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Van Gogh

by Michael Gordon

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about

Alan Pierson, on developing Van Gogh

I started writing Van Gogh because of my total love and obsession with the letters Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo. I made trips to Holland and Southern France, Arles and St. Remy, to explore and get the vibe of the area. I started working on these songs in the late 1980s. I wrote Borinage first and used to sing it myself.

The piece developed into a theater work and a collaboration with a video artist, and the early presentations of the piece were called "Van Gogh Video Opera." There were two complete original performances of the piece with video, one in Vienna and one in New York. There was a long lag between the early performances in the 1990s and Fall 2003, when the Crash Ensemble did it in Dublin without the video part, which I had eliminated. I re-orchestrated the piece for that performance, adding 3 instruments (cello, bass, piano). Alarm Will Sound played that version of the piece in New York in April 2005 at Merkin Hall after which, Alarm Will Sound suggested that we record the piece. I have always loved this work and Alarm Will Sound's performance and recording is everything I could have dreamed of - funky, passionate, and precise.

About Van Gogh's Structure & Text

The piece is divided into six parts and I put together the final texts myself, drawing from the letters Vincent wrote to Theo, in many cases combining lines from different letters or from different places in the same letter. What attracted me so much to these letters was the pain, the rawness, and the brutal honesty. I really found it hard to believe that anyone could tell another person, even his brother, the raw emotions that he experiences - so painful, so lonely, so humiliating.

The Van Gogh opera is amongst my favorite Michael Gordon works: it's hard-hitting, edgy, but includes music of impassioned lyricism. On first hearing it, I was immediately moved by the story Michael tells of Van Gogh's life - his adolescent anxieties, professional challenges, and the sort of transcendence that comes with his eventual institutionalization. Michael brings a directness and intimacy to the Van Gogh story by sharing it entirely through the artist's own private letters, and this emotional directness makes for some of his most powerful music.

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released July 6, 2007

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Michael Gordon New York, New York

Michael Gordon's music merges subtle rhythmic invention with incredible power embodying, in the words of The New Yorker's Alex Ross, "the fury of punk rock, the nervous brilliance of free jazz and the intransigence of classical modernism."

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