This one came to me in a vision
Friday, April 28, 2023
Before choosing to focus on Constantine P. Cavafy poem “The Sculptor of Tyana” as a proposal for the Hildegard Commission, Hannah Ishizaki committed herself to perusing through poems in Constantine P. Cavafy’s archive to choose the one that would speak enough to her to inspire a composition.
The Hildegard Commission highlights outstanding women and other marginalized genders in the early stages of their composing careers, supporting them with a commission, mentorship, and access to a network of leading working collaborators. The winners of the 2022 / 2023 commission focused on sound art exploring the poetry of Cavafy and their compositions are presented at National Sawdust.
In “I’ve handled a lot of stone in my time,” from the poem that Ishizaki chose, the word stone could be replaced with music to define a musician of Ishizaki’s maturity. It’s easy to imagine that as she chose the poem, the music came to her like a vision in sound. “This one came to me in a vision” is another line from the poem, putting potential words to the thoughts and music that Ishizaki must have felt as she arrived at “The Sculptor of Tyana.”
“This sculptor and their process of dealing with [their] relationship with the audience (the public self v. the private self) really spoke to me. How the sculptor views their works in progress. It was satirical and also a little funny,” she says.
Working with mentor Paola Prestini, who co-founded National Sawdust and is a leader in the global new music scene, Ishizaki continued to comb through the Cavafy archive as she composed her commission. She found Cavafy’s initial notes on the poem that she chose to explore, which was a definite eye opener. The poem was initially titled “The Sculptor’s workshop,” which felt like “diving into the process of someday talking about a process,” and that inspired Ishizaki. Speaking to the experts at the archive furthered her understanding of the poet, who is now one of her favorite poets, and his poem.
Ishizaki knew Prestini before the Hildegard mentorship. They met through National Sawdust’s Blueprint Fellowship, which Ishizaki participated in during her sophomore year in undergrad. The Hildegard commission, however, was the first time that Ishizaki was able to really speak to Prestini for advice. She considers it an incredible experience: She learned about much more than composition from Prestini, not only focusing on writing music, but also on her career.
“This sculptor and their process of dealing with relationship with the audience (the public self v. the private self) really spoke to me. How the sculptor views their works in progress. It was satirical and also a little funny.”
The composition that she had just written before the commission, “Music for Stones,” was for four performers and stones and was fresh on her mind. So, she initially wanted to include a percussionist breaking down marble to translate the theatricality of Cavafy’s writing. That idea “being dangerous,” as Ishizaki put it, “the first thing that I settled on was a break drum. The car part. I thought it sounded the most like chipping away at marble.”
Along with the break drum, Ishizaki chose to compose for mezzo-soprano and for cello, to provide a dark timbre for the mezzo soprano and as a base for the break drum. Electronics were the final component, where the mezzo soprano controls a motion sensor to work with National Sawdust’s Spatial Audio System. The sculptor talking to the reader in Cavafy’s poem is translated into the motion sensor, in both instances guiding an audience through space.
Language is central to Ishizaki’s composition, and she made sure to read the poem in the original Greek. “The Greek version had its own rhyme scheme, and that was really important for me,” she says. This inspired the end of her piece, during which she reflects by making the ends of lines musically repeat like in the Greek version of “The Sculptor of Tyana.”
Ishizaki’s composition stems from the fact that her parents are both graphic designers and visual artists, and from a love of live dance. Visual rhetoric, she calls it, is what she was used to, more than music. Lately, she has also been exploring her Japanese roots in her music. A visionary who grounds herself in both study and taste, in selfhood, her music is sure to floor audiences for years to come, as it already does.
About Adolf Alzuphar
Adolf Alzuphar is a music critic. He also contributes to The Brooklyn Rail, and to the LA Review of Books.