Friday, February 19, 2010

Chance Meetings in New York City

If beauty—according to Lautréamont—can be likened to “the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella,” then the week of February 22, New York will be a privileged site of Catalan beauty, as two Catalan artists whose work routinely combines the erudite and the erotic, the mundane and the worldly, the humorous and the grave, the eerie and the ordinary come together on several different stages.

Acclaimed Catalan author, Jaume Cabré, will be in New York to celebrate the publication of Winter Journey (Swan Isle Press, 2009), a collection of short stories, and his first book to be translated into English.

Celebrated Catalan composer, Benet Casablancas, will be in New York for the U.S. premiere of two of his works, and for the world premiere of a new composition commissioned by the Miller Theatre, Four Darks in Red, an homage to Mark Rothko.

Two such significant premieres by established Catalan artists from two different fields, literature and music, would be noteworthy in any case, but the rencontre in New York of Jaume Cabré and Benet Casablancas is particularly fortuite, because their work exemplifies the richness of artistic juxtapositions, both fortuitous and deliberate.

Winter Journey, by Cabré, is a case in point. The very title is a reference not only to the Schubert song cycle, Winterreise, but also to a dense weave of references cited in an author’s epilogue, including poems by Wilhelm Müller (which provide the lyrics to the Schubert songs), Attilio Bertolucci and Antoni Marí, and the biography of Schubert by Gaston Laforgue. Through the stories run the threads of tapestries, paintings, and songs, in which Rembrandt, Sibelius, and King Crimson engage in an intersecular conversation (masterfully and colloquially captured by Patricia Lunn, the translator).

And one of the unwritten participants in this conversation could easily be Benet Casablancas. On Wednesday, February 24, The Catalan Center is presenting “’Little Night Music’: A Composer’s Salon with Benet Casablancas.” “Little Night Music,” a clear reference to Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” became a touchstone for American audiences thanks to Stephen Sondheim, and Casablancas carries on the play of words with his “Petita música nocturna,” threading the universal reference through the Catalan warp and weft.

Nevertheless, like Cabré, Casablancas does not limit himself to the references of his own medium. A simple glance at the titles of the works he will be playing on Thursday at the Miller Theatre pays witness to his passionate commitment to the interrelationship of the arts: Seven Scenes from Hamlet rethinks Shakespeare through music, and Four Darks in Red, his important commission by the Miller Theatre, paints Rothko’s gradations of dark and light in variations of sound and silence.

Taking a loan from a Brooklyn neighbor, and extending the thread of references once step farther, perhaps the only thing that could have brought these two together, back-to-back, in New York, is the music of chance.


2/22 Reading of Winter Journey by Jaume Cabré

6:30 p.m., King Juan Carlos Center at NYU (

53 Washington Square South (between Sullivan and Thompson)

Staged bilingual reading by the author and actress Hillary Spector, of “Ballad,” a story from Winter Journey.

2/23 Meet the Author, Jaume Cabré

7:00 p.m.. Idlewild Books, 12 West 19th Street (

A launch party for Jaume Cabré, the Catalan author of Winter Journey. With live Schubert and a discussion of the relationship between the music and the text.

2/24 Little Night Music: A Composer’s Salon with Benet Casablancas

7:00 p.m., Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimon, 24 West 12th Street

Following a performance by The Perspectives Ensemble of Benet Casablancas’s Petita música nocturna, the composer will engage in a conversation with CUNY musicologist, Antoni Pizà; Artistic Director of The Perspectives Ensemble, Sato Moughalian; and Director of the Miller Theatre, Melissa Smey in which the composer’s musical oeuvre will be discussed in the context of the European and North American modernist traditions.

2/25 Composer Portrait: Benet Casablancas

8:00 p.m., Miller Theatre, Columbia University (

2960 Broadway at 116th Street

One of today’s most exciting Catalan composers will be highlighted in this program of works never before heard in New York. Among the pieces to be played are Seven Scenes from Hamlet, for narrator and chamber ensemble, New Epigrams, and Four Darks in Red, inspired by the Rothko painting and commissioned by the Miller Theatre.