Rites of Devotion and Ecstasy Review- Fulcrum Point New Music Project’s 21st Annual Concert for Peace

Vijay Iyer and Anurima Bhargava, sister of filmmaker Prashant Bhargava, introduce Bhargava's film "Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi" at Fulcrum Point New Music Project's 21st Annual Concert for Peace
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On December 10, 2019, Fulcrum Point New Music Project, Chicago’s celebrated source of “new art” music,  a creative community of artists, celebrated their 21st Annual Concert For Peace with a remarkable musical event called Rites of Devotion and Ecstasy in the well-equipped Gannon Hall at the new Holtschneider Performance Center of DePaul University’s School of Music, 2330 North Halsted Street, Chicago. The multimedia celebration of life featured 2 musical premieres followed by the showing of a film accompanied by live score; the film as well as all the music are the works of Indian-American artists.

Performance Artists from Fulcrum Point Ensemble:

Constance Volk, flute; Wagner Campos, clarinet; Lewis Kirk, bassoon; Stephen Burns, trumpet and Artistic Director; Kuang Hao Huang, piano; Andrew Cierny, percussion; Benjamin Krauss, percussion; Rika Seko, violin; Claudia Lasareff-Mironoff, viola; Paula Kosower, cello; Christian Dillingham, bass; Paul Mutzabaugh, piano

Guest Artists: 

Ben Bolter, conductor; Kalyan Pathak, tabla; Gregory Ward II, alto saxophone; Vijay Iyer, keyboards

Fulcrum Point New Music Project Artistic Director/Founder Stephen Burns, trumpet, and Kuang Hao Huang, piano, performing “Jhula Jhule” by Reena Esmail


  • Jhula Jhule, (Midwest Premiere)Reena Esmail, composer, performed by  Stephen Burns, trumpet and Kuang Hao Huang, piano 

Rising star Reena Esmail composes music brimming with ecstatic energy and inspiration- and also, often fiendishly complicated! When MuSE first commissioned a violin and piano piece from Esmail, to be based upon Indian folksong, she states that she “cast a wide net for source material,” looking throughout the internet and  her own extensive collection of Indian music, finally finding folk music transmitted “through the generations of (her) own family”.  

This complex and vibrantly harmonious piece is based upon 2 folk melodies. One is a song Esmail’s maternal grandfather recorded before she was born, and one her paternal grandmother sang to her as a lullaby, Jhula Jhule translating into “back and forth”.  However, this is not a piece in which the trumpet performs “call and response” with the piano. Master trumpeter Burns blew a sweet and confident, almost diabolically complex tune throughout the performance, over Huang’s counterpoint melody on the piano.

Gregory Ward, saxophone and Kalyan Pathak, tabla performing Shirish Korde’s “Lalit”
  • Lalit, (World Premiere)Shirish Korde, composer, performed by Gregory Ward, saxophone Kalyan Pathak, tabla 

Shirish Korde, whose pieces have been performed around the world, is known for “integrating and synthesizing music of diverse cultures into breathtaking works of complex expressive layers.” This percussion-infused piece for alto saxophone and tabla is constructed like a North Indian classical raga performance and is aimed at capturing the essence of an improvised raga performance. Although the very inspiring sax portion is entirely notated, the tabla portion appears to surround and to decorate the explicit, stunning extended sax solos. 

  • Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi(Midwest Premiere)Film directed, edited and designed by Prashant Bhargava, Music by Vijay Iyer, composer and pianist; Executive Producer Stephen Cohen, starring Anna George; score conducted by Ben Bolter

Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi is an extremely sensual collaboration by world-acclaimed composer-pianist Vijay Iyer and deeply humane  filmmaker Prashant Bhargava. The 2 artists, who were also beloved friends, were inspired by the centennial of the Stravinsky-Nijinsky Le Sacre du Printemps and used that iconic work of art to explore another rite of spring: the Hindu festival of Holi. The Holi Festival is an exceptionally joyous revelry of color celebrating the divine enmeshed with frankly carnal love between the gods Krishna and Radha. 

 Bhargava filmed the ravishing images of an eight-day Holi festival held in the city of Mathura, mythic birthplace of Krishna in northern India.  Iyer then composed his score as the musical complement to Bhargava’s beautiful visually dancing scenes, drawing at times on the rhythms and chants of the Holi festival. Anna George as the goddess, actively seducing the unseen Krishna, gives an eloquent non-verbal performance as the source of human energy.  Iyer’s performance of the score, along with the virtuoso Fulcrum Point Ensemble members, with Paul Mutzabaugh trading brilliant improv solos with Iyer, all under the baton of Ben Bolter, showcased a hot and colorful boundless creativity in this piece called “as rich melodically as it is texturally”.

“Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi”, film by Prashant Bhargava with original score by Vijay Iyer; Fulcrum Point New Music Project Ensemble conducted by Ben Bolter

For information and tickets to all the great programming of Fulcrum Point New Music Project, go to www.fulcrumpoint.org

All photos by Aidan Kranz


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