Eight years ago, at the start of my second year at UC Berkeley, I was talking to a good friend of mine in the lobby of the International House about my desire to break the barriers that hinder contemporary classical music from reaching a wide audience. As we exchanged ideas, we realized that if we really wanted to lure new listeners to this kind of music, we had to get out of our figurative lawns and go knock on their doors. In other words, we had to get out of our comfort zone and go meet those listeners in a territory that was familiar to them but unfamiliar to us. This is how I came about the idea of creating a music video, a well-known genre in pop music, but one that has remained virtually unexplored in the classical music world. That conversation with my good friend Adrian (who became my best man last year), planted a seed that continued to grow inside me, but it was not until earlier this year that it finally fell on fertile soil. This is the journey of Epiphany: A Sonic Vision.
I have said many times that working on Bel Canto has been one of the greatest blessings of my life; especially because of all the people I have met during its five-year gestation period. Back in 2008, there was no way I could have made this video a reality, chiefly because I hadn’t yet met most of the key people who are making this project come true. It was through Bel Canto that I met Kevin Newbury, a brilliant director who, in addition to working in opera and musical theater, has also directed two successful short films: Monsura is Waiting and Stag. His love and respect for music makes him one of the few directors out there who truly knows how to appreciate and harness the power of music. He was the missing link between my world of sound and the world of visuals, of which I understand so little. Like in every project, there is a more earthly aspect to it; we needed to raise funds and we needed to do it quickly. During the years leading to the premiere of Bel Canto I had the privilege of meeting a group of generous Chicago-based donors who are known for professing a life-long unconditional love for the arts. It is they, our “Epiphany Angels” as we call them, who made it possible for us to bring this project from concept to reality. Some of them prefer to remain anonymous, but the names of those who don’t will be revealed at the appropriate time. Last but not least, I could have not done this without the help of my dear husband, Heleno, who in addition to being a music-lover is also a savvy businessman. Heleno galvanized our donors and went to incredible lengths to make sure all the pieces fell into place. He is now President and CEO of Epiphany Foundation for the Arts Inc., a non-profit organization that is now lawfully established in the state of California and which we hope will continue to live and sponsor future artistic endeavors. I am sure you can now fully understand why this complex undertaking couldn’t have been brought to fruition eight years ago. Now, however, we are ready, so much so that we will start shooting the video just a few days from now in New Hampshire.
Before we go there let me tell you what is the concept behind all this. Young people, “millennials” in particular, are rarely seen in concert halls and opera houses. This is something that concerns, not only music creators like myself, but also performers and leaders of arts organizations. We have all been trying to come up with a solution for years now but ticket sales keep dwindling, attendance keeps shrinking, and important arts organizations in the U.S. like the Minnesota Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, and New York City Opera have faced innumerable challenges in recent years, not to mention several organizations overseas. By now most of us have just resigned ourselves to the fact that this is a sign of the times and that the trend is simply irreversible. Not so fast. The 20th century has been a century of innovation, and we welcomed a new genre in the arts: moving pictures. This new technology, which is now over a hundred years old, became the great entertainment for the masses, a position that only opera had achieved prior to the former’s invention. The 20th century was also a visual century par excellence, so confronting people with abstract music sometimes makes them feel a little disoriented, especially because of the lack of context. Of course there is context in opera, but it is mostly sung in languages other than English, and even when it’s sung in one’s mother tongue, it is not always easy to make out what the singers are saying, hence the now ubiquitous use of surtitles. Unlike opera, where music leads the action, the script is what drives the story forward in movies, while the music takes a back seat supporting the visuals. Next time you go to a movie theater think of this: when people are given context, they are more likely to embrace a wide variety of musical styles. Say you watch a fantasy film or a horror film. If you pay close attention to their soundtracks, you will find many adventurous sounds and harmonies; sounds that those same spectators wouldn’t be as attracted to were they to listen to them played by an orchestra in a concert hall totally deprived of the visuals. That is why when those same moviegoers buy the soundtrack of a film, they are brought back -in their imaginations- to the movie theater, because by then they have associated those sounds to specific images from the film. This is the reasoning process that led me to understand that we might still have a chance to attract new and fresh audiences to classical music, in particular music that is being written now, if we provide them with a visual context. This is one of the reasons why I believe in this project.
What we are going to create is a hybrid between a music video and a short film (7 minutes), where music, dance and theater come together to convey a fantastic story. It is too early to reveal the plot, but our brilliant screenwriter, David Johnston, has come up with a story that combines love, death, and hope -all universal and archetypical concepts- and blends them into a truly touching and unexpected story involving three main characters. Not a single word will be uttered, instead, it will all be told through visuals and music. The soundtrack: the fifth movement of Epiphany, concertino for piano, brass, strings, and percussion performed by pianist Javier Arrebola and the kohoBeat Orchestra with Leo McFall conducting a live recording at Helsinki’s Temppeliaukio Church. Completing our main crew are production designer Vita Tzykun, cinematographer James Daniel, costume designer Paul Carey, choreographer Larry Keigwin, and producer Matthew Principe. Our brilliant cast: Reed Luplau, Cole Horibe and Orange is the New Black’s Catherine Curtin. The shooting will take place in Maine and New Hampshire during August 7-14 in several outdoors and indoors locations, including the haunting Parsonfield Seminary whose architecture shows a heavy Victorian influence and which is comprised of three floors, each with its own strong personality. It is beautiful and haunting, almost like a film-ready set!
I have never been involved in a project of this kind, and for this reason I am particularly excited about it. The whole Epiphany team has been preparing for this moment since the beginning of the year, so it feels a bit surreal to have finally arrived at this point. We have had several work meetings, not only in person (New York and Cincinnati) but also via phone, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Facetime… and we continue to be in touch constantly via email. The video will enter post-production this coming fall and we should have a rough cut ready by the beginning of next year. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; I promise to give you an account of our project as it evolves and progresses. All I can say for now is that I feel incredibly blessed and thankful to everyone who is making this possible. It truly feels like a dream come true. And now… let’s get to work!