Martin Bresnick needs no introduction. He's well-known in the new music world and has recently come out with a new album of solo and chamber music called Prayers Remain Forever. His output is tremendous, both in scope and originality. NakedEye Ensemble began performing his work last year and we've been seduced.
Monday night's performance will be a set of two pieces from his series Opere della musica povera (Works of a Poor Music): The Bucket Rider and its companion piece BE JUST! Both draw on two short stories by Franz Kafka: the first uses Kafka's story title and BE JUST! takes a line from In the Penal Colony in which a gruesome torture machine consisting of a strapping mechanism and a harrow engraves the prisoner's transgression in letters on his body over and over until, according to the "penal system," he understands the true meaning of his crime, achieves enlightenment and, after 12 unspeakable hours, dies in agony. The Bucket Rider tells of another kind of cruelty: the utter loneliness of a naked man in the dead of winter riding his empty bucket to the coal vendor's shop to beg a bit of coal until he can pay him back. He is refused by the coal vendor's wife and left to his own devices, frozen tears clinging to his cheeks.
Both stories speak of the human condition in the face of extreme situations. The political undertones of injustice in In the Penal Colony are unmistakable and the bucket rider is left with his own frail humanity in the face of inhumanity.
Bresnick has created two powerful sound allegories to parallel Kafka's stories. The music stands on its own, and, were you not aware of the original inspiration, you could follow the musical thread and conjure up a narrative of your own. But the two obscure stories by Kafka are worth the read: they're short, beautifully written, and will leave a deep impression on whoever enters their world.
Bresnick talks about his piece BE JUST! in the clip below.