All Souls by John Supko is a setting of nine excerpts of the novel All Souls Day by the Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom for soprano, chamber orchestra and electronic sampler. Falling somewhere between the categories of melodrama, radio play and opera, All Souls uses live and recorded voices to bring to life the intense relationship of Arthur Daane, a widowed, middle-aged documentary filmmaker, and Elik Oranje, a beautiful, mysterious woman half his age whom he meets in Berlin in the winter sometime in the late 1990’s. The work opens with Arthur aimlessly wandering the freezing city at night, haunted by the ghosts of his wife and young son, who died in a plane crash. Later, he meets Elik; they get to know each other, each attracted and frightened in equal measure by the trauma and sadness that mark both of their stories. The broken, abusive home in Spain that Elik flees and the disturbing details of Arthur’s work documenting atrocities in Kosovo are unflinchingly depicted in All Souls, as is a scene of passionate abandon. The physical intimacy and its attendant spiritual closeness prove ultimately unbearable for the two lovers, however, and they hasten to find separate escape routes: Elik back to Spain, where she is researching a little-known medieval queen; Arthur to various film assignments across the globe. Near the end of the story Arthur has a change of heart and resolves to go to Spain to find Elik, but on the highway nearby the town where she is living he makes a crucial decision. Rather than take the exit that will bring him to Elik, he chooses to “turn away from the west and keep going until Basque names began to appear on the traffic signs, and the broad skies of the north became visible beyond the foothills of the Pyrenees.”
Lasting a little over an hour, the music of All Souls is vivid and cinematic. The live ensemble, comprised of a string quintet, harp, two percussionists and two keyboardists, is augmented by recorded samples from a variety of sources. A cafeteria in Berlin, a camel market in Morocco, and a highway in Spain are just some of the sonic environments that lend the music an unusual visual character. All Souls is the second work by John Supko to use a text of Cees Nooteboom. The first, Littoral, incorporated the sound of Nooteboom’s voice reading his poem Cartography into music for flute, percussion and surround-sound electronics. The work appears on Drawn Only Once: The Music of John Supko (New Amsterdam Records, 2011.) The entire work can be heard here:
JOHN SUPKO BIO
John Supko was born in 1980 on Long Island, New York. Currently the Hunt Family Assistant Professor of Music at Duke University, he holds degrees from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (BM) and Princeton University (MFA & PhD). He is a recipient of the Fulbright (2002) and Georges Lurcy (2007) fellowships, both for Paris, France, where he studied at the Ecole Normale de Musique. He has won numerous prizes and grants, among them the BMI Student Composer Award, two ASCAP/Morton Gould Young Composers Awards (including the 2008 Leo Kaplan Award), the Grand Prize of the National Young Composers Competition, the Perkins Prize of the Princeton University Music Department and a Commissioning Music/USA Meet the Composer commission for Straits, a percussion work written in 2010 for the Meehan/Perkins Duo. His work has been published in collaborative editions with the poet Philippe Denis by Collection Mémoires (Paris) and by Harpo & (Marseille), and has been released on New Amsterdam Records.