Australian Chamber Orchestra
- 6 commissions and co-commissions presented
- 2 residencies deepening partnerships and engagement
- North American premiere of Circa’s Leviathan
- 6 commissions and co-commissions lined up for the 2023–24 season
With the generous support of donors to our Commissions and Programming Fund, Stanford Live presented regional and national premieres of work from an international array of artists in our 2022–23 season. These works examined major issues of our time, drove new campus and community partnerships, and deepened our engagement with the many communities we serve.
We opened the season with our most ambitious residency project to date, with Australian circus company Circa performing the North American premiere of their work Leviathan. Over the course of a month, Circa members worked with youth and adult community performers and Stanford students in an intensive rehearsal and work development process, ultimately leading to 18 Circa members and 18 guest community performers sharing the stage in two sold-out performances at Memorial Auditorium.
The stunning work combines acrobatics, modern dance, and music, with performers often traversing a giant grid hanging in various positions or moving through space. Leviathan suggested people both coming together and veering apart, with Circa Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz calling it “a piece for our divided times.”
Eleven Stanford students participated through a course, “The Art of Circus Movement,” with seven ultimately performing. We were also joined by three adult and eight youth performers ages 8 to 13. The community participants rose to the challenge of being fully integrated into a professional performance with complex choreography and a deeper message of interdependence in a fragmented world.
Lifschitz spoke to us early on about wanting to leave behind seeds that will continue to grow and take on meaning. This experience more than achieved that goal, evidenced by relationships that developed among the youth, adults, students and Circa cast and crew and radiated out to their families, friends and the wider community that filled Memorial Auditorium. The project also helped our organization develop a partnership with EPACENTER, the new community arts center in East Palo Alto, which assisted with youth performer recruitment, provided rehearsal space, and then worked with Stanford Live to create a circus arts program at the center following the residency.
The Ritual of Breath is the Rite to Resist
Our next extensive residency project, the multimedia opera The Ritual of Breath Is the Rite to Resist, took place in mid-October. The work evolved over five years of development, with Dartmouth College and Stanford Live as co-commissioners. The creative team brought together independent artists with arts faculty from both Dartmouth and Stanford, and included Stanford faculty composer Jonathan Berger.
The piece reflects on the murder of Eric Garner by police in 2014 and suggests performance as a site for community gathering and healing. The performances were described by many as profoundly moving, with a searing look at injustice as well as meaningful gestures toward healing, and a sense of community heightened by communal singing to conclude the work.
The performance and many related programs reached hundreds of members of our campus community, with events such as a talk hosted by the Office for Religious & Spiritual Life’s Revered Dr. Sakena De Skaggs-Young with Gwen Carr (Mother of Eric Garner) and Reverend Wanda Johnson (Mother of Oscar Grant III). A series of private and public rituals took place alongside the performance and included a procession to the performance led by the Institute of Diversity in the Arts resident artist amara tabor-smith and a community altar-building activity led by performance artist brontë velez. Classes and groups that attended included Introduction to Black Studies, Art and Social Justice, Life Works/Storytelling Project, and Ujamaa House, the student Black residence.
In November, we presented Portland-based Ghanaian composer and performer Okaidja Afroso performing his new work Jaku Mumor – Ancestral Spirit. The piece featured performers from Ghana in a multi-media performance documenting the Ga-Dangme fishing culture and songs from Ghana’s Atlantic Gulf of Guinea. Okaidja and his band shared his beautiful songs and stirring voice, together with dancing and visual storytelling, in a memorable performance at Bing. He also met with over 80 members of the campus community for music and a conversation on his home region’s culture and sustainability challenges at Stanford’s beautiful O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm, developed in collaboration with Stanford’s Environmental Justice Working Group. Okaidja and his ensemble members commented on the quality and depth of these engagement activities and how welcome and valued they felt during their time at Stanford.
Dimitris Papaioannou’s Transverse Orientation arrived at Memorial Auditorium in December, following a May 2022 postponement. This visually stunning and provocative work by one of the world’s leading directors of theater/performance met with enormous ovations over two nights. Audience members came from all around the Bay Area and around the world to experience this work in its final two touring performances. The company’s dancers interacted with a complex set that included a roving bull animated by two dancers, enigmatic objects coming and going, and a pool of water covering the stage that was revealed only at the work’s conclusion. These mysteriously compelling images left the audience to decide their meaning, and for weeks afterward, audience members told us they were still thinking about the piece.
We presented a discussion of Papaioannou’s work before the December 9 performance, with leading faculty from the departments of Art History, Media and Film Studies, and Theater offering fascinating insights into his work. Dimitris himself was so intrigued that he joined the scholars onstage for a few minutes before having to prepare for the show. We were among only three North American co-commissioners/presenters for this work, which came into being through the support of over a dozen leading international presenters and festivals.
We began 2023 with Joyce DiDonato’s Eden, her dramatically staged recital of music from the Baroque through contemporary eras, performed with Italian chamber orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro. The Eden project, which is meant to inspire deeper concern for the natural world and actions to support it, works with a guest children’s choir in each city it visits. We invited iSing Silicon Valley, a girls choir based in Palo Alto, to sing with Joyce on the program’s youth-composed anthem, “Seeds of Hope,” and to add a nature-focused encore of their own. The choir delivered a beautiful and moving performance and received an extended ovation from the full house at Bing.
The Eden project calls for each guest choir to participate in a workshop combining artistic and environmental learning. San Francisco teaching artist Manolo Davila led the 75 young singers through a process in which reclaimed five-gallon water bottle are painted and then turned into drums, filling the Bing Studio with rhythm and color.
In April, Meklit Hadero’s Movement Live featured several local artists who shared their migration stories in a beautifully produced work that integrated song, stories, and sound design. Growing from her Movement podcast, which highlights immigrant musicians, the musically eclectic performance was among the most rousing and inspiring in our season. We have previously presented Meklit in our Studio venue, and her performance with the Kronos Quartet of “The President Sang Amazing Grace” as part of our 2020–21 digital film series drew national acclaim. The long-term relationships we develop with artists of this caliber allow us to support their work as they develop more ambitious concepts.
April also brought a much-anticipated visit from the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Their Bing Concert Hall program featured the U.S. premiere of Echo Transcriptions by composer Samuel Adams, a Stanford alum whose work we have steadily presented over the last ten years as he has become one of the most acclaimed younger American composers. This gripping work for electric violin and strings was commissioned prior to the pandemic, and after several postponements, it was especially gratifying to bring this music to our audiences, brought to life by the ACO’s unmatched energy and sense of ensemble.
After seven years at the helm of Stanford Live, Executive Director Chris Lorway left our organization in April 2023. Chris spearheaded our commissioning focus during his tenure, and we will build on this legacy as we continue to support and present new work in coming seasons.
Major commissions for 2023-24 include Akram Khan’s Jungle Book reimagined, which reinvents the beloved story through the eyes of a climate refugee; South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma’s mix of dance, choral singing, and historical drama Broken Chord; director Peter Sellars’ and the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Music to Accompany a Departure, which adapts Heinrich Schütz’s baroque masterwork Musikalische Exequien (Funeral Music) for our pandemic era; Canadian puppeteer Ronnie Burkett’s Wonderful Joe, which Burkett plans as his farewell performance; the world premiere of a string quartet by composer Gabriella Smith as part of the Kronos Quartet’s Five Decades celebration; and a new work from iconic California composer Terry Riley for flutist Claire Chase’s multiyear commissioning project, Density 2036.