Beving, Sue, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Composer Robert Kapilow has been almost like a politician for more than a year as he has talked with residents about his "Citypiece: D.C. Monuments." His symphony premieres Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
"It's done; that's the good news," the exuberant Mr. Kapilow says. "It was an amazing experience. . . . This is more the terrified phase. The first time I will hear it with the orchestra is Monday [during rehearsals]."
Commissioned by the Kreeger Museum on Foxhall Road, the work will be performed at 6 p.m. in a free concert by the National Symphony Orchestra, the Master Chorale of Washington, local percussionist Tom Teasley and the Washington Performing Arts Society's Men and Women of the Gospel Mass Choir.
Also featured will be local freestyle rapper Donell Washington, 17, whom Mr. Kapilow met during his forays into neighborhoods and schools. Mr. Kapilow held more than 15 dialogues throughout the District with community groups.
Donell's part of "Citypiece," called "Rest in Peace," is a rap for his cousin who was fatally shot, Mr. Kapilow says. "This is something I would never have come up with if I had not done a `citypiece' like this," says the composer, a New York native who lives in New Jersey.
The estimated 25-minute symphony contains "some references to monuments, but it's more as a metaphor," Mr. Kapilow says. The Washington Monument represents that "we're all at the bottom [of the monument] with our daily problems, trying to rise up to the top and get out of the smaller version of ourselves."
One of the symphony's most important refrains - "quietly with no one watching" - is that "people are doing extraordinary things in small ways that aren't being noticed," whether it be Donell's grandmother caring for children or something else, Mr. Kapilow says.
The purpose of memorials is to "remind and warn," he says, "so we looked at what we wanted to be reminded about and warned about."
Or as the program for the concert says: "At each dialogue [with what are called `Partner Audiences'], he gathered ideas about what should be remembered about Washington and carried forward into the new millennium. He encouraged each audience to reflect on the shape and meaning of monuments: people, places, things. Not just memorials in marble or bronze."
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial "does appear literally" in the piece, Mr. Kapilow says. Those attending the concert will receive inserts in their programs with 25 names of deceased Vietnam War soldiers listed on the Wall, which they may chant at the end of the "War" movement in the piece.
A few people attending a "Citypiece" forum Feb. 5 at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage objected that the jumble of chanted names would diminish the individual lost lives.
"Citypiece," which "has no pauses ever," starts with "Beginning." This movement emphasizes the importance of waterways, such as the Potomac River, to Washington.
"The idea is that water is so much at [the] heart of Washington's history," Mr. Kapilow says.
Eight ocean drummers will be placed around the Concert Hall as if waves were coming down to the stage, he says. Mr. Kapilow describes ocean drums as resembling large tambourines with pellets inside that sound like the ocean when moved.
Originally, he wanted to do something with the Indians, Mr. Kapilow says, but his research at the Smithsonian Institution showed that none of the original music of the indigenous Piscataways has survived. So the Indians are represented in "abstract ways," he says.
Taps also can be heard in "Citypiece" - at the beginning and end. Also featured is English poet Stephen Spender's work "I Think of Those Who Were Truly Great."
Mr. Kapilow says: "So many monuments in Washington are of great individuals, I didn't want to pick one. I wanted to write about greatness itself."
Next comes the rap movement, with Donell. After that is "War," which Mr. Kapilow describes as his "biggest, loudest, most dissonant movement."
"I take completely deafening, atonal music and jam it together with patriotic tunes. It's a kind of collage. It's the loudest, ugliest, harshest assault of the piece."
Mr. Kapilow says he had visited Arlington National Cemetery and observed a military funeral. "Something about that trip to Arlington, the serenity, made me want to write the opposite," he says. "War" will end with a dissonant chord held about 45 seconds while names from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are chanted.
Then comes the Washington Monument movement. "It's a slow rise, from no melody, then it acquires a melody, then it gets faster higher and gets to the top," Mr. Kapilow says.
New York poet Marie Howe also figures in the piece. "We talked about the project and people I had met in various communities, and she turned it into a text," he says. Thus emerged the refrain, "quietly with no one watching."
With taps, and a bell playing the first few notes of "The Star-Spangled Banner," the piece ends with a question, Mr. Kapilow says. "I, you, us, here, we now begin. My idea, can you see, how it will all turn out for the next millennium?" The concert also will feature other music and readings. But "The whole concert is on the subject of reminders and warnings," Mr. Kapilow says. "My whole interest is to get people not traditionally involved in the arts involved. Thousands of people who would never have heard classical music will be at the Kennedy Center and hear a piece they were involved with.
"I'll also be curious to see how the National Symphony Orchestra reacts to it all," he says.
The seed for "Citypiece: D.C. Monuments" was planted in October 1996 at the Kreeger Museum, where Mr. Kapilow had just heard a string quartet perform his composition "Citypiece Shuttlecocks." The work had been inspired by the reaction to Claes Oldenburg's sculpture "Shuttlecocks," which had been installed recently on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.
The museum has many columns, winding staircases and an expansive lawn, Mr. Kapilow says. "So the artist decided that it looked like a badminton lawn for God. He created four 5,000-pound badminton birdies and put them on the museum's grounds. The sculpture caused a huge uproar."
Kreeger Museum Director Judy Greenberg suggested to Mr. Kapilow that he create a "Citypiece" for the District. "It made you smile," she said of his Kansas City piece.
The collaborators for the D.C. "Citypiece" include National Public Radio.
The symphony is part of a three-pronged program. After attending a dialogue with Mr. Kapilow, several groups organized programs in which children created artwork that expressed their way of remembering a person or event. It was assembled into an exhibition, "Memories of the Mind and Heart: Kids Create Monuments at the Millennium," which was on view at the Capital Children's Museum from April 6 through May 28.
The Kreeger Museum organized a second exhibit, "Remembering the Present," now on display at the museum through July 1. In it, Washington area artists have created works about Washington's monuments.
***** WHAT: "Citypiece: D.C. Monuments"
WHERE: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW
WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday
WHAT: "Remembering the Present," exhibit of proposals by 14 Washington artists for a monument to the present, in the form of sculpture, drawings, full-scale maquettes and installations
WHERE: Kreeger Museum, 2401 Foxhall Road NW
WHEN: Guided tours 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, through July 1
TICKETS: $5 suggested donation, reservations required…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Personal Monuments. Contributors: Beving, Sue - Author. Newspaper title: The Washington Times (Washington, DC). Publication date: June 24, 2000. Page number: 1. © 2009 The Washington Times LLC. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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