Pianist Yael Weiss On '32 Bright Clouds' Project | WGLT

Pianist Yael Weiss On '32 Bright Clouds' Project

15 hours ago
Originally published on October 17, 2020 5:03 pm
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, we're not going to lie to you and say that a virtual concert is any consolation for the real thing. But one good thing you can say is that new music can be accessible wherever you are, even your own home, including tonight, when award-winning pianist Yael Weiss will perform new music from her project "32 Bright Clouds: Beethoven Conversations Around the World."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YAEL WEISS: Music is a wonderful language for bringing people together. And the "32 Bright Clouds" project is using the power of music to express our unity, our shared humanity and the global aspiration for peace.

MARTIN: To mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, Weiss asked 32 composers, each from a country experiencing conflict or unrest, to create a new piece of music.

WEISS: I was at home looking at the newspaper headlines and feeling that I was surrounded by an atmosphere of fear and anger and words and attitudes that create divisiveness. And I thought, is there anything I can do as a musician using my own medium, which is piano works, to transform that space of alienation to a space where we are curious about the other?

MARTIN: Each of the 32 compositions is inspired by one of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas. They are unique to each country and composer, but what unifies each of them is a single musical motif, or a succession of notes, from Beethoven's choral masterpiece "Missa Solemnis."

(SOUNDBITE OF BERLINER PHILHARMONIKER AND RUNDFUNKCHOR BERLIN PERFORMANCE OF BEETHOVEN'S "AGNUS DEI: DONA NOBIS PACEM")

RUNDFUNKCHOR BERLIN: (Singing in Latin).

WEISS: And I chose this particular group of notes because Beethoven wrote right next to them - he wrote, a call for inward and outward peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF BERLINER PHILHARMONIKER AND RUNDFUNKCHOR BERLIN PERFORMANCE OF BEETHOVEN'S "AGNUS DEI: DONA NOBIS PACEM")

MARTIN: That simple group of notes served as inspiration for each of the 32 piano compositions.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WEISS: I was born in Israel, and it is very, very important for me and was right from the start to include as many countries from the Middle East as possible. And, for example, both the composers from Jordan and from Syria - both of them are approximately my age and grew up just a few miles away from me. And yet, the way we grew up and what we experienced is so different.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WEISS: And there's something about joining together through music that really highlights our connectivity and opportunities and the possibilities in that dream of peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WEISS: And this is a work from Turkey.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WEISS: And it is dedicated to victims of police brutality in Turkey during the Gezi Park protests a few years ago. And what the composer does with this piece, which is so interesting - she wants to show that achieving peace is a process that requires time and dedication and effort. And in order to show that in her music, what she did was take that peace motif and represent it in a kind of partial way. So we hear the beginnings of it, and then it's interrupted by very powerful forces.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WEISS: But it never really reaches the completion of that motif, and this is a way of showing the kind of effort and process that we all need to put in order to achieve this ideal of global peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANANDA SUKARLAN'S "NO MORE MOONLIGHT OVER JAKARTA")

WEISS: So, for example, the work from Indonesia is dedicated to a man by the name of Ahok who was the imprisoned ex-governor of Jakarta. And the piece is called "No More Moonlight Over Jakarta." As it happens, that governor - his name is Ahok - in Indonesian, that name means moonlight. And the piece is, of course, connected with Beethoven's well-known "Moonlight Sonata."

(SOUNDBITE OF ANANDA SUKARLAN'S "NO MORE MOONLIGHT OVER JAKARTA")

WEISS: All those pieces - each one of them is so different from each other because not only they've been together past and present - the past is represented by Beethoven, and Western culture is represented by Beethoven - but many of them draw on materials from their own cultures, so traditional material from the different countries, to create something that is really a new way of writing music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: That was Yael Weiss. She is a classical pianist and the curator of the "32 Bright Clouds" project. You can watch her perform tonight live on the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Arts YouTube channel. That is at 7:30 p.m. Eastern tonight. And she will be playing new works by composers in Afghanistan, Syria, the Philippines and Jordan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.