoken word, live orchestration, and still and moving images. To complement Past Tense, the Ackland Art Museum will exhibit Weems’ Not Manet’s Type from the museum’s collection, on view March 13 to May 12.

Not Manet’s Type is a 2001 offset photolithograph reproducing the second installment of a five-part photographic series created in 1997. A nude self-portrait of the artist, it shows her standing in a classic contrapposto pose at the foot of an unmade bed, as reflected in the round mirror of a dresser. Each work in the series features her in different positions in this bedroom, with accompanying text in which she deliberates how to prepare for critical study. Weems begins the series with: “STANDING ON SHAKEY GROUND / I POSED MYSELF FOR CRITICAL STUDY / BUT WAS NO LONGER CERTAIN / OF THE QUESTIONS TO ASK”.

By serving as both muse and creator, Weems imparts a sly duality to her challenge: is she referring to the scrutiny of her as the composition’s subject, or the critical study of her artistic output as a whole? At the time of this work, while there was much examination of women as the subjects of an artist’s gaze, less existed in regards to considering the representations of women of color in visual culture (or the lack thereof). This left Weems with the tricky imperative to introduce such representations while at the same time attempting to unpack them in her role as an underrepresented creative voice.

Carrie Mae Weems, American, born 1953
Segura Publishing Company, Not Manet’s Type, 2001 offset photolithograph,      Ackland Art Museum. Ackland Fund, 2002.24.3, © 2001 Carrie Mae Weems

In Not Manet’s Type, Weems guides her rumination by incorporating mentions of canonical figures of art history in her texts. Below the image in the Ackland’s print is: “IT WAS CLEAR I WAS NOT MANET’S TYPE / PICASSO – WHO HAD A WAY WITH WOMEN – / ONLY USED ME & DUCHAMP NEVER / EVEN CONSIDERED ME”. By actively positioning herself among such recognizable artists, she both offers a familiar entry point with which viewers can engage while also laying the groundwork for exploring inherent power disparities in the art world. She closes the series with a self-portrait of her relaxing across the room’s bed above the observation “I TOOK A TIP FROM FRIDA / WHO FROM HER BED PAINTED INCESSANTLY – BEAUTIFULLY / WHILE DIEGO SCALED THE SCAFFOLDS / TO THE TOP OF THE WORLD”.

In this regard, Not Manet’s Type has a commonality with Past Tense, which parses the significance of contemporary topics like police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement by framing them against Sophocles’ ancient Greek tragedy Antigone, a play concerned with a struggle between legal obedience and moral imperative. By turning again to a conventional cultural touchstone, Weems cuts through society’s frequently divisive rhetoric around these current-day subjects to emphasize instead the continuous and universal human need to productively mourn our losses.

Lauren Turner is Assistant Curator for the Collection at the Ackland Art Museum.

Introducing our Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Creative Futures Artists-in-Residence

Artists-photos 900x300

Carolina Performing Arts has named the four artists in residence for Creative Futures, the largest Mellon Foundation-funded initiative at CPA to date, which was announced in July 2018. The newly named cohort is diverse in background, expertise, and form of artistic expression, each bringing a unique perspective as well as experience in social practice to the role. The artists are vocalist and performance artist Helga Davis, singer/songwriter Shara Nova, performer and writer Okwui Okpokwasili, and musician, curator, and producer Toshi Reagon.

“We are humbled and thrilled to welcome Ms. Davis, Ms. Nova, Ms. Okpokwasili, and Ms. Reagon as Creative Futures fellows,” said Emil Kang, artistic and executive director of Carolina Performing Arts. “One of the primary goals of Creative Futures is to support endeavors that invest in the community and its residents, and that will thrive long beyond the life of the grant. I am confident that these artists will help us achieve our goals to be a catalyst for change and support meaningful, transformative work, on stage or otherwise.”

The four artists will work as team organizers, assembling “triangular collaborations” that include partners from among UNC’s faculty who are engaged in community-based research, and local partners in the community. Through these co-creative partnerships, they will identify multi-year projects that will empower communities to express their creativity and channel relevant issues. In addition to working with their respective teams, the artists will form a supportive working group together. They have collectively expressed their excitement at finding ways to support local communities and discover new models of collaboration, and the time and support that this grant secures for the creation of groundbreaking work. The artists will make their first visits to UNC and CPA in fall 2018.

Helga Davis is a vocalist and performance artist, and author of the evening-length piece Cassandra, completed under a 2014 BRIC Media Arts Fireworks Grant. An artist in residence at National Sawdust, she hosts the eponymous podcast HELGA, and is the 2018-19 visiting curator for the performing arts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA. Davis has appeared many times on the CPA season, most recently in two projects helmed by fellow Creative Futures artists-in-residence: Shara Nova’s You Us We All (2015/16) and in Toshi Reagon’s adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower (2017/18). She will also appear in Lives of the Performers, a work-in-progress reading of the forthcoming play by Hilton Als, on November 16 and 17 at CPA’s CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio. Ms. Davis said that “Creating bonds, and the ability for groups of people to engage with and hold vulnerability, anger, and love,” are chief among the lasting impacts she hopes her work with Creative Futures will have.

In thinking about opportunities created by the grant’s unique format, Shara Nova (formerly Shara Worden), remarked that what is most valuable to her is “Time…Time to ask each other questions. Time to deeply listen. Time to discuss possibilities, and the financial support to not only dream together as artists in community, but the opportunity to make the dream manifest.” Nova is the founder of the chamber pop band My Brightest Diamond, whose next album is set to be released in November 2018. She has composed works for yMusic, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, Brooklyn Rider, Nadia Sirota and Roomful of Teeth, among others. Her orchestrations have been performed by the North Carolina Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, American Composers Orchestra and the BBC Concert orchestra. Her baroque chamber opera You Us We All came to CPA in the 2015/16 season. Nova is a Kresge Fellow, Knights Grant recipient and a United States Artists fellow.

Okwui Okpokwasili is an award-winning artist who works in multidisciplinary performance. She is the author and choreographer of the Bessie Award-winning original works, Pent-Up: A Revenge Dance and Bronx Gothic. Okpokwasili was a 2015-2017 Randjelovic/Stryker Resident Commissioned Artist for New York Live Arts, as well as the recipient of the 2016 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council President’s Award for Performing Arts. In 2016, she created the performance installation when I return who will receive me? in collaboration with Peter Born at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s River to River Festival. Their latest works were Poor People’s TV Room and the installation Sitting on A Man’s Head for the 10th Berlin Biennale. She has an ongoing collaborative partnership with Peter Born and has performed in works by Ralph Lemon and Nora Chipaumire. Okpokwasili will appear with Davis in Lives of the Performers at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio. She is currently a Hodder Fellow at Princeton’s Lewis Center for the Arts. She is a United States Artist Fellow, a recipient of a 2014 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Award, a 2018 Doris Duke Artist Award, a Herb Alpert Award and a Creative Capital Award. She is also a 2018 MacArthur Foundation Fellow. Looking ahead to her work under Creative Futures, she said, “I am really looking forward to working in a comprehensive way to explore how a performance practice can build lasting bonds of kinship between diverse communities.”

Toshi Reagon is a singer, composer, musician, curator, activist, and producer. In addition to touring as a solo artist, she performs with her band Toshi Reagon & BIGLovely, who will appear on CPA’s 2018/19 season, on April 13th at Memorial Hall. Reagon is the composer and librettist of the opera Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which had its U.S. premiere on CPA’s 2017/18 season. In 2011, Reagon created the annual event Word* Rock* & Sword: A Festival Exploration of Women’s Lives. She is the composer and music director for Michelle Dorrance’s The Blues Project, which came to CPA in 2014. In 2015, Reagon was named a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow. She is also in the final year of her Mellon Foundation DisTIL fellowship with Carolina Performing Arts. Of the opportunity to continue working with the local community through Creative Futures, Reagon said, “The Triangle is so powerful—such a heartbeat for our country…. If you show up here and you show that you are willing to stand in the circle and contribute, people meet you, in small ways and in big ways.”

The grant will also fund a project director, who will oversee the initiative and support stakeholders. The search for this named position (Rothwell Program Director for Creative Futures), in recognition of a private gift from CPA board member Sharon Rothwell and Doug Rothwell, is open until October 18, 2018.

Read more about the Creative Futures initiative, funded by a $1.5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This funding makes a transformative vision of community engagement possible: collaborative creation in the arts that is informed by faculty research and driven by students.


Throughout history, artists of all kinds have played pivotal roles in when it comes defining what it means to be an active citizen in your community. In times of upheaval, change, or oppression, artists give breath to what one might not know how to—or be afraid to—say. Through their work, they can serve as a guiding light for others when considering how we can, individually and collectively, support the marginalized, invest in our communities, and speak out against wrongdoing.

This season at CPA, we’re focusing on supporting the work of artists who do just these things—and finding ways to bring that into the wider world of the Triangle and beyond. Creative Futures, our newest Mellon Foundation-funded grant, is one such way that we hope we can support impactful work that becomes embedded in the fabric of this place we all call home. You’ll hear more about this in the weeks and months to come.

A man walking across a darkly lit stage

Many of the artists in the 18/19 season bring performances to CPA under our You Are a Citizen theme—we hope you’ll be as inspired by the questions they provoke as we have been. On September 28, Brooklyn Rider teams up with singer Magos Herrera for Dreamers, in which they breathe new life into words written by poets and other artists during brutalist regimes: demonstrating the idea that art can serve powerfully as a reminder of the beauty that exists in the world even in the most trying of times. Then, in October, renowned German theater company Schaubühne Berlin brings their radical adaptation of the Ibsen play An Enemy of the People. Tainted water, whistleblowing, freedom of speech…who knew a 100-year-old play could be so relevant in 2018 North Carolina? (Not to mention that this production was just canceled in China.)

For an entirely different take on the importance of free speech, we’re thrilled to be hosting Bassem Youssef: the satirist (and surgeon) and former host of Al-Bernameg, who was exiled from his native Egypt for his criticism of the regimes in power. Youssef will also host an Arabic-language town hall for members of the local Arabic-speaking community-—a first for CPA. And in the spring, iconic American photographer and artist Carrie Mae Weems will explore ideas about justice and peace through the lens of the play Antigone, laying bare its enduring relevance.

On September 8, we kicked off our season in a new way: by giving the “stage” to local nonprofit organizations for a free event called Stories on Citizenship at CURRENT, which welcomed more than 200 guests. Our neighbors from Community Empowerment Fund, El Centro Hispano, Immersion for Spanish Language Acquisition (ISLA), the Jackson Center, and Student Action with Farmworkers told their stories through performances of their own making, all emceed by UNC students working with the Campus Y and in the community. The event was also featured on WUNC’s The State of Things. You can listen to the interview here.

This season is all about exploration: of who we are, how we find our place in our communities, and how we come together. We look forward to uncovering these exciting things with you.

From Surgeon to Satirist

BY Dan Ruccia

“You are a natural,” Jon Stewart raved after Bassem Youssef’s first appearance on The Daily Show. “I know you might find this weird, and that you made a leap of faith switching your career to be a satirist, but you will soon discover that you are made for this. You are not just another guest—you are a friend and a colleague.”

Bassem Youssef addresses a crowd from the stage

It was the summer of 2012, just after the end of the first season of Bassem Youssef’s wildly popular TV show Al-bernameg (“The Show”), a year and a half after the Arab Spring ejected Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak from power. Youssef was in New York and, through a friend, snagged a tour of the studios for The Daily Show. The biting satire and incredible success of Al-bernameg had already earned Youssef the title of “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” and Youssef was giddy at the chance to meet Stewart in person. In the documentary Tickling Giants, Youssef can be seen practically melting when he first lays eyes on Stewart’s desk. And in his funny, self-deprecating memoir Revolution for Dummies, he talks about “squeal[ing] like a fan girl” when he got to shake Stewart’s hand after an hour-long conversation. Later that day, Youssef was invited on the show itself.

Youssef’s excitement was entirely understandable given how unlikely his story is. Until early 2011, Youssef was a cardiothoracic surgeon with dreams of moving to the U.S. When the uprising in Tahrir Square started, he was waiting for paperwork for a position at a hospital in Cleveland. The utopian promise of the days after Mubarak’s resignation inspired him and a friend to create a series of short YouTube videos satirizing state media, Islamist politicians, and celebrities. Amazingly, his first video was watching 100,000 times in its first two days. Within months, numerous Egyptian channels were in a bidding war to put him on TV, and Youssef was a heart surgeon no longer.

The next three years were incredibly tumultuous both for Egypt and for Youssef. The election of Mohamed Morsi and his ensuing hypocrisy and corruption provided endless fodder for Youssef and his writers, and viewers flocked to the show. Youssef spared no target in the Egyptian establishment, earning him praise (from Egyptian liberals and free press advocates from around the world) and scorn (first from the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, later the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi). He even managed to smuggle Jon Stewart in as a guest in June 2013.

While Youssef had always skirted the line with the authorities—including a notorious incident where the Morsi government tried to jail him for making fun of Morsi’s hat—his luck started to change after the military coup in July 2013. Sisi quickly became a kind of national hero, and his regime did not take well to any form of criticism. Youssef soldiered on, continuing to poke fun at any target he deemed fit, including the government. The government started harassing Al-bernameg, putting pressure on him and the network and even attempting to jam the station’s signal. Eventually, it all became too much. Despite continued high viewership, Youssef was forced to cancel the show in June 2014 and to flee the country that November.

After a brief stop in Dubai, Youssef moved to the U.S., where he has used his knowledge and experience of life under actual dictatorships to hilariously critique and contextualize the Trump administration while also continuing to provide his offbeat assessments of goings on in the Middle East.

Dan Ruccia is a Durham-based composer, writer, and graphic designer.

Artist Profile: Flutronix

Artist Profile: Flutronix
By Dan Ruccia

“In our first year of being Flutronix, we didn’t play any concerts,” Nathalie Joachim recalls. “We had to figure out what to play. Before we came around, there wasn’t a lot of music for two flutes and electronics.” Flutronix, the duo of Joachim and Allison Loggins-Hull, is not unique in that regard. Every ensemble with non-standard instrumentation—not a string quartet or piano trio or Pierrot ensemble—grapples with the question of what music to play. One solution, embraced by groups like Eighth Blackbird (of which Joachim is also a member), is to commission piles of new works from other composers, following the traditional division of labor in classical music between composer and performer.

Two women in plaid clothing holding flutes.

Joachim and Loggins-Hull, both composers in their own rights before forming Flutronix, chose a different route: writing all of their music themselves as composer-performers. For Joachim, that choice was as much a practical decision as a manifesto: “In western classical music, composing is a very insular, individual process for everyone. When you’re writing smaller-scale music, it’s process that’s largely un-edited. Every other type of writing that happens, a writer works really closely with their editor in shaping their thoughts and guiding the process a little bit.” She contrasts that with the highly collaborative process in the rock and pop worlds, observing that “So many of the greatest rock albums happened by a band sitting themselves in a studio for many weeks at a time around the clock writing together.” Given that the duo’s stylistic ambit extends well beyond classical music to encompass rock, electronic, hip hop, R&B, jazz, soul, world music, and beyond, the choice makes sense.

“We just started writing, and next thing we knew, we looked up and we had a piece. It just worked. The piece almost wrote itself.”

Nathalie joachim

At first, they wrote pieces individually. Almost everything on their eponymous first album from 2010 was written by either Joachim or Loggins-Hull. Their first collaborative composition, the album-closing “Brown Squares,” started out as an experiment. “I remember being apprehensive about it,” Joachim recalls, laughing. “Allison came over, and we were sitting in my home studio. We just started writing, and next thing we knew, we looked up and we had a piece. It just worked. The piece almost wrote itself.”

Both women were excited by the results, so their next album, 2014’s 2.0, was almost entirely co-written. Having someone to bounce ideas off allowed them to go places they wouldn’t think to otherwise, to sharpen ideas and discover unexpected solutions. “We rely on each other a lot to push how we normally think about writing because our approaches are very night and day,” Joachim says. “We have very distinct styles and voices, and we approach how we think about music in very different ways, but they are extremely complementary.”

In 2015, Joachim joined Eighth Blackbird and moved from New York City to Chicago, and Loggins-Hull gave birth to her daughter, moving the duo to reevaluate their compositional process. Having established a sound and a repertory, they decided to refocus their limited writing time on larger projects that responded to the current social and political climate. Discourse, the work they will write and perform here in Chapel Hill over the coming years, is their first such attempt at expanding their collaborative vision even further.

Dan Ruccia is a Durham-based composer, writer, and graphic designer.

Two women wearing brightly colored clothes and holding flutes

Breaking down this season’s theme: You Are Everything

You are everything. Maybe you’ve seen these words on our 18/19 brochure cover, or splashed across the front of Memorial Hall as you were driving by, and wondered “What exactly does that mean?”

Here at Carolina Performing Arts, we’ve been considering the phrase a lot. In fact, it’s the theme of our new season. As we see it, small communities are created every time people gather to watch one of our performances. And in the years since we first opened, we’ve grown, both figuratively and literally. We’ve made spaces like CURRENT, which invite you to get closer to a performance–and sometimes even become a part of it. Our visiting artists help create those communities, by pushing us to imagine new possibilities and making connections between us all while we sit or stand shoulder-to-shoulder, in awe of what they share with us. But those moments also depend on what happens when you come through our doors. There is, simply put, no performance without you and the energy you create in those moments.

A season announcement reading "You Are Everything" on bright orange background.

Communities exist whether we’re gathered together inside a theater or passing one another on Franklin Street or in downtown Durham. This season, we want to find the opportunities for us all to consider how we can take what we experience together during a performance and apply it to benefit our everyday communities. You’ve probably read, heard, or even experienced in your own life that the arts promote empathy and can motivate people to engage civically. The arts foster creative thinking and open us to different ways of thinking.

This, in fact, is what we mean when we say “you are everything”–it’s you who has the power to translate what you feel into something that ripples outside the theater to bring about change and transformation. This is especially important at a time when many of us are moved in new and urgent ways to explore our own civic duty: the responsibility each of us has to build a better future for others. At CPA, we also believe that artists play an integral role in this process. With the insights revealed by what they do, they can inspire to show up for humanity, and do so in ways that reveal our individual creativity and compassion.

Throughout the season, we’ll host many performances under the umbrellas You Are a Neighbor, You Are a Citizen, and You are a Maker. These ideas trace back to what we think of as fundamental parts of community life: connections between neighbors, engaged citizenship, and collaborative creation. We’re also asking our visiting artists to connect with you even more offstage, and we’ll be working throughout the year to find unique opportunities for this. Check out our season brochure for a sampling of upcoming gatherings, and find out what our artists are up to on their event pages at as we plan more events.

Thanks for being a part of this season, and those that have come before it. We are so grateful to have you as our community.

A crowd of children celebrate in their homemade robot costumes

Faculty Spotlight – Michelle Robinson

By Sara Beth Levavy

A woman wearing purple poses for a headshot.

Michelle Robinson’s interests in American history and culture are vast. An Associate Professor of American Studies at UNC, her courses can cover race, gender, sexuality, literary narrative, religion, film, or comedy through the lens of popular culture. Robinson looks at how, through different kinds of communities, all varieties of American-ness are expressed.

“American Studies cultivates an appetite for the future,” Robinson says. “It’s a field that helps us become fluent, culturally, and helps us to understand the way that both the United States and its relationship to the globe is changing.” All of which is very important in studying Octavia E. Butler’s science fiction novel Parable of the Sower, a novel she has taught multiple times in UNC’s classrooms and that has been adapted for the stage by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon. Carolina Performing Arts is presenting the North American debut of the Reagons’ genre-blending opera in November.

Parable of the Sower touches on several of Robinson’s research interests and she often teaches it in relationship to the fiction written by Ray Bradbury and other authors whose work is from the decades of the space race—when writers used their stories to speculate about how the existence of astronauts changed the way people could think about human development and national boundaries. Through Parable, Robinson teaches the nature of community building and the ethics that are tied up in that process. (Butler herself used the American war in Iraq in the early-1990s as a way of thinking about the world she created in Parable.)

“American Studies cultivates an appetite for the future.”


At bottom, Robinson is a fan of Butler’s work. Paging through a series of photographs of notes in Butler’s archive at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA, Robinson stops to comment on Butler’s writing and re-writing of definitions for the word “empathy.” It is a critical word for Parable’s protagonist, who suffers from the fictional “hyper-empathy syndrome,” a psychosomatic condition. Empathy is “a projection, not necessarily voluntary, of the self onto the feelings of others,” Butler wrote. Which is also one of keys to how Robinson has built her relationship with Carolina Performing Arts – how ideas of inclusion and exclusion can become gestural, how communities can adapt and change. Critical to Butler’s thinking about Parable, Robinson says, is seeing how she transformed elements of the present into the raw materials of imagining the future.

Sara Beth Levavy served as the Mellon Post Doctoral Fellow at Carolina Performing Arts for the 2016-2017 season.

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