Ukraine means “borderland, edge or outskirts.” Christine Southworth and Evan Ziporyn’s new collaborative project Borderland: A Cantata for Ukraine, which will premiere this week at Kresge Auditorium at MIT in a performance by Grammy-award winning ensemble Roomful of Teeth, operates figuratively in such terrain. The piece is a four-movement cantata in memory of the victims of the Ukrainian conflict, news Southworth and Ziporyn followed as the tragedies unfolded in polyglot media while in Croatia last summer.
Each of the four movements relies on a different language, suggestive not only of the multicultural, multilingual environment of the Ukraine — which the dominant powers have continually tried to suppress — but also the global import of these local conflicts, which affect everyone from Dutch tourists to Malaysian bureaucrats. As the composers explain, “The texts for the four movements retrace our own journey from up-to-the-minute news reports to deeper history: the first movement, in Dutch and Malay, is based on tweets from a passenger on MH17 and a Malaysian Air official. The second movement, in Russian, sets transcripts from partisan radio communications regarding anti-aircraft equipment. The third movement literally grounds the piece with words by the Ukrainian national poet Shevchenko. The fourth takes us to the source with poetry in Tatar, a dialect of Turkish, by Cobanzade.”
Roomful of Teeth’s formidable palette of vocal techniques — particularly their openness to the sounds and styles of various non-classical European traditions, such as yodeling, Croatian close-interval harmonies, and Sardinian overtone-singing – allows the composers to use timbre to evoke linguistic richness and the space at the borders where cultures and ideologies meet.
Borderland takes the recent conflict as a point of departure to address the tumultuous past of Ukraine. In the composers’ words, “The innocent casualties of conflict in the region go back generations, too many to even mention, from the passengers on the Malaysian Air jet this summer, the atrocities of the Second World War, back through the starved and displaced during the Great Famine, the pogroms before that, and the forced transmigration of the Tatar people, the original inhabitants of the Crimea. This piece uses the multilingual unfolding we experienced in becoming aware of the situation to reflect on it all, to provide a space for thoughts and feelings about the consequences of territorial violence.”
Borderland premieres on Friday, November 21, 2014 at 8pm in MIT Kresge Auditorium.
For tickets, please visit Eventbrite.
This program is part of the new music series MIT Sounding, presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), with additional support from MIT Music & Theater Arts (MTA) and the Council for the Arts MIT (CAMIT).
Learn more about Roomful of Teeth’s residency at MIT.