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April 28, 2017 at Rosch Recital Hall in Fredonia.

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With support from the Carnahan Jackson Humanities Fund, composer Kurt Rohde has created “a never was a knight,” a musical reimagining of Miquel de Cervantes’ El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. The libretto comes from come’s Edith Grossman magnificent 2003 translation of the novel. New York City based video artist Jennifer Coates and composer Kurt Rohde, from San Francisco, will join the ensemble in Fredonia for the week of the premier.

Cervantes’ novel has inspired numerous artists and musicians since its publication just over 400 years ago. Mr. Rohde’s music is sophisticated and complex, exploring color and texture, with tremendous imagination. His writing is characterized by non-traditional harmonic language, at once modern, witty and insightful. A virtuosic violist himself, his writing requires, even celebrates, masterful playing, expanding musicians’ boundaries and ideas.

In the composer’s words: “never was a knight” isn’t opera. It isn’t quite a song cycle either; it’s not a musical or an improvisation. The closest thing that this work resembles is the singspiel (sung-spoken) works of the late Classical period. My setting of the story is told from the point of view of Don Quixote, as he lays near death, in bed surrounded by books, half remembering, half hallucinating the life that has brought him to this point – the moment before his is about to end. Don Quixote (the tenor) is often both reanimated and confused when he recalls a memory. He hears voices, he sees things – the memories seem as real as when the events took place. At times comforting, and at times menacing, the voices of those most dear to Don Quixote throughout his life return not simply to reassure him of his recollection, but perhaps also to say goodbye in their own way.

Cervantes’s “Don Quixote” is a story that seems to have no bottom, no sides. It is an unwieldy, enormous tale. The characters are commonplace and still odd enough to keep us caring. It is the life lived, the life imagined by Don Quixote that shapes the entire existence of the story. The world inside his head is not imagined; it is tactile, represented in everything that surrounds him; it is his identity.

The work starts with Don Quixote dying, and is broken into vignettes, arias, instrumental interludes and recitatives. Each vignette recalls an important event or character (Sancho Panza, the young servant boy) from his life, all while focusing on the poignant longing he has for Dona Dulcinea. His is a unreconciled life. His quest is over the moment he finds a place to stop and remain.

“never was a knight” isn’t opera. It isn’t quite a song cycle either; it’s not a musical or an improvisation. The closest thing that this work resembles is the singspiel (sung-spoken) works of the late Classical period. My setting of the story is told from the point of view of Don Quixote, as he lays near death, in bed surrounded by books, half remembering, half hallucinating the life that has brought him to this point – the moment before his is about to end. Don Quixote (the tenor) is often both reanimated and confused when he recalls a memory. He hears voices, he sees things – the memories seem as real as when the events took place. At times comforting, and at times menacing, the voices of those most dear to Don Quixote throughout his life return not simply to reassure him of his recollection, but perhaps also to say goodbye in their own way.

“never was a knight” was written for and is dedicated to Joe Dan Harper, with great admiration and affection. It is for solo tenor and seven instrumentalists show do a lot more than just play their instruments. The piece lasts 75 minutes.

Kieran Hanlon (double bass)
Joe Dan Harper (tenor)
Anne Kissel (piano)
Roderick MacDonald (trumpet)
David Rose (viola)
Andrew Seigel (clarinet)
Kay Stonefelt (percussion)
Wildy Zumwalt (saxophone)
Kurt Rohde (composer & conductor)
Jennifer Coates (video artist)

Faculty Recital: Don Quixote by Kurt Rohde (world premiere)

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