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Take a trip to the ‘Dark Side’ with the 8th annual MusicIC Festival

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MusicIC: The Dark Side of the Moon

Englert Theatre — Friday, June 22 at 7:30 p.m.

“Invisible Writing” — a light show by Single Wing Turquoise Bird. — video still

MusicIC is now in its eighth year of offering Iowa City citizens a series of thoughtfully considered selections that innovatively integrate music and literature. Presented by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization, largely through the efforts of John Kenyon, and curated by MusicIC Artistic Director Tricia Park, the festival dives deep into the thematic threads of human existence. This year’s theme is more concrete than in the past, orbiting around Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

The culmination of the 2018 festival will be the Solera Quartet’s June 22 performance of that album at the Englert Theatre (tickets $10-18), arranged by Solera cellist Andrew Janss. In addition, the audience at that performance (the festival’s sole ticketed event) will be treated to original literary work that muses on money, madness and mortality written by Jan Weissmiller, Daniel Khalastchi, and Rachel Yoder. The night’s musical performance also includes Tenebrae by Osvaldo Golijov (back by popular demand) and will also feature a projection of the filmed light improvisation “Invisible Writing” by famed ’60s light show pioneers Single Wing Turquoise Bird.

Park finds Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic album expansively relatable.

“The themes in the album that are about the human condition and questions of the mundane to mental illness to our place in the universe — it made me think about the symbolism of the planets, celestial movement and how to move beyond ourselves,” Park said. And, ultimately, she hopes, “to figure out why we’re here.”

Kenyon agrees. “While Dark Side of the Moon is not a rock opera, it is one of the best examples of a rock band taking the long form of an album and using it to explore larger themes, both through the songs and, in this case, through snippets of spoken word,” he said. “We will be able to replicate that latter element by asking area writers to speak to the themes of the album, commissioning work that will be woven into the performance, using this unique take on the album to inspire something new.”

Incorporating spoken word elements into a night of chamber music is the hallmark of MusicIC. This year’s performance takes the additional risk of translating a widely loved and well-known piece of rock into chamber music. Despite the risk, Park said she was excited about the prospect of getting to see “what happens when you look at the fluidity between genres.” Her hope, she said, is that the audience will “leave wanting to have more conversations about what they’ve experienced through the concert.”

Rachel Yoder, who will be reading on Friday night, stated that prior to MusicIC she did not have a “close” connection to the music of Pink Floyd. “[C]oming to it as a writer and looking for inspiration was a wonderful way to engage with it more deeply,” she said. She also found that Dark Side of the Moon provided much for her consideration.

“I noticed that their music called forth for me a lot of themes that I’ve dealt with in my writing, particularly in a project that explores consciousness and the limits of our abilities to know each other,” Yoder said. “In this project, I also drew on the writing of Carl Sagan and used a lot of space imagery which seems, in at least some small way, to be in conversation with Dark Side of the Moon.”

In addition to Friday’s featured event, the MusicIC festival has three free events, featuring selections that Park believes echo the questions constellating around the Pink Floyd classic and also stay true to the genre-blurring ethos of the festival as a whole.

The first program, “Stargazing,” occurs at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20 at Trinity Episcopal Church (320 E College St). The event consists of classic works from Beethoven and Bartok and will also feature Christopher Cerrone’s How to Breathe Underwater, a work inspired by a character in Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom that blends electronics with a string quartet. It also, in Park’s words, is “an aural representation of the depression state,” which orients audiences toward Friday’s performance.

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Thursday, June 21’s “Night Music” also takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church. The audience will be treated to multiple selections from Brahms, as well as Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Op 4, inspired by the poetry of Richard Dehmel. Thursday’s songs will invite the audience to experience the blend of rain songs and night music, looking at how Brahms provides a sense of an echo within his “rain song” compositions and at how Schoenberg creates something “lush, beautiful” around a difficult theme.

The final performance occurs on Saturday, June 23, at 10:30 a.m. with a free family concert at the Iowa City Public Library in Meeting Room A. Saturday’s program features music from the festival, performed by the Solera Quartet, and will be interspersed with selections from student writers who have participated in the Iowa Youth Writing Project. These young readers will read their meditations inspired by the music and the themes of the festival.

The MusicIC festival once again puts Iowa City at the cutting edge where artistic endeavors blur boundaries and create new kinds of art.

The Solera Quartet will perform four shows for MusicIC. — image courtesy of Solera Quartet

“Classical music is experiencing a lot of cross-genre and hybridity, which you see in a lot of art forms now,” Park said. “It has been separate from all other kinds of popular genres, and we’re in a time where that line increasingly doesn’t exist. I’m interested in seeing how we can forge new paths through that kind of interest in crossing genre and cross-pollination.”

Because “all art forms intersect,” Park has found it rewarding to create narratives that help audiences explore the spaces where music, literature, science and the visual arts intersect. Despite these interconnections, festivals that are intentional at interconnecting themes and arts remain rare. Based on her “long history” here, Park knew that Iowa City would be the appropriate home for this kind of festival. She said she “wanted to give something back that was embedded in [the city’s] culture and rich literary life — to create something specific to the place.”

In future iterations of the festival, Park hopes to continue developing the rich relationship among the arts — and their specific permutations in Iowa City — through commissions of new work, both text and music. As has been true with many of Iowa City’s festivals, residents have every reason not to miss this year’s invocation of the Dark Side of the Moon — but also continue to be excited for what the future may hold.

The music throughout the festival will be performed by the Solera Quartet, with Park and Miki-Sophia Cloud on violin, Molly Carr on viola and Andrew Janss on cello. Amanda Grimm (viola), Laura Usiskin (cello), Minji Kwon (piano), Eric Douglas (drums) and Meagan Brus (vocals) will join the quartet for some of the performances.


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