Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel” on tap Friday night

By Lawrence A. Johnson

There is a plethora of musical events to choose from this Art Basel weekend, including Michael Tilson Thomas leading the New World Symphony in Beethoven’s mighty Fifth Symphony and the Boca Raton Symphonia opener with violinist Vadim Gluzman playing Tchaikovsky.

The most envelope-pushing program, however, will take place Friday night in the nondescript Miami Beach park clubhouse that is home to the SoBe Music Institute, where the SMI Chamber Ensemble will perform Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel.

 Friday’s concert may not have the dubious Miami cachet of this week’s  glitterati parties where artists, wealthy collectors and local media types fawn over each other while imbibing free food and drinks. 

 But those looking for a rare performance of Feldman’s distinctive and fascinating music should brave the Basel traffic to attend this event. As indicated by its title, the cigar-chomping Brooklyn-born composer’s work was written to be performed alongside the large canvases of his friend, Rothko in the famous nondenominational Houston venue that houses 14 of the late painter’s final works.

 Rothko Chapel is scored for soprano, small choir and chamber ensemble, and reflects Feldman’s distinctive brand of hyper-minimalism, inhabiting a space where notated music and ambient sound meet.  Isolated notes and fragments create a hypnotic landscape where any slight change of color or tone seems seismic. 


“I think it’s important that people get to experience this,” says Carson Kievman, founder of the SoBe Music Institute and a former composer-in-residence with the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. “It’s beautiful, mercurial and quixotic music.”

 Some Feldman works are created on a vast scale, such as the celebrated Second String Quartet that runs six hours. Rothko Chapel, at just 25 minutes is a work of Webernian concision by comparson.

 “Feldman was a big, burly guy from the garment district and his music is the complete opposite,” Kievman adds.  “It has a lot of 20th-century elements that usually make people run, but his music is ethereal and  meditative.”

 Reflecting the premiere performance in the famous Houston venue, this multimedia presentation will include slides of Rothko paintings to accompany Feldman’s music.

  For the last three years, Kievman has been laboring quietly, without high-profile supporters or million-dollar grants, to keep his SoBe Music Institute operating. In addition to its regular free concerts, the Institute’s primary mission is to provide low-cost music lessons, particularly to grade-school children. The fledgling music school has struggled at times but Kievman has a strong vision for the future and is committed to achieving his goal of creating a major destination conservatory for young musicians while adding an adventurous lineup of concerts to the local arts scene.

 “I feel what we’re doing here is so important,” says Kievman. “We’re really trying to build something for South Florida.”  

 The SMI Chamber Ensemble perform Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, Bach’s Chaconne, and the Ave Maria from Verdi’s Otello 8 p.m. Friday night at the Carl Fischer Clubhouse, 2150 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, around the corner and walking distance from the convention center.  Admission is free but with limited parking and the Art Basel madness, leave plenty of time to get there if you’re driving. 305-674-9220; www.sobemusic.org.

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Thu Dec 4, 2008
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