Retracing Thoreau’s steps
Electric Earth Concerts: Hancock photographer inspires multimedia performance
Composer Larry Siegel wrote "I Went to the Woods," which he describes as a song without words.
Photo by Mark Corliss
Jonathan Bagg will be a featured performer at Saturday's concert.
Laura Gilbert and Jonathan Bagg will be featured performers at Saturday's concert.
Dominic Coles wrote "To Know Beans" as a dual homage to Henry David Thoreau and Charles Ives.
One of the final projects of Hancock photographer Robert Sargent Fay, who died in May at the age of 73, was to retrace the steps of the great naturalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Fay journeyed not just to Walden Pond, but also to Maine, Cape Cod, the White Mountains and of course the Monadnock region, capturing images of the scenes that inspired and influenced Thoreau’s work.
Now those photographs will be part of a unique performance on Saturday at Bass Hall in Peterborough. Titled “There is Music in Every Sound: Reflections on Henry David Thoreau,” the concert will feature Fay’s photography interspersed with five compositions inspired by Thoreau and readings from Thoreau’s journal.
“We got to know Robert at some of other concerts,” says Jonathan Bagg of Electric Earth Concerts, who organized the concert with Laura Gilbert. “I think we were talking about Emily Dickinson and he told us about his project to go to all the places Thoreau had been. It got us thinking.”
Some of Fay’s photos will be projected at the front of the hall during the first musical piece, “Toward the Sea II,” a duet for flute and guitar by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.
“It’s a really great piece that was commissioned by Greenpeace in the 1980s,” Bagg said. “He took ‘Moby-Dick’ as a literary source, but there’s also a section titled ‘Cape Cod,’ which has the Thoreau connection. Robert’s photos of Cape Cod will appear during that last section.”
Two of the musical pieces were commissioned by Gilbert and Bagg.
Larry Siegel, a composer from Westmoreland, wrote “I Went to the Woods.” He describes the piece as a song without words, but with melodic lines shaped by the words of Thoreau, including “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Dominic Coles of New York City wrote “To Know Beans,” a trio for flute, viola and piano. Coles says the piece is based not just on Thoreau, but also on the music of Charles Ives, and serves as a dual homage to both men.
The program will also include “Soundscape,” a new piece by Nicholas Stoia that will accompany a second group of Fay’s photos, as well as reading of Louisa May Alcott’s poem “Thoreau’s Flute” by Pamela White and readings from Thoreau’s journal by White and Warren Hammack .
The evening will conclude with pianist Randall Hodgkinson performing Charles Ives’s “Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840-1860.”
“It’s a wonderful piece inspired by all the Transcendentalists of the period — Emerson, Hawthorne, the Alcotts, as well as Thoreau,” Bagg says. “They were all writers Ives greatly admired.”
Bagg says he’s hoping the multimedia approach will result in a concert that’s more than the sum of its parts.
“Rather than just playing the music, we hope to do a concert where the audience is inspired by the sources of the music. We want to expand the boundaries, to enrich the experience.”
The program will be in Bass Hall at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25. For reservations contact Electric Earth Concerts at moc.liamg@strecnocee, call 593-5245 or visit Electricearthconcerts.org. Admission to all Electric Earth concerts is free to middle school and high school students.