Things Are Running AMOC In Boston (And If All Goes As Planned, It Will Be Spreading) with American Modern Opera Company
By Doug Hall, Contributing Writer, December 8, 2017
Looking for the re-invention of opera’s traditional image? Look no further, as Boston is becoming a hot-bed of boundary-pushing, inventive, chance-taking artists. Witness the launch of the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC) introducing its first line-up of productions to the area, ticking all the boxes for unconventional, imaginative and cutting-edge opera interpretations. Billing itself as “the artistic home for some of the most diverse and vibrant singers, dancers, and instrumentalists of our generation,” AMOC’s founding co-directors Matthew Aucoin and Zack Winokur, are also setting a high-bar: “Our commitment is to working as an ensemble to reimagine the experience of opera from conception to performance.” (Aucoin is a composer, conductor, pianist and writer; Winokur is a director, choreographer, and dancer, whose work has been presented in New York, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Aix-en-Provence, and Salzburg.) According to both of these dynamic co-directors, AMOC is creating a “new model,” and clearly the enthusiasm, commitment and excitement is present. Along with the opera company’s launch in December with boundary-pushing performance pieces, AMOC’s pronouncement of creative intention is expressed without reservation, “We define opera as a medium in which multiple art forms collide and transform each other.”
The company makes its debut with its inaugural “Run AMOC!” festival at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA (December 15-18), and looks forward to residences at Harvard University (February 2018) and New York’s Park Avenue Armory (April 2018). Other upcoming engagements include performances at the Metropolitan Museum of Art next season, and with the San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, with a new commission, composed by Aucoin and staged by Winokur (in 2020).
All three of the upcoming December performances by AMOC at A.R.T. will be “designed to showcase new works by the company, some featuring original music, and others placing existing music into new contexts.” The planned works will feature an immediate sense of experiment and “charge,” trying to push audience and musician off-balance. A Study on Effort, is a collaboration between dancer/choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith and violinist/poet Keir GoGwilt, which includes music by Bach and Westhoff (December 15 and 17 at Harvard Dance Center). As expressed by the AMOC staff, A Study on Effort explores connections between “sound, body and duration,” creating a dialogue between dancer and violinist, as the piece “transposes different physical and emotional tasks between music and movement.” In Cage Match (December 16, Oberon Theater) a “face-off” of musicianship occurs between violinists Miranda Cuckson and Keir GoGwilt, who challenge each other in duets by Telemann, Donati, and Wolff; countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo goes head to head with Zack Winokur in scene III of Monteverdi’s Poppea; and Matthew Aucoin faces fellow pianist Conor Hanick in masterpieces of the four-hands repertoire and a new piece of his own. Finally, with potent dramatic impact, Were You There, featuring bass-baritone Davóne Tines and guest pianist Michael Schachter, takes on the current social headline, “Black Lives Matter”, with hymns, spirituals, songs and audience participation, mixed with a multi-media meditation “on the lives of black men and women lost in police killings over the past year.” (December 18, Leob Theater).
On board with AMOC, to support this dynamic approach, are a substantial list of young leaders in their fields who are “dedicated to shaping the future of opera.” Such standouts include Julia Bullock, an “impressive, fast-rising soprano” who is “poised for a significant career (New York Times); and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, “a bone-fide star” (New Yorker); Tenor Paul Appleby, a familiar face from Glyndebourne to the Metropolitan Opera; and bass-baritone Davóne Tines, a “singer of immense power and fervor” (Los Angeles Times).
The performers are joined by equal talent with eight instrumentalists: Emi Ferguson, a flutist whose debut album is currently scaling Billboard charts; violinist Miranda Cuckson, founder of the Nunc ensemble, and “one of the most sensitive and electric interpreters of new music”(Downbeat Magazine); violinist Keir GoGwilt, who has worked with many other contemporary composers including Aucoin and Tan Dun; Avery Fisher Career Grant-winning cellist Jay Campbell, who curated the “Ligeti Forward” series for 2016 New York Philharmonic Biennial; cellist Coleman Itzkoff, whose honors include the 2017 International Berliner Music Competition; double bassist and composer Doug Balliett, whose music has been heard at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center; pianist Conor Hanick, who has appeared with many esteemed conductors, as well as percussionist Jonny Allen, an artist of “jaw-dropping virtuosity”(Washington Post).
Adding further dimension to the AMOC, is the “world of dance” represented by dancer-choreographer Or Schraiber, of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company; and dancer-choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith, former star of the Batsheva Dance Company and subject of the award-winning documentary Bobbi Jene whose three most recent works – A Study on Effort, Harrowing, and Arrowed – are in constant demand.
At the helm, with superb organizational acuity, is Managing Director Jennifer Chen, a graduate of Harvard University and the Yale University School of Management. Her career has brought her to institutions including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, New York Ballet, and Villa I Tatti in Florence, Italy.
Come be surprised by the American Modern Opera Company‘s debut with the “Run AMOC” festival and feel the excitement of the premiere of these performance pieces. Enthusiastically endorsed by A.R.T. artistic director Diane Paulus, “We’ve experienced the passion and virtuosity of many of these visionary artists firsthand, and I have no doubt that they will re-define opera through their new model of interdisciplinary collaboration.”
For more information on the American Modern Opera Company and their upcoming performances click here.
Cover: Founding Co-Director Matthew Aucoin; photo: Lili Holzer-Glier.