New Work by Professor Douglas Knehans Premieres at New York Opera Fest

It’s been an exciting and busy year for CCM Norman Dinerstein Professor of Composition Scholar Douglas Knehans, a recent winner of the Ohio Arts Council’s 2018 Individual Excellence Award.

His most recent album Unfinished Earth, released on April 6, has already won five international awards including best classical album at the spring 2018 Clouzine International Music Awards, best contemporary classical album at the Independent Music Awards and three silver medals at the Global Music Awards.

Now, Knehans is preparing for the world premiere of his operatic monodrama Backwards from Winter during the New York Opera Fest. Directed by CCM alumna Jennifer Williams (AD Opera Stage Directing, 2012), the work premieres this Friday, May 25, 2018, presented by the Center for Contemporary Opera at Symphony Space.

With a libretto by Juanita Rockwell, Backwards from Winter explores a single woman’s reflection on love and grief after she loses her partner in an automobile crash. It uses live voice, live electronic/computer music and video streams to trace the unnamed woman’s past year with her beloved.

“We tell a story of love and loss, though do so in a way that constantly asks questions rather than gives answers,” Knehans says. “We follow the inception and ultimate tragic demise of a relationship but told in a reverse chronology and linked to a reverse cycling of the seasons — Backwards from Winter.”

Knehans and Rockwell began collaborating on Backwards from Winter in 2010. He completed the composition in 2013, using only the resources of electric cello, electronically processed soprano voice and computerized sound. Knehans says the cellist will also sing, hum and intone words throughout the production, adding an extra layer of dramatic friction to the music.

“Douglas is a truly interdisciplinary artist,” says Williams. “Backwards from Winter, like much of his work, brings together modern technology and timeless lyricism. His score puts a variety of musical styles and compositional techniques in conversation with each other.”

“He is a composer who is genuinely interested in the ideas of the artists performing his work. Working with him is a very collaborative and adventurous experience.”

Williams makes her New York directorial debut with the premiere of Backwards from Winter. The production features a set designed by CCM alumnus Ryan Howell (MFA Stage Design, 2013) and video projections created by Yee Eun Nam.

“A stark, dramatic Noh-like approach to stage will be used,” says Knehans, comparing Backwards from Winter’s staging to the Noh traditional Japanese theatrical form. “This element will also permeate the symbiotic lighting, set design and video creation to evoke the external natural world that stands as a counterpoint to the rich internal questions asked by the protagonist and the music.”

The video projections represent the character’s emotional process as she confronts her grief. The woman always initiates the images seen in the projections, Williams adds. The set is composed of car debris and white, ashen boxes that represent the compartments of her memory.

“She opens one – the inside is a vibrant color, different from the rest of the world of the set – and a sapling tree grows out of it, or a gust of leaves blows out of it,” Williams says describing how the set interacts with the video projections. “The videos are an expressive extension of her action.”

Williams says she brings a feminist perspective and an interest in new technology to the productions she directs. When she first came to opera, she didn’t like how the women were nearly always victims, so she works to dig deeper into the music and underlying story elements to present women as empowered and in control of their own destinies.

Other directors have chosen to invent a husband character as a looming presence in Backwards from Winter, but Williams says the woman’s conflict isn’t with her deceased partner — it is with her own grief. Additionally, the libretto for Backwards from Winter doesn’t specify that the woman’s lost love was male.

“I wanted to avoid inventing a husband character to keep the story inclusive,” Williams says. “I want everyone in the audience to be able to see themselves and their own experience in the story. A more expressive and less traditional, cinematic approach to video design leaves space for that — it invites more perspectives into the story.”

Knehans is very proud and excited that Backwards from Winter will premiere at New York Opera Fest this Friday, May 25. There will also be a new production of the monodrama presented at the Dark Mofo Festival in Australia on June 20-23.

Douglas Knehans.

Douglas Knehans. Photo by Tina Gutierrez.

About Douglas Knehans
Douglas Knehans has received awards from the American Music Center, the NEA, the Australia Council Performing Arts Board, Yale University, the MacDowell Colony, Opera Australia, The Cannes Film Festival, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, The National Symphony Orchestra, The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Meet the Composer and a host of others.

His music has been praised by the Washington Post as “beautiful,” by the Miami Herald as “wildly inventive,” by the Australian as “brilliantly catchy and eerily bright” and by Fanfare Magazine as “…effective…incisive… and hauntingly beautiful.”

Knehans’ music is available on ERM Media, Crystal Records, Move Records, New World Records and ABLAZE Records. His full biography is available online at douglasknehans.com.

For more information on CCM’s Division of Composition, Musicology and Theory visit ccm.uc.edu/music/cmt.

CCM Alumni Applause CCM News Faculty Fanfare

UC Fulbright Winners Earn Prestigious Professional Opportunities in Europe

Jennifer Williams, Fulbright Scholar

Jennifer Williams, Fulbright Scholar

Three University of Cincinnati students and spring graduates – and one faculty member – are heading abroad in the coming academic year to pursue prestigious opportunities for professional development via teaching and work. As previously reported, this group includes recent CCM alumna Jennifer Williams.

CCM Alumni Applause CCM News

CCM Opera Presents a Cinderella Story for the Ages

Emma Char as Angelina ("Cenerentola") and Ian José Ramirez as Prince Ramiro in CCM's production of 'La Cenerentola.'

Emma Char as Angelina (“Cenerentola”) and Ian José Ramirez as Prince Ramiro in CCM’s production of ‘La Cenerentola.’

Based on Charles Perrault’s Cinderella fairytale, Gioachino Rossini’s bubbly opera La Cenerentola liberally adapts the familiar story to reflect a changing culture, greed and the beauty of love. CCM’s Studio Opera Series takes this tale from its original setting at the end of the age of Enlightenment to today in a modern retelling of a classic. The vocal acrobatics of Rossini paired with the comedic love story of Cinderella runs May 25 through 27 in UC’s Cohen Family Studio Theater. Blake Richardson conducts with stage direction by Jennifer A. Williams.

CCM News

CCM Artist Diploma Candidate Jennifer Williams Receives Fulbright Award

CCM Artist Diploma candidate Jennifer Williams.

CCM Artist Diploma candidate Jennifer Williams.

Congratulations to CCM student Jennifer Williams for receiving a Fulbright grant to study in Germany next year!

A second-year artist diploma candidate in Opera Stage Direction, Williams directed CCM’s acclaimed staged production of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion last November. You can learn more about that performance here and see Williams discuss the production here.

CCM News Student Salutes

CCM’s Studio Series – ‘One Of The Best Opportunities To See Great Theater in Town’

Talkin’ Broadway‘s Scott Cain reviewed last weekend’s Studio Musical production of Spring Awakening, writing “This solidly mounted and well performed production is just the latest in what has been one of the best opportunities to see great (and free) theater in town for decades.” You can read Cain’s full review here.

CCM News

CCM Wins Big in National Opera Association’s Annual Production Competition

CCM's Spring 2011 Mainstage Production of Poulenc's 'Dialogues of the Carmelites.' Photography by Mark Lyons.

CCM's Spring 2011 Mainstage Production of Poulenc's 'Dialogues of the Carmelites.' Photography by Mark Lyons.

The National Opera Association has announced the results of its annual Opera Production Competition and CCM’s 2010-11 Mainstage, Studio and Undergraduate Series of Operas have again received some of the competition’s highest honors.

CCM News Faculty Fanfare Student Salutes

A Video Preview of Bach’s ‘St. Matthew Passion’

CCM Electronic Media student Greg Shurts provides us with a video preview of this weekend’s staged production of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

Tickets for the Nov. 20 performance at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral are on sale now and you can save $5 off of general admission by ordering your tickets in advance! Contact the CCM Box Office at 513-556-4183 or boxoff@uc.edu for more information.

CCM News CCM Video

CCM’s Staged ‘St. Matthew Passion’ a First in the Midwest

Shawn Mlynek, tenor, as one of the Evangelists in CCM's rare staged performance of Bach's 'St. Matthew Passion.'

Shawn Mlynek, tenor, as one of the Evangelists in CCM's rare staged performance of Bach's 'St. Matthew Passion.'

CCM’s Chamber Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra and Cincinnati Children’s Choir combine for an afternoon featuring one of the timeless masterworks of choral music: J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. This massive staged undertaking, the first of its kind in the Midwest, will be held at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral (Eighth and Plum Street, Downtown Cincinnati) at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 20.

CCM News

CCM Announces Fall 2011 Calendar of Major Events

Photography by Scott Belck.

CCM is delighted to announce its fall schedule of major performances. Beginning Wednesday, September 28 CCM will present over 50 events, ranging from faculty and guest artist concerts to fully supported opera and musical theatre productions.

Download a digital copy of our Fall Quarterly Calendar of Events today!

Whether it’s a swinging tribute to Frank Sinatra, a festival showcasing the talents of two Russian powerhouse composers, the regional premiere of a drama co-produced with The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center, a world premiere produced in partnership with Cincinnati Opera, a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved Oklahoma! or a holiday-themed choral extravaganza, CCM’s fall schedule of performing arts events offers dozens of opportunities to be mesmerized and delighted.

CCM News