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David Byrne’s Knee Plays to be Performed in Santa Monica

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By Jorge Casuso

April 3, 2014 --  While leading the art rock band Talking Heads, David Byrne was creating adventurous modern music with the likes of composer Brian Eno and theater genius Robert Wilson.

On Saturday night, Jacaranda will perform “The Knee Plays," 14 short pieces Byrne composed as interludes for Wilson’s vast, unfinished opera "the CIVIL warS," a combination of film, theater and ceremonial music intended for the 1984 Olympics Arts Festival in Los Angeles.

Jacaranda’s performance of “The Knee Plays” will complement the L.A. Philharmonic’s two performances of the opera's “Rome Section” by minimalist composer Philip Glass, uniting for the first time the only two parts of "the CIVIL warS" that were completed.

“Super exciting that this music is being performed again,” Byrne told Jacaranda’s Artistic Director Patrick Scott, “and in LA where it was originally supposed to be presented.”

The “Knee Plays” combine original compositions, little personal stories that are narrated and brass transcriptions of choral folk music from different places, Byrne said.

“The brass was intended to cover the noise of the sets being changed and the narration really has nothing directly to do with (the opera’s story) though one is free to make connections of one's own,” Byrne said.

“This piece was originally conceived to be a series of little play-lets that would happen downstage of a large curtain," Byrne said. "They'd occur as the big bits of scenery for the larger acts of the Civil Wars piece were being changed.
“All together they visually told a story, a kind of myth involving a tree that becomes a boat, travels to a far off land and a book that turns back into the tree,” the composer explained.

Actor Fran Kranz – a rising film and television actor who appeared in director Mike Nichols’ Broadway production of "Death of a Salesman" with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman -- will narrate Jacaranda's presentation.

The program – which is part of the L.A. Philharmonic “Minimalist Jukebox Festival” -- will open with two works by Glass -- “Mad Rush,” an elaborate organ piece performed for the exiled Dalai Lama’s first public visit to New York City in 1981, and a suite from the soundtrack to the 1985 film “Mishima.”

Mark Alan Hilt performed “Mad Rush” on Jacaranda’s first concert, and it is included as a nod to Jacaranda’s 10th anniversary.“Mishima,” a 1985 Paul Schrader film, chronicles with stylized scenes the famed Japanese writer Yukio Mishima’s failed coup d’état.

The performance will take place Saturday, April 5, 8 p.m., First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, 1220 2nd St., Santa Monica, 90401. Concert tickets, $45 general; $20 students: Information: (213) 483-0216.

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