Last night I attended the premiere performance of a new work, chamber music by Joshua Kohl which interprets and contextualizes a suite of vignettes by Herbert Kohl, the poet and the composer's father.
The makeup of the musical ensemble was new to me: essentially a string quartet (two violins, viola and cello), along with a clarinet and electric piano. And here's what else is fascinating: though Herbert Kohl himself was present at the performance (and in fact gave a very charming introduction to the work), the poems set to music were recorded and played from a laptop.
Among other benefits, having the poems "performed" by a recording gave the ensemble the opportunity to accompany a memory embedded, if not in the time of the actual event remembered, then in the history of a historical retelling. The poems became documents, artifacts.
And what emotionally explosive documents!
Here is the shortest, simplest poem from the evening, but the one that affected me most, and best illustrated for me the genius of the new form of chamber performance Joshua Kohl was either utilizing or inventing:
The last time I saw Roz on Grand Avenue
She was standing in front of a mirror crying.
I don't have anything to wear.
This stupid hair is too curly.
My father said just put anything on.
My mother said I'll get you a new dress.
As a remembrance, a free verse on the written page, the poem is sweet enough. Set to the younger Kohl's music, and read in the Bronx accent of the elder Kohl, the poem became synesthetic, cinematic.
If I'm not mistaken, the work was commissioned by the Frye Art Museum. The performance last night was the first in a series of "salon" events to take place in a special space in the museum which reproduces the way the Frye's benefactors, Charles and Emma, had hung their collection of paintings in their own home.
I understand that a recording of last night's performance of the Kohl work will be playing in a listening lounge at the Frye.