ISSUE Project Room is pleased to present the premiere of Port Bou, a new opera by celebrated composer and performer Elliott Sharp. In two performances, Thursday October 16th and Friday October 17th at 8pm, this new commission depicts the final moments of philosopher Walter Benjamin’s life in Port-Bou at the French-Spanish border as he flees Nazi-occupied France. From his studies of Benjamin's texts and letters, Sharp has created a dramatic interpretation of Benjamin's internal reality on his last day, drawing reference to the hugely influential author’s key works including The Work Of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction, The Task of the Translator, and The Arcades Project.
The opera stars the extraordinary bass/baritone Nicholas Isherwood, with pianist Jenny Lin and accordionist William Schimmel, and prerecorded electro-acoustic backgrounds by Sharp. Video projections by Janene Higgins provide the set and staging, as well as subtext and commentary. Port Bou operates in the compositional language Sharp has developed and explored in such compositions as the orchestral works On Corlear's Hook, Calling, SyndaKit, and Proof Of Erdos and in his previous operas Binibon and Em/Pyre: recombinant streams; chaining and looping of musical "molecules"; chaotic structures resolving to resonant rhythmic patterns; timbral counterpoint; melodies (both micro- and macro-) based on the natural overtone series, acoustic principles of the combining of sounds in a form of "acoustic additive synthesis"; and use of extended techniques to create new virtual instruments.
Elliott Sharp is a composer, performer, sound-artist and producer who leads the projects SysOrk, Orchestra Carbon, Aggregat, Terraplane, and Tectonics and has pioneered ways of applying fractal geometry, chaos theory, and genetics to musical composition and interaction. Sharp has composed for orchestras, string quartets, film, television, and opera. A 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship winner, Sharp also was awarded the Berlin Prize in Music Composition for 2015 and received a NYSCA award in 2014 to create the score to Port Bou. Sharp's music has been performed at the Venice Biennale; the Darmstadt and Donaueschingen festivals; New Music Stockholm; Tomorrow Festival Shenzhen; Au Printemps-Paris; and at the Saalfelden, North Sea, London, and Berlin Jazz Festivals. Sharp's collaborators have included violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn; the legendary Ensemble Modern; actor Steve Buscemi; pop singer Debbie Harry; Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; JACK and Arditti string quartets; blues legends Hubert Sumlin and Pops Staples; jazz greats Jack deJohnette and Sonny Sharrock; Radio-Sinfonie Frankfurt; multimedia artists Christian Marclay and Pierre Huyghe; the Bayerische Staatsoper; and sci-fi authors Jonathan Lethem, Lucius Shepherd, and Jack Womack. A documentary by director Bert Shapiro about Sharp's work, Doing The Don't, was recently released and screened internationally.
Nicholas Isherwood is an American bass/baritone singer who specialises in contemporary and baroque music. Notable roles include "Lucifer" in the world premieres of Stockhausen’s Montag, Dienstag, and Freitag from Licht at La Scala and the Leipzig Opera, and in Donnerstag aus Licht at Covent Garden. Isherwood has worked with Joel Cohen, William Christie, Peter Eötvös, Paul McCreesh, Nicholas McGegan, Kent Nagano, Zubin Mehta and Gennadi Rozhdestvensky as well as composers Sylvano Bussotti, Elliott Carter, George Crumb, Hans Werner Henze, Mauricio Kagel, György Kurtág, Olivier Messiaen, Giacinto Scelsi, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis in venues such as La Scala, Covent Garden, the Théatre des Champs Elysées, Salzburg Festival, Concertgebouw, Berlin Staatsoper, Vienna Konzerthaus, Tanglewood.
Jenny Lin was born in Taiwan and raised in Austria and the USA. She began her piano studies at the age of 4. She received an Artist Diploma from Peabody Conservatory and also holds a bachelor's degree in German Literature from The Johns Hopkins University. She has worked with Richard Goode and Blanca Uribe in New York, and with Leon Fleisher, Dimitri Bashkirov and Andreas Staier at the Fondazione Internazionale per il Pianoforte in Cadenabbia, Italy. Jenny Lin's concerts have taken her to Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Kennedy Center, MoMA, Whitney Museum, National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery, and to festivals worldwide including the Chopin Festival in Austria, Ars Musica Festivals in Belgium, Shanghai New Music Festival, Divonne Festival in France, Schleswig-Holstein, Potsdam and Husum Festivals in Germany, Millennium Festival in Spain, and Festival Archipel in Switzerland.
William Schimmel, accordion, is one of the principal architects in the resurgence of the accordion, the revival of the Tango in America and the philosophy of Musical Reality (composition with pre-existing music). He has performed with numerous major symphony orchestras in the United States, including a longstanding relationship with the Minnesota Orchestra, as well as a wide range of chamber and new music groups in New York such as Ensemble Sospeso and the Odeon Jazz Ensemble. He is the founder of the Tango Project and worked with John Cale, Sting and Tom Waits, who made the legendary statement: “Bill Schimmel doesn't play the accordion, he is an accordion”. He hold BM, MS and DMA degrees from the Juilliard School.
Janene Higgins is a video artist and graphic designer based in New York City. Her work spans several genres, from video performance in the experimental music scene to videos for Saks Fifth Avenue, to the design of CD packages for such record labels as Sony, BMG, PolyGram, and a wide variety of independents. Her performance collaborators include Ikue Mori, Mari Kimura, Alan Licht, Nurit Tilles, Okkyung Lee, Aki Onda, and Zeena Parkins. She has also directed several short experimental videos, often with sound design by notable avant-garde artists including Sharp, Parkins, Christian Marclay and John Duncan. Her work has been performed and exhibited at The New York Video Festival at Lincoln Center; Documenta in Kassel, Germany; The Kitchen, NYC; Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon; City of Women festival, Slovenia; The Chelsea Art Museum, NYC; HiTeca Festival in Porto, Portugal; Art Institute of Chicago; Experimenta Festival in Buenos Aires; The Hamburg Short Film Festival; and at the Sonic Visions Festival, Reutlingen.