When: Sat., Sept. 16, 8 p.m. 2017
Since the grand opening of the sumptuously renovated Baldwin Auditorium in 2012, the Duke University Department of Music has hosted an annual gala to showcase the deep, combined talents of its performance faculty. In its first few years, the gala had a wide range of programming, but more recent iterations have focused more on music by Duke composers. Last year's edition featured a richly colored new work by Scott Lindroth based on the Richard Powers novel Orfeo, alongside Olivier Messiaen's mystical "Quartet for the End of Time."
This year's gala is even more timely and ambitious, especially in light of the Trump administration's recent moves to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Titled Songs of Journey, the program explores themes of migration and immigration and the various meanings of passage and betweenness. At its center is a new chamber concerto for violin and ensemble by Stephen Jaffe, titled "Migrations (Chamber Concerto No. 4)." All of Jaffe's chamber music uses complicated rhythmic structures and intricate figuration to express ideas that are lyrical and effervescent. Breath, conversation, and air are recurring metaphors, which makes the relative concreteness of this ten-movement work's themes that much more remarkable.
Jaffe's piece doesn't reference any specific events—though he talks in passing about the great migration and the flight from Egypt in the program notes—but it draws power from masses of moving people. He writes that the memory of migration "lives on for generations as culture-bearing people attempt to attain equilibrium in new lands. I was after an energy which would bear witness to migration's vastness." To foment that vastness, Jaffe takes full advantage of Baldwin Auditorium's space. Members of the fifteen-piece ensemble wander around the stage and through the aisles. At one point, two solo violinists appear in opposite balconies exchanging tightly intertwined lines with each other and the ensemble on stage.
The concert also includes an exuberant romp for string quartet by composer and Duke University alum Penka Kouneva; Bright Sheng's evocation of nature and lost love "The Stream Flows"; and Gustav Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer," a turbulently Romantic invocation of solitude. Tying the performance in with the Franklin Humanities Institute's conference "Health Humanities and Social Justice: Breath, Body, Voice" is a recitation by Nicky Finney of her poem "A New Day Dawns." —Dan Ruccia