October 15, 2015—On Friday, Nov. 13, the University of Oregon will present a unique mixed-media event incorporating both musical and visual components. Entitled "Mortal Sphere," the event will feature a recital by the renowned soprano (and UO faculty member) Laura Decher Wayte along with her musical collaborators, pianist Nathalie Fortin and saxophonist Idit Shner, with an original art installation and a small gallery exhibition by local mixed media artist Lillian Almeida.
The event is scheduled 7:30 p.m. in historic Beall Concert Hall on the UO campus. Tickets are available at the door or in advance from the UO Ticket Office, 541-346-4363. General admission is $10; $8 for students and seniors.
Acclaimed soprano Wayte and her musical partner, the pianist Fortin, will collaborate with painter and sculptor Almeida in a performance of Samuel Barber's “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” (a work that features text from James Agee's novel A Death in the Family). The concert title “Mortal Sphere” references the limited time all of us have alive, and the natural progression from child to adult.
Wayte says that the picture of American stability as depicted in the Samuel Barber selection will be contrasted with Ellwood Derr’s musical adaptation of “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” and Ralph Vaughn Williams’s “Blake Songs.”
“Derr sets to music poems that were written by children who later died in a Nazi concentration camp,” noted Wayte. “As you can imagine, the observations these children made differ from those in ‘Knoxville,’ while William Blake’s texts present a global view of the human struggle to be moral.”
Wayte says that the recital will be powerful, affecting, and unabashedly political, featuring ruminations on morality at the personal, cultural, and societal levels.
“Mortal Sphere’ is an open exploration of childrearing and family, filtered through the prism of my own German-American cultural heritage,” Wayte explained. “My father was born in Nazi Germany, a violent, genocidal country, so he is grateful to have raised his own children here in the U.S., in an open, democratic nation. It amazes me that one species can have created both democracy and genocide.”
“The economic and environmental pressures of today’s world will test humanity’s ability to walk on the moral side of possibility,” she added, tests she believes our species is currently undergoing as violence, persecution, and migration arise once again in the Middle East and Europe.
In the era after World War II, Wayte’s grandfather worked for a German engineering company. At the time of partition, the Decher family, among other German families, relocated to the U.S. to avoid proprietary engineering knowledge falling into Soviet hands.
The Decher family odyssey had a profound influence on Wayte’s father, at that time a boy.
“I feel this difference between midcentury America and midcentury Germany each time I read news of war- and famine-torn countries around the world,” Wayte continued. “I want families in these stressed communities to have the chance my father had to move away from political instability, so they can raise their own children in a culture that tries to tolerate and foster difference, rather than one that desperately clings to power out of fear.”
The large hanging wire sculptures constructed by Almeida will set the scene and the mood for a unique marriage of sound and sight, transforming the Beall Hall stage into an otherworldly landscape, enhanced by moving shadow projections courtesy of lighting designer Bob Durnell.
“My aim was to create an environment that elegantly holds the suggestions of human figures, while allowing the shapes of the ‘empty’ spaces between, inside and around them, to be an emotionally charged vessel," explained Almeida. “This resulting empty vessel is a space in which Laura’s songs and Nathalie’s music can move.”
“We’ve taken our cues from the hall’s beautiful, traditional structure in creating a sparse but visually dynamic setting,” Almeida added.
Following the concert, audience members are invited to a reception in the Katie Frohnmayer Club Room to meet the visual and performing artists. Paintings from Almeida’s “Figures from an Opera” series, which is inspired by Wayte’s work, will be on display at the reception.
Wayte and Fortin last presented a multimedia collaborative performance in Beall Concert Hall in January of 2014, partnering with visual artist Helen Liu, an event that drew 150 concertgoers.
Friday, November 13
Laura Wayte, Soprano with Nathalie Fortin, Piano; and Idit Shner, Saxophone
7:30 p.m., Beall Concert Hall, Frohnmayer Music Building; reception to follow
$10 general admission, $8 students and seniors
Tickets are available at the door or in advance from the UO Ticket Office, 541-346-4363
Image of painting from Almeida's "Scenes from an Opera" series used by permission of the artist.