Music

Cellist Morag Northey debuts '17' in Taos

Taos Community Auditorium is the stage for the the U.S. premiere

By Ariana Kramer
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 11/28/18

"17" is a 50-minute theatrical, multi-genre fusion of poetry, prose, cello, voice, storytelling, composition and improvisation developed by Northey.

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Music

Cellist Morag Northey debuts '17' in Taos

Taos Community Auditorium is the stage for the the U.S. premiere

Posted

The stage is dark. A vibrant warmth comes from the golden body of the cello held by a woman. She draws her bow across its strings and smiles as she listens to the man sitting next to her, who recites words -- words she has written. The music and the words are personal, singular, deep. They tell the stories of this woman on stage.

She has lived each one, pulling their fibers across her being. She is Canadian artist Morag Northey. He is award-winning Canadian playwright and author, Eugene Stickland. The theatrical production is "17: When Emptiness Turns Inside Out." One could call it a love story about a woman and her creative soul, with a narrative that traverses the rocky, gorgeous terrain of genuine experience.

The Taos Center for the Arts will present the U.S. premiere production of "17: When Emptiness Turns Inside Out" performed by Morag Northey and Eugene Stickland Friday (Nov. 30), 7 p.m., at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

"17" is a 50-minute theatrical, multi-genre fusion of poetry, prose, cello, voice, storytelling, composition and improvisation developed by Northey through the Canadian Sunset Theatre's Exploration Series. A final script was crafted with guidance by Stickland during the 2016 summer season of Sunset Theatre leading to its world premiere in 2017. The development of "17" was supported by the British Columbia Arts Council.

Northey is an acclaimed composer, soloist and performer who has maintained a large teaching studio for the past 36 years. The 27th Governor General of Canada, Michaëlle Jean, has called Northey "a distinguished virtuoso" whose "playing enraptures our mind with an artistry that brings blissful pleasures to the soul."

In addition to performing "17," Northey will join internationally renowned violinist Odin Rathnam for an ensemble concert "Odin Rathnam and Friends" Saturday (Dec. 1), 7 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church of Taos, 215 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The program includes works by Piazzolla, Bach, Mozart, Gliere, and Saint-Saens and will be performed by Rathnam (violin), Northey (cello), Suzie Schwartz (viola) and Martha Shepp (piano).

Rathnam returns to Taos after playing a sold-out concert of dazzling solo violin at the Harwood Museum of Art one year ago.

Northey had an email interview with Tempo from her home in Canada about her upcoming visit to Taos. What follows are excerpts from that exchange.

Tempo: In a nutshell, what is "17" about?

Morag Northey: "17" is a story about my relationship with my cello and how it has accompanied me through the trials and tribulations of my life. I don't know if I'd be here today had I not been able to express myself through art.

Tempo: Artistically, what has been most exciting to you about creating "17"?

Northey: As an artist it is satisfying to create a piece that encompasses all aspects of oneself, including storytelling, music composition and performance, cello, voice and whistling.

Tempo: On a personal level, how has it been to share your stories with an audience?

Northey: Sharing "17" with my audiences has been huge as the content is deeply personal the experience can be frightening. I allow myself to be vulnerable, open and connected in each performance, and this touches places in the hearts and minds of my audience that seem equally opening. We travel through the story together. The response, though it can be overwhelming, is definitely worth it. I love that my audiences go there with me. It's remarkable and fulfilling.

Tempo: How did Eugene Stickland become involved with "17"?

Northey: My first theatrical sound design, composition, and performance gig was with Eugene Stickland for his play "Queen Lear." We shared a mutual love of Bach's Unaccompanied Suites ,which comprised a good chunk of the nonoriginal material. We have stayed in touch ever since.

Eugene later attended a number of concerts I held weekly in the cold, dark and dreariest part of our season. I called the series "Together Calgary, Together World" and held the sessions at Calgary's grand St. Mary's Cathedral. During these concerts I improvise vocally and with my cello for one hour without break. I "listen to" my guests, music comes to me and I offer them a meditative musical story.

I knew how special our relationship was when he wrote and published a poem following one of these hours. He got it. I needed help to create the show I had in mind, and Eugene was my first and only call. That he said "Yes" is beautiful history.

Tempo: How does "17" compare with other projects you have worked on?

Northey: "17" is a natural synthesis of all projects that had come before this work. It brings together my classical training of cello and voice, my theatrical composition (just prior to writing "17" I was honored with a Betty Mitchell award for outstanding theatrical composition for "Butcher," a play that dealt with war atrocities), my theatrical sound designs, singer-songwriting self, love of writing and storytelling and interest in multi-genre works.

Tempo: Is it fair to call "17" a musical autobiography, or musical memoir, of your life?

Northey: Calling "17" a musical memoir makes sense as I wrote and composed it as a suite of nine poetic pieces, each offering a glimpse into significant moments, markers or turning points that shaped my view of life and my place in it. I accompany the narrative with cello works from the great masters Bach, Brahms, Elgar and Saint-Saens as well as with my own compositions for voice and cello. Searching for an accurate descriptive for "17" is tricky as it marks a unique genre. I also like to refer to it as a theatrical concert.

Tempo: Why did you call it "17"? And, why the subtitle, "When Emptiness Turns Inside Out?"

Northey: Seventeen is the seventh prime number and is only divisible by itself, and I realize from my journeys that the only person who can divide me is Me. Seventeen has always shown up in unexpected places in my walk, places that point in positive directions: a date, a place, an address, the number of times something happened before I said "No," the number of petals on a flower, you name it. Seventeen has been there in all it's wonderful permutations.

When I traveled to Athens, Greece with friends, we visited the Parthenon where I had an other-worldly experience of connection. I then noted that the structure's rectangular construction was of 17 by 8 columns. On the subtitle: There have been too many times in my life where after assault or tremendous loss I have felt alone, obliterated, empty. I describe this place as looking inside and finding only an empty black nothingness. ...the abyss. … What I realized is that I could view this nothingness as a gift and the gift was that I had the power to choose what I would allow back in. I could choose a new life, a new way.

Tempo: Anything else?

Northey: Taos has become one of my favorite places, and I haven't even arrived. My beloved guy, concert violinist Odin Rathnam, has traveled to Taos for years, where he teaches and performs concerts with and for the Taos community. Odin introduced me to his remarkable group of Taos friends who believe in the importance and transformative power of music and the arts and who gathered in support of the Taos performance of "17." My heart is full of love and gratitude for these new friends, who I get to meet in person very soon. Clearly Taos creates great people.

Tickets to "17: When Emptiness Turns Inside Out" are $20 at the door, $15 in advance, available at the Taos Center for the Arts office, 133 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Tickets to "Odin Rathnam and Friends" are $15, free to students and youth under 12, sold only at the door.

For more on "17," visit sunset-theatre.com/17-world-premiere.html. For more on Morag Northey, visit moragnorthey.com.

In addition to the above, as part of the Questa Chamber Music Series, Rathnam will perform with possible guest artist Morag Northey today (Nov. 29), 7-8 p.m., at La Sala, 2331 State Road 522 on Questa's south side. Tickets are $10. Call (575) 776-7579.

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