Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Friday, April 19

Anthony Braxton's operas

Synopsis

In the 19th century, Richard Wagner composed a cycle of four operas collectively titled “The Ring of the Nibelungen,” lasting 16 hours in performance. In the 20th century, another German composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, wrote a cycle of seven, collectively titled “Light,” which runs about 29 hours. Not to be out-done, for several decades now a 21st century American composer has been working on a cycle of TWELVE operas, titled “Trillium,” which, if completed, will probably last much longer.

This composer’s name might not be familiar to opera fans, since MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Anthony Braxton is better known in jazz circles. As a saxophonist, Braxton has made over a hundred recordings, sometimes with jazz greats like Dave Brubeck or Chick Corea. Braxton resists being labeled, however, stating, “Even though I have been saying I'm not a jazz musician for the last 25 years, in the final analysis, an African-American with a saxophone? Ahh, he's jazz!”

The sixth opera in the Braxton’s cycle, “Trillium J, or The Non-Unconfessionable,” had its first complete performance at Roulette in Brooklyn on today’s date in 2014. To the question “why write operas,” Braxton says, “I believe the medium of opera is directly relevant to cultural alignment and evolution." Time will tell if Braxton’s “Trillium” project unfolds a culturally relevant message to rival Wagner and Stockhausen’s, or simply acts as a framework for the wide-ranging moods and colors of Braxon’s music.

Music Played in Today's Program

Anthony Braxton (b. 1945) excerpt from Act 2 of “Trillium J” soloists and ensemble; Anthony Braxton, cond. New Braxton House 906

Additional Information

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