All posts by Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn’s latest album is full of places and spaces: the Blue Ridge Mountains, Harlan County, dirty coal mines and tumbled down company towns. Even the album’s title, Echo In The Valley, evokes a linkage of sound and space.

How are art and space connected? The philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that art functions as a sort of clearing-away, a making of space. Much like a settler might clear an area in the forest for her home, art makes room, creating openings for uniquely human places that we can dwell in.

A sculptor carves away at rock, releasing something that was, in a sense, always there. This opens a space for us to experience the uncovered truth. Béla and Abigail creatively sculpt from the raw material of American musical history, finding new spaces within old traditions.

Abigail sings on “If I Could Talk to a Younger Me” that:

If I could talk to a younger me

I’d tell me to go slow

This time on earth

It moves so fast

And when it’s gone it’s gone

So take this opportunity to slow down and dwell in the spaces that Béla and Abigail open up. Allow yourself to be transported. Settle in that valley. Listen for the echoes. Wherever you come from and wherever you are headed, tonight you are home.

–Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra

The famous final proposition of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus reads, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” By this, he meant that certain concepts are inherently beyond the limits of our language: the transcendent, the metaphysical, the ethical, and the aesthetic. Our attempts to pin down these ineffable concepts in words result in literal nonsense. Nothing truly sensible can be said about them. We can only gesture in their direction.

What is it about the music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt that makes it feel transcendent? A key component is in the way Pärt incorporates silence. In describing the role of silence in Pärt’s music, conductor Tõnu Kaljuste has said, “Silence is important, but silence comes after a musical idea. Then silence becomes part of the musical language.”

By incorporating silence into his musical language, Pärt reminds us that, as Wittgenstein said, the transcendent cannot be expressed. The interplay between sound and silence in his music creates an opening for us to contemplate what lies beyond the world of language, a signpost pointing towards the ineffable.

Perhaps the feeling of transcendence in these compositions comes, then, from the feeling that we are being pointed towards something noumenal, something beyond ourselves, beyond language, beyond music, beyond even silence. Art has the power to remind us that there is something inexpressibly awe-inspiring about the very fact of existence, something indescribable at the core of being, something which can only be felt on a profound level. What more can be said? Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

—Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Joan Baez

In her performance of trans artist Anohni’s song “Another World” on her final album, Joan Baez sings, “I need another world, this one’s nearly gone.” Baez has long been a voice for other worlds, taking the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, the persecuted. When Dr. King spoke of his dream of a more just world at the March on Washington in 1963, she was there. Fifty years later, when Occupy Wall Street protesters chanted that “another world is possible,” she was there.

Art has a way of revealing unfamiliar worlds to us, of challenging us to expand our horizons. Whether performing covers or original compositions, Baez regularly invites us to inhabit the worlds of the downtrodden, to identify with the outcast. She becomes the voice of the voiceless, confronting us with the ethical demand of the Other, reminding us that we are always already in relation to and responsible for our fellow beings on a fundamental level.

Through her voice, we feel the desperation of the sex worker in the traditional “House of the Rising Sun.” We internalize the tragedy of the undeserving poor in Phil Ochs’ classic “There But For Fortune.” And we are inspired by the defiance of the political martyrs in her own “Here’s To You.”

The power of artists is that they are navigators and pioneers, pointing towards new north stars and guiding us out of the darkness. We think we know the darkness well; we see it every day in the headlines, after all. But we should remember that the darkness is also within us, in so many subtle ways. It’s there when we fail to recognize ourselves in the beggar and the prisoner, when we dehumanize the different, when we prioritize our own comfort over justice.

At times when the darkness can seem overwhelming, when we are tempted to give in to nihilism and defeatism, art reminds us of our inseparable interdependence, our mutuality, and our responsibilities to each other and to future generations. We need another world, alright, and we need radically empathetic artists like Joan Baez to help us get there.

–Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Terri Lyne Carrington

In the late 18th century, two child musical prodigies took Europe by storm as they performed for royal courts from Vienna to London. Audiences were amazed by the uncanny instrumental talent of the young siblings. One of these musicians, of course, was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He grew up to become one of the great composers of all time, with the support and encouragement of his father. The other was Marie Anne Mozart, nicknamed “Nannerl.” She grew up to become a wife and mother, as was socially expected of her. No music she wrote has survived.

200 years later, another child prodigy, Terri Lyne Carrington, was able to take advantage of opportunities not available to the forgotten Nannerl and build a successful career in music. Now she pays it forward: she recently founded the Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice at Berklee College of Music to help address gender disparities in the historically male-dominated jazz world. As Carrington says, “It’s up to both men and women to do this work, and anybody that really cares about the music and cares about humanity will see the value in making it more equitable.”

She’s right. Anyone who is interested in the development of art and culture ought to support expanding the conversation to include as many voices as possible. How many great symphonies would have been written by Nannerl Mozart, had she been able to develop her talents further?

Classical philosophers like Aristotle argued that the goal of humanity was eudaimonia, usually translated as “human flourishing.” But if we truly value our own flourishing, then we must also value that of others, for it enriches our own lives. Our eudaimonia is intractably social. When some groups are marginalized, when their creative potentialities are suppressed and their talents are artificially constrained, we all lose out.

We are lucky that, unlike Nannerl, Terri Lyne Carrington grew up in a time and place where she was able to fully develop her skills. But as she says, it is up to all of us to work to improve upon those gains. Those of us who believe in human flourishing must work together to dismantle oppressive structures and create a more vibrant and artistic future, a world where no Mozart is left behind.

–Andrew Hartwell

Terri Lyne Carrington
Fri, Nov 9 at 8PM
Royce Hall

Message from the Center: Pat Metheny

There’s an old cliché that jazz is as much about the notes you don’t play as it is about the notes you do. But what is the sound of an unplayed note? It is the sound of an opening, a clearing of
space for both the listeners and the other musicians to interweave their own ideas.

Today we often think that the word “truth” means something like “accuracy” or “correctness,” but the ancient Greek word for truth, aletheia, means something more like “uncovering” or
“unconcealing.” This classical etymology provides a powerful way to think about art: not as just the creation of some new truth, but as the disclosure of something which was already in the background, the bringing-forth of particular threads from a holistic tapestry of meaning.

Art brings our attention to something previously hidden within our world, reorienting our perspective. The “notes you don’t play” are also a sort of unconcealing of truth. By tricking the ear into anticipating a note and then not playing it, musicians indirectly reveal surprising tensions and emotions within melodies, providing openings for reflections upon unexpected vistas.

Tonight, we come together to enjoy the talents of Pat Metheny, Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh, and Gwilym Simcock. I am excited to find out what is uncovered. What new aletheia will be
experienced? What truths shall be disclosed that were once hidden within the musicians, within their instruments, within the acoustics of Royce Hall, and within ourselves?

Thank you for being a part of our community and for opening yourself up to the world-expanding, revelatory power of art.

–Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Tigran Hamasyan

Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan describes his latest works, this year’s For Gyumri and its companion album, 2017’s An Ancient Observer, as being “about the world we live in now, and the weight of history we carry with us.”

What does it mean to carry history with us? I’m reminded of a quotation carved in stone above one of the entrances to Royce Hall, the words of the building’s namesake, the great Californian philosopher Josiah Royce: “The world is a progressively realized community of interpretation.”

We should keep this idea of a progressive interpretive community in mind when considering history. Despite how it is often taught, history is not just a boring list of trivial facts about some distant epoch. Rather, it is something vital that lives within us in the here and now. There is no final draft of history, it is a multiplicity of intertwined stories that we tell and retell to make sense of our lives in a constant and often agonistic process of reinterpretation.

You can see the importance of historical interpretation in many of the contentious debates we have about the past today, where questions of justice are often paramount: whose stories do we give more weight to, the oppressed or their oppressors? Which figures and events deserve monuments and which demand critical reexamination? These debates are particularly relevant for long-marginalized peoples. It is interesting to note that Hamasyan combines musical influences from two groups that were both victims of unimaginable historical injustices: African-Americans and Armenians.

In drawing from both his native folk traditions and from jazz, Hamasyan’s music fits Royce’s ideal of progressive interpretation. By finding connections between different art forms and different histories, across eons and continents, Hamasyan is able to create something new in conversation with the ever-present past, enriching that evolving interpretive community to which we all belong. As Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”

—Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: Emmylou Harris

Existentialist philosophers argue that a truly authentic life requires awareness of our finitude and mortality, what Martin Heidegger famously called “being-towards-death.” Perhaps this is why the best country music feels so authentic: it is infused with an awareness of death, with the hard-earned knowledge of the pain that life dishes out. What else would you expect from an artform that evolved from the experiences of the working-class rural poor, from the stories of people who live close to the earth, where the cycles of nature and the storms they bring are a part of everyday life?

Emmylou Harris knows about weathering storms. Her solo career began with the tragic death of her original duet partner, Gram Parsons, a loss that haunts much of her subsequent work. There’s an inescapable ache at the heart of great country music: the bottle that lets you down, the sweet dreams that can never come true. As Harris sang on the title track of her 2000 album Red Dirt Girl, “One thing they don’t tell you about the blues when you got ‘em, you keep on falling cause there ain’t no bottom.”

Los Angeles may seem like an odd venue for such authentic, American music. After all, we are constantly told that we aren’t the “real America,” that we are a city of fakes and frauds. But beyond the superficial glitz of Hollywood, we have our share of the blues, too. The L.A. transplant Harris sings of in “Two More Bottles of Wine” works hard, suffers heartbreak and drinks her sorrows away, just like that southern “Red Dirt Girl” who “never got any farther across the line than Meridian.”

These songs remind us that the struggles of downtrodden working folks aren’t so different, whether they are Angelenos or Alabamians. Maybe that’s why country music has fans in east Africa as well as east Texas: it reminds us that we all suffer from loss, that our pain is never just ours, that we’re all heading to the same place regardless of what patch of dirt we call home, and that our ability to live with that knowledge, to weather the storm together, is what makes us truly human.

—Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Center: DakhaBrakha

What is ethno-chaos? That’s how tonight’s band, DakhaBrakha, describes their aesthetic. The term is provocative, bringing to mind the anarchic attitude of punk rock, but chaos is not merely destructive: it can be essential for new creation, the explosive combustion powering an engine of renewal.

DakhaBrakha means “give/take,” and that’s what their brand of ethno-chaos is all about. Philosophically, they embrace a poststructuralist approach: breaking down styles, reterritorializing foreign timbres into their own vernacular, freely taking from the old and giving us something new. They are experimental cartographers remixing the map of world music, spreading Ukrainian folklore while absorbing and metabolizing new ideas, asserting the uniqueness of their traditional culture while championing progressive ideals, boldly exploring the transcendent power of primal rhythms and cosmic drones.

We know a thing or two about ethno-chaos here in Los Angeles, the postmodern metropolis that gave the world Korean tacos, the place where the French Dip sandwich was invented in Chinatown. The perpetual swirling deconstruction and recombination of cultures and styles is a source of vitality for our city, just as it is for DakhaBrakha.

By joining us here tonight, you have become a part of this symbiotic process of giving and taking. That’s what live performance is all about: the energy shared between artists and audience. The creativity presented on stage should serve as a reminder that humanity always has the potential to grow in unexpected ways, giving and taking, forming new networks without regard for the barriers that separate us.

Maybe we could use a little more ethno-chaos in our world.

We hope you enjoy the show.

—Andrew Hartwell

Message From The Artists: Vijay Iyer and Teju Cole on Blind Spot

I’m fortunate to have called Teju a friend since long before he became the household name he is today. Our collaborations have emerged slowly and organically from a camaraderie established in the early 2000s. This particular one was born in 2016 as a kind of stunt, using Teju’s photographs and writings as our stimulus. Faced with a run of six performances, I thought, “What if we actually create the piece live from scratch each time, using Teju’s riveting text and images as our score? What if the music had no permanence, but rather consisted of a set of guiding principles, orienting forces, and emotional stimuli?” If the project’s music used the vulnerability and fragility of real-time creation and dispensed with any presumption of fixity, what’s left instead of a “piece” is an aggregate of very careful listeners — a band — with a compact network of social relations: ways of listening, sounding, building, and coexisting. As Ornette Coleman summarized once when rehearsing with his band: “If you cut loose the method, what’s left is stone presence.” Teju’s collection of texts and images gives us a way to be collectively present with some unadorned, harsh truths about the world at this moment; our ritual patterns and emergent unisons offer a slowly evolving emotional correlate to his work.

We’re excited to share this project with CAP UCLA audiences. We’ve performed this project more than a dozen times, but this will be a special version of Blind Spot with guest artist Ambrose Akinmusire, a trumpet superstar and another longtime collaborator of mine who will be no stranger to listeners.

—Vijay Iyer

I know of no artist more alert to improvisation’s inextricability from composition than Vijay Iyer. I was an avid listener of his for many years, and during that time I became a friend. Then a collaborative phase began a few years ago, and that has been such a joy. We first did the Open City suite, composed for a big band in which all the members were virtuosi. A kind of super band. And now there’s Blind Spot which brings together images, words, and music in a more elusive way. Blind Spot is different each time we do it. When the lights go down, I don’t know what the opening notes are going to be, and when we get to the end of the piece, I don’t know whether we are going to end with a feeling of peace or sorrow. What I do know is that there are a five of us on stage, listening intently to each other, using a sequence of photographs I’ve taken around the world as a kind of score. A multipartite co-creation happens. The audience is part of that too: the intensity of the audience’s listening amplifies the emotional precision of the musicians.

This is the magic of live performance. Questions of scenography and sound quality aside, sitting at home watching something on your computer couldn’t begin to capture the high wire emotion that results from seeing something unfold in real time and in actual space. Of the many different ways I present my work, doing Blind Spot with this band is for me the most moving and most satisfying.

—Teju Cole