Preview: David Lang’s Death Speaks, with Bryce Dessner, Shara Worden & Owen Pallett

On Wednesday, January 25, 2012, Stanford University’s Lively Arts Series will host the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang‘s (Stanford ’78) piece, Death Speaks. Commissioned by Lively Arts and Carnegie Hall, Death Speaks makes its debut at Stanford’s Dinkelspiel Auditorium. The first part of the program includes Lang’s 2007 work, The Little Match Girl Passion (winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Price and 2010 Grammy Award). Passion features Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices ensemble, which rarely travels to the United States for performances. A post-performance discussion with Lang immediately follows the performances.

“Death Speaks was commissioned specifically to go on a program with my piece The Little Match Girl Passion,” says Lang. “The opportunity came without many other parameters, so there were a lot of questions I had to answer. What would it be like to put together an ensemble of successful indie composer/performers and invite them back into classical music, the world from which they sprang? I asked rock musicians Bryce Dessner, Owen Pallett, and Shara Worden to join me, and we added Nico Muhly, who although not someone who left classical music is certainly known and welcome in many musical environments. All of these musicians are composers, all of them can write all the music they need themselves, and it is a tremendous honor for them to spend some of their musicality on my music.”

Lang’s Death Speaks will be premiered by Bryce Dessner (composer/guitarist of renowned rock band The National), Shara Worden (the creative force behind the acclaimed experimental-pop project My Brightest Diamond), and composer/performers Nico Muhly and Owen Pallett.

On the eve of the premiere of Death Speaks, on Tuesday, January 24, Lively Arts will present two events just for Stanford students: an open rehearsal and a songwriter workshop with Shara Worden, both on the stage of Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).


Theatre of Voices received a Grammy Award for The Little Match Girl Passion in 2010—the year of the group’s 20th anniversary. TOV was founded by Paul Hillier and is widely recognized as one of Europe’s foremost vocal groups. Current projects include music ranging from Pérotin, Dowland, and Buxtehude to more recent or contemporary composers such as Berio, Pärt, Reich, Cage, and Stockhausen. During 2007, members of the group performed John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music in Los Angeles, conducted by the composer. Theatre of Voices regularly performs at the Edinburgh Festival, the Barbican Centre, and Carnegie Hall, where it premiered David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion. Presently, Theatre of Voices is working with the London Sinfonietta on a new round of music by Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen—more premieres and recording in 2012.

Bryce Dessner is a composer/guitarist/curator based in New York City, and is best known as the guitarist for the acclaimed rock band The National. Its albums Alligator (2005) and Boxer (2007) were named among the albums of the decade in publications throughout the world. Its most recent release, High Violet (2010), debuted at #3 on the U.S. Billboard chart and at #5 in the UK charts. Dessner has also received widespread acclaim as a composer and guitarist for the improvising new-music quartet Clogs. He has performed and/or recorded with some of the world’s most creative musicians including songwriters Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, and Antony Hegarty; Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo; composers Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Nico Muhly, and Michael Gordon; the contemporary ensembles the Kronos Quartet and the Bang on a Can All-Stars; and visual artist Matthew Ritchie.

Shara Worden received a B.A. in opera from the University of North Texas and studied composition with Padma Newsome. Under the moniker My Brightest Diamond, she has released three albums on Asthmatic Kitty Records: Bring Me the Workhorse (2006), A Thousand Shark’s Teeth (2008), and All Things Will Unwind (2011). In addition to her own compositional endeavors, she has recently collaborated with such artists as the Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, David Byrne, Matthew Barney, and Sarah Kirkland Snider.

Owen Pallett is a composer, violinist, keyboardist, and vocalist. His violin-looping live project spawned several records under the moniker Final Fantasy, including the Polaris Prize-winning He Poos Clouds. He currently releases records under his own name, including 2010’s Heartland. Pallett has written string, brass, and orchestral arrangements for numerous bands, including the National, R.E.M., Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran, the Mountain Goats, Beirut, Grizzly Bear, and Arcade Fire. He has scored several films, including Richard Kelly’s The Box, with Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, and the New York Times Magazine’s Emmy Award-winning Fourteen Actors Acting. He is currently working on a violin concerto for Pekka Kuusisto, co-commissioned by the Barbican and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, to be performed in 2012–2013.

The music of New York–based composer Nico Muhly has been played by such ensembles as eighth blackbird, Britten Sinfonia, the Chicago Symphony, and the New York Philharmonic and sung by soloists including David Daniels, Mark Padmore, and Jessica Rivera. In addition to numerous recordings of his own music (available on Decca and Bedroom Community Records), he has collaborated on projects with Antony and the Johnsons, Björk, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Grizzly Bear, Jónsi of Sigur Rós, and Teitur Lassen. His first full-scale opera, Two Boys, premiered at English National Opera in June 2011, followed by Dark Sisters, a chamber opera commissioned by the Gotham Chamber Opera, Music-Theatre Group, and the Opera Company of Philadelphia, in New York this past November.

Tickets for the David Lang Program, featuring Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voice, Bryce Dessner, and
Shara Worden, presented by Lively Arts on Wednesday, January 25 at 8:00 p.m. in Dinkelspiel Auditorium, range $44 to $50 for adults and $10 for Stanford students. Half-price tickets are available for young people under 18, and discounts are available for groups and non-Stanford students. For tickets and more information, call 650-725-ARTS (2787), or visit Lively Arts online.

Stanford Lively Arts curates experiences that engage artists’ and audiences’ imagination, creativity, and sense of adventure. Founded in 1969 at Stanford University, we produce and present music, theater, dance, spoken word, and multi-media events. We place a special focus on innovation and risk-taking, and through commissions and premieres are an incubator and destination for new work. Stanford Lively Arts plays a leading and collaborative role in the university’s thriving vision of a sustained culture of creativity—one in which the arts integrate with the academic disciplines, flourish as a vital part of campus and community life, and inspire new perspectives on our lives and culture.

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