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Murakami Music: You’ve got to see it to believe it.

Murakami-Music-Post-Card

In a captivating performance on Wednesday night, Eunbi Kim and Laura Yumi Snell crafted a new kind of performance art, a new kind of presentation format for live classical music and a new message for contemporary performing artists. With the spell-binding production of Murakami Music, Eunbi and Laura made it clear that if you are willing to take big risks– your art will thrive.

It’s taken me several days to begin to write this review (for lack of a better term) of their performance. I’ve been thinking about the experience, what I took away from it, and how in the world I would try to explain it to you. I knew that a simple recap would never do it justice. This post is going to be much more detailed than other reviews I’ve done; for when I get the opportunity to write about something that absolutely embodies the core ideals of Tuxedo Revolt, I have to be able to share it with all of you.

When Eunbi first told me about her idea for Murakami Music, I featured the concept in a post back in January. If you aren’t familiar with this project or need a refresher– click here. Last week’s performance took place at The Cell Theatre in Chelsea. It was the perfect venue, living up to its definition as a 21st Century Salon. I must give a great deal of credit to the founding artistic director of the Cell Theater, Nancy Manocherian for her vision for such an innovative, elegant and multi-functional performance space. For a hybrid music/drama project like Murakami Music, the Cell provided a fresh and blank canvas for Laura and Eunbi to explore throughout their performance. But now— onto the performance itself.

Merely listing the order of events, pieces played, and highlights of the evening isn’t appropriate. I found Murakami Music to be so intellectually stimulating that I realized I would need to analyze the performance like a painting, or a piece of literature. This was no concert– it was a full-out experience.

When you consider that the project was based on passages of Murakami’s writings, combined with a performance of musical selections referenced in his novels, a book reading with musical examples is the first thing that comes to mind.  The project’s director Kira Simring anticipated this perception and skillfully transcended it. As the program began, artist LauraYumi Snell read from a copy of Murakami’s book– as we might have expected. Then, as Laura continued to recite passages from the novel, Eunbi began to delicately introduce the solo piano into our field of perception. Laura continued to read aloud, but gently closed the book, all the while still reciting Murakami’s text. The dramatic narrative from the text then took on a life of its own. With flawless transition, our descent into the world of Murakami Music had begun.

This performance was focused on engaging the audience at all times. Murakami’s texts, so skillfully dramatized by both Laura and Eunbi, shared a symbiotic relationship with the music of Chopin, Debussy, Prokofiev and other composers whose music was featured in the performance. Spoken word and live music gave meaning and context to each other. Audience members who had never read the works of Murakami were introduced to his world of dual meaning and pensive emotion through beautiful music with similar dramatic properties. Audience members who were not familiar with solo piano music were introduced to it in way that they could begin to understand its emotional depth as it echoed the emotions of the unfolding drama.

For the music-must-stand-alone-as-its-own-art-form critics who are reading this, I must say that Eunbi and Laura created a performance where both music and drama took equal roles. The music, brilliantly executed by both Eunbi and Laura, was in no way impeded by the precisely planned and well chosen texts they also presented. Under the gifted guidance of Kira Simring, the pair used both music and drama to appeal to the senses of sound, sight, and spatial awareness. As an audience member, I was on edge waiting for what was to come next.

Transitions between scenes and musical selections were handled flawlessly and the performance never lost its momentum. I am most critical of transitions between events when I attend performances. These are the moments when audience members are not lost in their own thoughts, but rather present with you and in the moment. Transitions present a golden opportunity to introduce new themes, new ideas and new energy. Too often, transitions seem like TV commercial breaks, interrupting the flow of a performance and flat-lining the energy of the overall experience.

Murakami Music reminded me of why the tradition to hold applause until the end of a performance came to be in be first place. Once upon a time, musical performances were so captivating to audiences that no one dared to release the energy or flow of a performance until the event was truly finished. Audiences didn’t know what to expect as the next great work began to unfold. Finally, at the end of the performance, the moment came for the audience to express appreciation for the performers and to release through applause the energy that was building within each audience member throughout the performance.

As the final tableau in Murakami Music drew to a close, I glanced around at my fellow audience members. I saw young and old on the edge of their seats, leaning forward, captivated and ready it burst into applause. When the final note of  Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 in d minor, op. 14 sounded, we the audience, finally had our moment to thank the artists who performed for us. It was truly a genuine exchange of gratitude.

When I am able to attend such a great performance, I am inspired to keep writing this blog. I am refreshed and reassured that through adaptation and innovation, live performing arts can still be socially relevant and meaningful to audiences. With its solo piano and stage absent of scenery and props, Murakami Music brought to my mind images from the great American playwright Thornton Wilder‘s Our Town. When the audience is challenged to use its imagination, but is guided to do so, there is a freshness to the performance and each audience member walks away with a unique and memorable experience.

I’m reminded of a line from Our Town spoken by the character Emily Webb, “Live people don’t understand, do they? They’re sort of shut up in little boxes, aren’t they?”

In Murakami Music the audience shared in an emotional journey together. We heard live music and spoken words. We saw expression on the faces of the performers which led to an expansion of our own sense of empathy. And for just a little while, we weren’t shut up in the little boxes of ourselves. As an audience we shared in the experience together, and it became ours.

Congratulations to Eunbi Kim, Laura Yumi Snell, Kira Simring and the Cell Theatre for a performance that was truly in the in the spirit of Tuxedo Revolt.

Stay tuned,

John-Morgan

Eunbi Kim and Murakami Music: a Tuxedo Revolt Profile

Eunbi Kim Murakami Music

One of the most fun things I get to do while writing this blog is to interview incredibly creative and dynamic artists who embody Tuxedo Revolt ideals. For the first Tuxedo Revolt Blog profile in 2013, I’m thrilled to profile my good friend and colleague Eunbi Kim.

Eunbi is an excellent musician, has a dynamic personality and an entrepreneurial spirit. As you’ll see, these three traits are integral to her artistry. Her recent performance at the Cell Theater in New York City, entitled Murakami Music, embodied Eunbi’s creative nature, pursuit of innovation in the performance of classical music, and the Tuxedo Revolt ideal to make classical music performances socially relevant. I sat down with Eunbi last week to talk about Murakami Music  as well as her creative process in creating the performance event.

The details at a glance:

 Performance name: “Overture” 

The Musicians: Eunbi Kim , piano and artist-in-residence

 Guest artists: Laura Snell, actress; Nelly Rocha, cello; Christopher Scanlon, trumpet

 When: Friday January 18th, 2013 at 8pm

 Where: The Cell Theatre (New York, NY)

 What: A preview concert of performances to be developed into large-scale projects at the Cell in 2013-14 during Eunbi’s  artist residency. Program included solo piano works by Debussy, excerpts of “Murakami Music” with music by Chopin, Schumann, and Beatles interspersed with live readings by actress Laura Snell, and performances by chamber group “Blink Ensemble” of contemporary works written by William Schmidt and Carson Cooman for piano, cello, and trumpet. 

Like many Tuxedo Revolt blog readers, Eunbi is a young artist, recently graduated with her Master’s of Music degree, and launching her career in the midst of the recession. Sounds a bit ominous (and a little too close to home), right? Yet, in the face of opposition, Eunbi is moving forward. These are Tuxedo Revolt ideals; to be optimistic, creative and relevant.  As a classically trained pianist, Eunbi sought ways to connect her performances to potential audiences and to make the socially relevant. She believes that she can, through her own innovation and creativity, sidestep many of the problems that plague the traditional performing arts– and  she is doing exactly that.

I asked Eunbi what was her point of inspiration for Murakami Music– you might find her response rings true for you also:

Eunbi is a thinker and innovator. But the most unique aspect of her artistry is her ability to seek out creative performance solutions that integrate the social elements she found missing in the performances of others. Thus, the Murakami Music project was born. In our interview, Eunbi’s face lit up when I asked her to describe the project and its origins.

 “I had the inspiration to create the Murakami Music program around one year ago when I thought about what I really wanted to say and create as a performer.” said Eunbi. “I had this idea in my head for the longest time of setting writer Haruki Murakami’s novels to music by taking selected reading passages and performing solo concert music with them.  He creates amazing texture in his works through heavily referencing music. I saw the potential in my head for a live performance. Then I found an amazing collaborator, actress Laura Snell, who is also passionate about Murakami’s novels, storytelling, theatre, and also music- she is an accomplished pianist as well.”

“We proposed this project to the Cell Theatre in Manhattan, which they accepted. We workshopped and presented it this past October with ideas of making it an evening length concert in the future. At the end of 2012, the directors of the Cell asked me if I would like to do an artist residency, which was really exciting. It meant that I would have incredible support to present new works and projects at the cell. Then, this idea of a preview concert came about where we could show short performances of this project as well as my project with Blink Ensemble- performing accessible contemporary music for an unusual instrumentation- piano, trumpet, cello.”

I feel that there is much to learn from Eunbi’s enthusiastic response. First, we must understand that ideas need time to incubate and/or percolate in our minds for a time before they are ready to be introduced to the world. Second (and most importantly), we must realize the when an opportunity presents itself to us, we must jump at the chance to bring our ideas to life.

For Eunbi, the idea for her project wasn’t perfected in her mind before seizing the opportunity to make it a reality. I asked Eunbi what kept her going on this project, how she and her collaborators managed to tie together all the loose ends, and what it took to bring this project from a thought into reality. Her response was not the lofty or idealistic response that you might expect from a classical musician, but rather– a response filled with determination and work ethic:

 “Truthfully, a deadline.” said Eunbi about what kept her on track.  “It’s unromantic but it’s the truth. There was also a sense of responsibility.”

 “We [the musicians] were all passionate about the concert and had so many ideas and dreams of its potential– but it can all become overwhelming when it has to be put into action. Creating something absolutely new and innovative like Murakami Music was daunting- it takes a lot of work and emotional energy (tons of self-doubt), more than people realize.”

“Even though I had the Cell’s support, there were lots of logistics and marketing that I had to take care of in order for the concert to be a success. There is responsibility to my audience that they have the best possible experience- they are my guests. There is responsibility to the other performers that I have an audience that will be there to support their creativity.”

You can see that Eunbi Kim feels a heartfelt and deep obligation to her audience– an obligation that transcends all aspects of the art she creates. From the music itself, to the logistics surrounding the concert experience, Eunbi puts her audience’s best interest  as a top priority.

Eunbi is a great example of a much needed mindset for performers today. We must break away from any notion that what we do as performers we do for ourselves. It simply isn’t so. Our performances help our audiences connect with our art–and us as individual people. We must take these connections into every level of planning, rehearsal, and performance we undertake when turning our ideas into reality.

Stay tuned for more artist profiles from Tuxedo Revolt coming you way!

John-Morgan