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World-renowned musicians debut experimental opera in Korea

Sejong Soloists, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato to perform Asian premiere of Tod Machover’s "Overstory Overture"

By Park Ga-young

Published : Feb. 22, 2023 - 16:52

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The International Sejong Soloists (Donice) The International Sejong Soloists (Donice)

International chamber ensemble Sejong Soloists will join hands with Joyce DiDonato, one of the world's most celebrated opera singers, to perform the Asian premiere of Tod Machover’s “Overstory Overture” in Seoul on March 16.

“Overstory Overture” is inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Overstory” by Richard Powers, which explores the relationship between humans and nature.

Machover, known for his innovative approach to music, said in a recent email interview that he knew immediately that it is “a book of great importance about the importance of recalibrating the relationship between humans and the nonhuman world.”

“Overstory Overture” is a 30-minute work for a single voice, chamber ensemble and electronics, and will be theintroduction to a full-length “Overstory” opera he is currently developing.

The piece will feature two parallel narratives. The first centers on the character of scientist Patricia Westerford, performed by DiDonato, who has discovered that trees can communicate with each other through vast networks. The second narrative is a musical representation of the "world of trees" by Sejong Soloists and electronics, guided by conductor Earl Lee.

Conductor Tod Machover (Donice) Conductor Tod Machover (Donice)

The full-length opera stories are woven together, culminating in a network of trees that create their own music, according to Machover.

Pointing out that environmental protection is usually approached only from a scientific or policy-oriented angle, Machover hopes that the new opera will help shift how people approach issues of environmental protection. The composer believes that art, and particularly music, can help us to perceive the world in a new way, emphasizing the beauty and interconnectedness of the nonhuman world.

“In essence, we need to feel the depth of destruction to the environment, and we also need to feel the world around us in a totally new way, to believe we are a part of nature and not separate from it," the composer said. "I think that art – and especially music – can convey this new perception, but ‘hearing’ the nonhuman world as present and beautiful, and also be experiencing what a new synthesis of human and nonhuman could be like. We have to go way beyond the scientific and technological discussions if real change is going to occur,” he noted.

DiDonato said that it’s absolutely vital that people continue to write new music and create new art. “It is part of the human experience, to create and explore through the radical and frightening act of making art. We need this in our lives to try and process where we fit into the world, how to see things from another vantage point, and how to connect more deeply to each other,” she said in an email interview.

The new opera was commissioned in 2020 by the Sejong Soloists, an international musical ensemble founded by Hyo Kang -- an accomplished violin professor at the Juilliard School and Yale University -- in 1994. Celebrated British writer, actor and director Simon Robson wrote the libretto for "Overstory Overture," while boundary-pushing choreographer and director Karole Armitage designed the singer and musicians’ movement on stage.

The concert will also include works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Webern. It will take place on March 16 at the Seoul Arts Center.

The world premiere of “Overstory Overture” will take place at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York on March 7.

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (Donice) Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (Donice)