“The kindly way to feel separating is to have a space between. This shows a likeness.”
from “Roastbeef.” in Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein
When the Steiny Road Poet heard from a Steinian friend that on February 11, 2018 at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center “a space between,” a new work by Andrea Clearfield based on texts by Gertrude Stein would be performed, she hit the internet to confirm. Steiny knew marimba and strings were part of the performance. However, none of the publicity, including what was on the composer’s website, yielded any connection to Stein. Steiny’s attendance was based only on the intel from Steiny’s friend who seemed to know that Stein’s texts were being used and that the work was so new that the composer and her publicity hadn’t caught up. It turned out that both Steiny’s friend and Clearfield had just emerged from the same artist colony after retreats there.
Even so, this stellar performance of “a space between” featuring percussionist Lee Hinkle was a world premiere, made possible by Global Premiere Consortium Commissioning Project as led by Lee Hinkle, Douglas O’Connor, and Baljinder Sekhon.
The instrumental music of “a space between” is delicate and intense, made so in part by tremolo and plucking produced by the notable string quartet with colorful accents from the marimba. In the program notes the composer explains her Steinian emphasis on repetition and variation, such that “[musical] motives undergo transformation until they evolve into something new.” The string players each have an impressive set of credentials that includes past or current positions with the National Symphony Orchestra: Alexandra Osborne (violin), Jane Bowyer Stewart (violin), Daniel Foster (viola), and Rachel Young (cello). The text, surprisingly was spoken or sung by Hinkle and backed up with spoken passages from the string players. In fact, the string players created a polyphonic exchange of text that included such phrases as: “a whole sound is not separation” and
other phrases from the long subpoem “Roastbeef.” which opens the second section of Stein’s Tender Buttons.
Steiny steps back with deep appreciation for what Andrea Clearfield has achieved and for the outstanding community that has rallied around her at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Center. The good news is she intends to expand this work. Surprisingly, Clearfield is flexible in how the text might be presented (or not) by other performers. She also goes into detail about the “optional digital electronic track for the ending of the work” which might be played by “an IPhone or multiple IPhones, or other devices placed around the hall or on stage, or through a sound system.” She suggests “slightly staggered” phased playing of these sounds might be undertaken.
In talking with Clearfield after the performance, Steiny understands that the composer, who practices Buddhism, is interested in the possibility that Gertrude Stein was working with sound and silence—that “space between.” Steiny likes this theory and thinks about Stein’s rhythmic lines that play with syncopation not to mention her use of the word syncopation which describes the gap between an actor delivering a line on stage and the time it takes for that line to be received by an audience member. Surely that is the penultimate space between.
Andrea Clearfield is a prolific composer with an active schedule of performances of her work. She also runs an underground arts salon in Philadelphia in much the same spirit as those hosted by Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo.
Clearfield’s composition was presented in an excellent 90-minute program titled “Music in Mind: Marimba & Strings.” Other works included Leonard Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs for piano, double bass, clarinet and percussion (1949), Baljinder Sekhon’s Distances for solo marimba (2016), Zachary Konick’s Amalgam for solo percussion and electronics (2017), Iannis Xenakis’s Rebonds for percussion (1988). The performance was held in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall for an audience that was so large (just under 200 attendees), the ushers ran out of program brochures.