New York State Music Fund supports original Darwin production

The Artswego Performing Arts Series at SUNY Oswego has received a $95,000 grant from the New York State Music Fund to support collaboration between composer Richard Einhorn and the college to create a multimedia production based on the life and work of Charles Darwin.

Dr. Julie Pretzat, professor and chair of music, is working with Einhorn on early stages of the choral work, tentatively titled “The Origin of the Origin,” to debut at Oswego in March 2008.

Einhorn first collaborated with Pretzat when he brought his multimedia masterwork “Voices of Light” to SUNY Oswego in 2004. “Voices of Light” mixed live music as the “voices” to accompany Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”

“Of all the masterworks of science, none is more readable than Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species,’” Einhorn said. “It is remarkable that no influential composer in the nearly 150 years since its publication has produced a major work based upon it, as it is filled with literary beauties and profound insights.”

Just as school boards have debated the teaching of evolution, Darwin encountered internal conflict as he formulated his groundbreaking theory, Einhorn said. “During his own journey of scientific discovery, Darwin raised the same objections to his theory that are heard today,” he explained. “Darwin himself is the most qualified person to confront the weaknesses of Darwin’s theory; his own opposition to where his science was heading will form the musical/dramatic core of the work.”

Pretzat said Einhorn will visit classrooms to share creativity insights, research strategies and other thoughts with students.

“He does so much background work before he puts pen to paper,” Pretzat said. “He becomes an expert on whatever he works on. He also creates very accessible music.”

Einhorn plans to work with a wide variety of musicians and scholars to develop the multimedia piece. Between members of Oswego’s College Choir, Festival Chorus and College-Community Orchestra, technicians and others working behind the scenes, organizers estimate nearly 200 people will provide input.

Visiting artists Kitka, a Bulgarian women’s vocal ensemble, will be key players, helping vocalize Darwin’s thoughts in the production as part of a cultural residency, said Mary Avrakotos, Artswego coordinator.

The production is an opportunity for students to be part of a creative work and to perform a deeper exploration of the origin of scientific principles, she said.

The Oswego premiere will precede an expected increase in interest in Darwin’s life and work with the 200th anniversary of the scientist’s birth coming in 2009.

“I hope to produce a work of musical excellence and thematic substance,” Einhorn said. “This one-time opportunity presented by the New York State Music Fund is truly extraordinary.”

The New York State Attorney General established the New York State Music Fund at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Oswego’s funding is part of $19 million in a second round of grants resulting from record-company settlements against “payola” or pay-for-play charges in past years.

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(Posted: Jan 24, 2007)