Malina Rauschenfels: Cycles of Creation and Annihilation: a Burning River Baroque/Blue Streak Ensemble collaboration

Malina Rauschenfels: Cycles of Creation and Annihilation: a Burning River Baroque/Blue Streak Ensemble collaboration

Burning River Baroque and the Blue Streak Ensemble produced three
performances of the program “Cycles of Creation and Annihilation.”

Between 1881 and 1969 the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burned at least thirteen times, ultimately forming the catalyst for broad environmental policy reform. Thought by many to be the most pressing issue of our time, contemporary discussions concerning climate change and environmental reform are often divisive and polarizing, resulting in little meaningful change. Encouraged by both the tremendous environmental reforms of the twentieth century as well as the recent global climate strike, “Cycles of Creation and Annihilation” used music as a vehicle for inspiring thought-provoking and productive dialogues about the implications of climate change.

“Cycles of Creation and Annihilation” not only melded together the artistic excellence of two of Cleveland’s high-level professional chamber ensembles, but it also used the fusion of early modern and contemporary musical works to demonstrate the myriad connections between social issues of the past and present. The centerpiece of the program was Margaret Brouwer’s 2001 “Light” for soprano, harpsichord, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and percussion. Drawing on textual and musical sources from the medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen, fifteenth-century motets, and the twentieth-century theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, the work explored themes of the cyclical nature of creation, destruction, and renewal in particles, the planet, and the cosmos.

Early modern thinkers often turned to the Book of Revelation to help them understand inexplicable cataclysmic events. These apocalyptic stories of earth’s destruction were frequently brought to life in cantatas by the eighteenth century composers Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Phillip Telemann. To that end, “Cycles of Creation and Annihilation” included Telemann’s “Packe dich, gelähmter Drache,” TWV 1122 for violin, soprano, and continuo as well as excerpts from several of Bach’s Advent cantatas for mixed soprano, mixed instruments, and continuo. Additional works on the program included a piece focusing on ethics by Kate Soper as well as a newly-commissioned work by Malina Rauschenfels, composed as both a plea and promise to nature.

The performances took place in three venues in Cleveland, OH, Youngstown, OH, and an additional venue in Northeast, OH on September 2020. Burning River Baroque’s co-directors, Malina Rauschenfels and Dr. Paula Maust, collaborated with the Blue Streak Ensemble’s artistic director Margaret Brouwer to coordinate all rehearsal, performance, marketing, and funding logistics.

Burning River Baroque’s name connects to Cleveland’s history and reflects the belief that music has the capacity to inspire relevant discourse and social change in contemporary society. Likewise, the Blue Streak Ensemble believes in the power of music and the need for music in the world today. Both groups are revered for their boundary-breaking programing, powerful interpretations, and ability to profoundly connect with audiences through repertoire that spans the centuries.

People attend performances curated by Burning River Baroque and the Blue Streak Ensemble not just to experience incredible music performed well, but also to think more broadly. Attendees and reviewers offer praise for our ability to frame music, text, and historical events in new ways and presenting complex social issues in ways that challenge them to examine their own viewpoints without telling them what to think. At a recent performance an audience member remarked that “What you have created is SO powerful — not classical music as a privileged escape from reality, but classical music as a way to engage with and reframe current reality.” “Cycles of Creation and Annihilation” will not only provide a venue for meaningful conversations, but it will also empower audiences to be more than passive observers, furthering our mission to create social change through music.

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