The Ultimate Poem Is Abstract (world premiere, LA Phil commission with generous support from Ellen and Arnold Zetcher)
About this Piece
Kate Soper is a composer, performer, and writer whose work explores the integration of drama and rhetoric into musical structure, the slippery continuums of expressivity, intelligibility, and sense, and the wonderfully treacherous landscape of the human voice. She has been hailed by the Boston Globe as “a composer of trenchant, sometimes discomfiting, power” and praised by The New Yorker for her “limpid, exacting vocalism, impetuous theatricality, and... mastery of modernist style.” Soper has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters (the Virgil Thomson and Goddard Lieberson Fellowships and the Charles Ives Scholarship), the Koussevitzky Foundation, Chamber Music America, and the Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund, among others, and has been commissioned by ensembles including Carnegie Hall, the American Composers Orchestra, the Tanglewood Music Center/BUTI, and Alarm Will Sound. As a new music vocalist, Soper performs frequently in her own works and in the works of others, and has performed with groups such as Morningside Opera, the Mivos String Quartet, the SEM Ensemble, Dinosaur Annex, and the Theatre of a Two-Headed Calf. Upcoming projects include Ipsa Dixit, an evening-length chamber music theater work to premiere in December 2016, and The Romance of the Rose, an operatic investigation of allegory and courtly love. Since 2006, Soper has been co-director and vocalist for Wet Ink, a New York-based new music ensemble dedicated to seeking out adventurous music across aesthetic boundaries. She is the Iva Dee Hiatt Assistant Professor of Music at Smith College.
The composer has provided the following note and texts:
The Ultimate Poem Is Abstract began, as a lot of pieces do, with a vague musical notion – can I, a singer, be subsumed into an abstract musical texture? – and some even vaguer conceptual notions – what is an abstract musical texture anyway? Does it have an opposite? And if so, which is more “authentic”? Many texts were scrutinized and discarded in the effort to figure out what, exactly, I was trying to say, but ultimately only Wallace Stevens’ remained intact. The voice within this poem, like the voice of the soprano within the ensemble (and perhaps like the nattering voice inside the composer’s head), can describe, can question, can categorize – but ultimately longs most of all, with only occasional flickering success, to experience.
Text (Part I)
(By composer and as indicated.)
I was thinking
Reading poetry all morning
“As we know it is mistaken to limit the ‘freedom’ of interpretive choice…[we should think of the whole] performance…[as] free.” (Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method)
“His eye was caught by the iridescent back of a beetle that had been standing on the windowsill… its pointless progress…a lesson that [in] a world of…flux, the only thing of importance [is] to radiate beauty.” (Yukio Mishima, Spring Snow)
“The things one declines to say…” (Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality)
“Art [is] the enemy of the artist…it denies [her]…transcendence…” (Susan Sontag, The Aesthetics of Silence)
“Why do you try to enlarge your mind? Subtlize it.” (Herman Melville, Moby-Dick)
“Confounded by the treachery of words the artist’s activity is cursed with mediacy.” (Sontag, Silence)
“To think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration.” (George Orwell, Politics and the English Language)
“[But] even before being expressed, sense is through and through temporal.” (Jacques Derrida, The Voice that Keeps Silence)
“One has to believe in what one is doing, one has to commit oneself inwardly. [Otherwise] there is nothing left to do. For basically [this is] total idiocy.” (Gerhard Richter, interview)
Text (Part II)
The Ultimate Poem Is Abstract
The day writes with what? The lecturer
On This Beautiful World Of Ours composes himself
And hems the planet rose and haws it ripe,
And red, and right. The particular question – here
The particular answer to the particular question
Is not in point – the question is in point.
If the day writhes, it is not with revelations.
One goes on asking questions. That, then, is one
Of the categories. So said, this placid space
Is changed. It is not so blue as we thought. To be blue
There must be no questions. It is an intellect
Of windings round and dodges to and fro,
Writhing in wrong obliques and distances,
Not an intellect in which we are fleet: present
Everywhere in space at once, cloud-pole
Of communication. It would be enough
If we were ever, just once, at the middle, fixed
In This Beautiful World Of Ours and not as now,
Helplessly at the edge, enough to be
Complete, because at the middle, if only in sense,
And in that enormous sense, merely enjoy.