By Jared Kaufman, Read the story on twincities.com.
September 17, 2023
To respond to climate change and call for action, St. Catherine University students will present original poetry later this month onstage at The O’Shaughnessy, alongside new music that uses climate data to reinterpret classical concertos.
“The [Uncertain] Four Seasons” is a re-composition of Antonio Vivaldi’s famous four-part piece, put through an algorithm that changes the music based on geospatial predictions for the year 2050, drawn from a report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Rising surface temperatures alter the tempo; ocean temps alter the pitch; sea level data changes the mode, or base scale; species decline increases the length of silent rests.
At St. Kate’s, the algorithmic version and Vivaldi’s original will be juxtaposed against each other in a new arrangement by Emily Isaacson of the organization Classical Uprising and Jesse Irons, a Grammy-nominated violinist. The performance will also feature the Minnesota Opera Orchestra.
The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30. Tickets run $5–$33 and are available online at oshag.stkate.edu.
Interspersed with the music will be poetry — which Vivaldi’s original score included, Irons said, a fact that’s largely disregarded today. In this case, the words will come courtesy not of the 18th-century Italian violinist but of St. Kate’s students.
Senior Naomi Stewart is planning to present a collaborative poem following a workshop she and English professor Kristen Lillvis are leading this month at Carondelet Village, a care facility for senior residents.
Sophomore Sofia Vanderlan, meanwhile, is writing poetry on climate change and Indigenous culture. Her family is from the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. They belong to the Caribou clan, itself a sign of climate change, she said: The animals used to live in Grand Portage but, since the early 1900s, are no longer found in the area.
Data to emotion — to action
The “[Uncertain] Four Seasons” algorithm was initially developed by a global group of musicians and designers based in Australia, to communicate data in a new way — to help people literally hear climate change.
And because the impact of climate change is different around the world, location-specific data can be used. The version originally performed in Sydney was different from what we’ll hear in St. Paul.
Isaacson’s goal goes a little further, though: She wants us not just to be aware of the climate crisis, but to actually do something about it, too.
The computer-generated music is a little “shouty,” she said, and 45 straight minutes of it would turn people off, rather than motivating them and stirring their emotions. She and Irons took creative liberties, alternating between Vivaldi’s original score and the algorithmic version in a way that eases into the ‘uncertain’ music and better embodies the degradation of the climate.
“It reminds me of a post-apocalyptic movie, where the cinematography is actually gorgeous,” Irons said. “Like, the sky is the wrong color, but it’s weirdly beautiful.”
Irene Green, the executive director of The O’Shaughnessy, has also invited several nonprofits to table outside the theater, so audience members can translate their emotions from the music into tangible steps that align with St. Kate’s social justice values.
The student poets, Stewart and Vanderlan, met with Isaacson and Irons in late August when the musicians were were at The O’Shaughnessy for a preview performance as part of the St. Kate’s new-year Opening Convocation. It was the first time either had heard the ‘uncertain’ algorithmic music.
“Something that’s very powerful is the way (Irons) is moving as he’s playing,” Vanderlan said afterward. “There’s motion in the way he’s playing, and there’s a motion in words we share with people.”
After the preview performance, in the green room, the students and musicians looked over scores and discussed common themes. They’ll also have a three-day residency before the Sept. 30 concert to create the final arrangement of where exactly in the score the poetry will be recited.
“I think poetry is a way of making ideas somewhat abstract, so you can see yourself in them,” Stewart said. “Not so detailed — ‘this is what you have to do, this is how it’s going to be’ — but just presenting these ideas and these problems, and you can find your own solution in that.”
Classical music ‘back to its natural habitat’
Isaacson’s goal of turning classical music into emotional, expressive action is the foundation behind Classical Uprising, her Maine-based nonprofit.
“I have always felt that classical music really speaks to my soul in a way that words can’t,” Isaacson said. “But at the same time, I feel like classical music also asks me to behave in a way that’s not reflective of how I’m feeling.”
Before the early 1800s, she said, people didn’t necessarily listen to classical music while dressed in suits, sitting quietly in a concert hall, as we might today. Now-famous pieces were performed in social spaces or coffee houses, Isaacson said, where there was plenty of “booze and talking and flirting.”
So now, Isaacson said, she encourages dancing at her performances. She’ll invite kids to conduct with her. She’ll stage concerts in bowling alleys and yoga studios.
“I think about bringing classical music back to its natural habitat, in terms of putting it back into the fabric of our communities,” she said. With all of these techniques, “you’re caught off guard. You don’t know how to respond. The etiquette rules don’t make sense anymore, and so you just open your heart.”
If You Go
What: A performance of “The [Uncertain] Four Seasons,” featuring Classical Uprising, the Minnesota Opera Orchestra and St. Kate’s student poetry
When: 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30
Where: The O’Shaughnessy, 2004 Randolph Ave.
How: Buy tickets ($5–$33) at 651-690-6700 or oshag.stkate.edu