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Harry Partch's Oedipus at MSU

Montclair State University presents Harry Partch’s Oedipus, March 30, April 1 & 2 at 7:30 pm and April 3 at 2pm. at the Alexander Kasser Theater on the campus of Montclair State University in Montclair. Oedipus is being produced in association with Newband and Ridge Theater and features music direction by Dean Drummond and direction by Bob McGrath. The piece will be performed on the original Partch Instrumentarium with projections by Laurie Olinder, film by Bill Morrison, set design by Jim Findlay, costumes by Ruth Pongstaphone and lighting by Matt Frey.

Partchboo Harry Partch (1901-1974) was a composer, innovative theorist, creator of musical instruments and a musical dramatist. Between 1930 and 1972, he created a large and varied body of work that included music dramas, dance theater, multi-media spectacles, vocal, and chamber music. Much of his work was performed on the now-famous instruments that he designed and built himself. He first adapted violas to play his music and later began to build other instruments using a new microtonal tuning system. He built over 25 instruments including: cloud chamber bowls, marimba eroica, gourd tree/cone gongs, chromolodeon, kithara, spoils of war and harmonic cannon in addition to numerous small hand instruments.

Partchccbowls In 1930 Partch broke with Western European tradition and developed a theory of music based on the tones that comprise human speech. Instead of the traditional western octave, Partch’s scale is divided into 43 notes – the same number of tones he identified in speech.

Partch composed Oedipus in 1952. After losing the rights to perform the original libretto written by William Butler Yeats, he rewrote a new text, creating a subsequent version that was produced twice in 1954 in Sausalito, California. The third and final version of Oedipus was composed in 1967. This version was performed by Newband at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1997 and is the version being used for the Montclair State University production.

Partchdimarimba For Oedipus, Partch made it clear that his intention was to focus on the text he had developed based on Sophocles’ wrenching tragedy Oedipus Rex. To this end, he employed his concept of corporeality in which speech, music and movement seamlessly coalesce to move the story forward. Oedipus features a cast of vocalists who speak, intone and sing the text. Western instruments and many of Partch’s own instruments complete the many elements that the composer sought to unify in the production.

Three-time Obie Award-winner and Oedipus director Bob McGrath envisions Sophocles’ story set, “in a hallucinogenic world of projections that range from ancient Greek icons to Sigmund Freud's Vienna to our own contemporary culture. The production looks at Oedipus through a prism of psychoanalysis, where a man sees beyond his projected perceptions and finally looks within to confront the truth about himself.”

Partchgourdtree_conegong Oedipus features a cast of 13 actor/singers and 16 musicians, but to many fans of 20th Century music, the real star of Oedipus is the original Partch Instrumentarium which has been housed at the Partch Institute on the campus of Montclair State University since 1999. The Harry Partch Instrument Collection includes all of the instruments built by Partch between 1930 and 1974, as well as several instruments replicated by the Harry Partch Foundation between 1974 and 1984 in addition to several replications created by Newband since 1990.

Performances of Harry Partch’s Oedipus are March 30, April 1-2 at 7:30pm and April 3 at 2pm. Parking is located in the deck adjacent to the theater. For more information or to order tickets call 973.655.5112 or visit www.montclair.edu/kasser. $28/$35.

March 26, 2005