On Friday, July 15, the Festival artist faculty series concert 'New Worlds' included premieres of two works by Evan Chambers, 2016 Festival composer in residence.
The composer performed as vocalist with MoVE, Modern Violin Ensemble for the premiere performance of what the trees know. MoVE includes violinists Carolyn Stuart, Lina Bahn, Janet Sung and Stephanie Ezerman.
In his program notes for the work Chambers writes:
The world was once made of trees: they shaped everything we know with their living and dying. We humans, in fact, literally descended from the trees to walk upon earth built by their generations and held by their roots. We might benefit from contemplation of the ways of our ancient hosts.
Think of it: their lives begin in fragile mystery, with the blind faith of pale tendrils reaching down into darkness, parting grains of soil and pushing through clay toward the water that they will raise up to build cell upon cell a flowing column, up to the breathing leaves. Imagine: every single individual tree harbors a whole secret world buzzing with life, every surface covered with uncountable beings, all collaborating in symbiotic creation. This is a wisdom beyond our comprehension.
Yet if we attend to what the trees know, we can begin to identify with them, and with all the beings that, like us, are dependent on them for our existence. By following the lessons they offer us, we can enter into a new relationship with the web of life that makes our own lives possible. We might even be able to face the hard truth of our continuing thoughtless destruction of the world’s forests, and to mourn the loss of the millions of years of life building life that those sacred places represent.
What can we do? We can learn to do as the trees do, gathering the energies of a place to multiply life, rather than extracting and exploiting.
We can care for the trees. We can leave them standing, pay attention, nurture the wild places, and learn to live in love with the livingness that surrounds us. If you think the trees aren’t talking to you, go out and listen more carefully.
This piece is dedicated to the memory of Leslie and Anita Bassett, two great trees of my community, who lived lives of generosity, creativity, and courage; I am grateful for their moral clarity and their warm friendship. The work was commissioned by and written for MoVE, Modern Violin Ensemble.
The premiere performance of Chambers' piano trio, A Hundred Ways, concluded the July 15 program. This work was commissioned by violinist Kevin Lawrence and the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival, and was performed by Lawrence, cellist Alexander Ezerman and pianist Brian Suits. The piece was inspired by lines from the poet Rumi, as the composer writes:
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and scared.
Don't open the door to despair—take down a musical instrument and play!
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are a hundred ways to to pray,
a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the earth. —Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
If we wish to find peace and happiness in life, we need paths to get there: practices that will help us to cultivate these states. We seek out the means to close the door to despair, to see through the illusions that have been handed to us, and to move toward our best selves.
This piece is a small hymn to the effort and process of working to arrive at positive states: of peace, of vibrant energy, of release, of decisive action, and most importantly, gratitude.
The section titles in the second movement refer to practices from yoga. “Breath of Fire” (or Kapalabhati) gathers energy and light through powerfully rhythmic breathing, and “Lion’s Breath” is the forceful expulsion of lingering negativity in one loud, fierce exhalation. The piece ends with a deep bow of humility and gratitude before the mysteries and beauties of the earth.
As part of the Festival's Perspectives and Contexts series on Wednesday, July 13, Chambers addressed Festival participants and audience in a far ranging discussion of artist's role in addressing the ecological and cultural crises of our day.