Every year that Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday surfaces, one can find a barrage of tributes to remind us of his legacy. Documentaries, photos, and famous speeches are plastered across various forms of media, and at times, the commemoration can appear to be fraught with formality rather than authenticity. And so you can imagine my surprise when a Dutch composer fused a multimedia experience that paid tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a way that was engaging, perceptive… and haunting.
On Monday, January 20th, the Chicago Sinfonietta performed a piece entitled “Mountain Top” by Dutch composer JacobTV, and it was nothing short of incredible. It was commissioned by Dutch National broadcasting company NTR and premiered worldwide on May 31, 2008 at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. This week marked the first time the composition has been performed live the United States.
The piece was scored for sampler, percussion, mixed choir and video and the combination added even more gravity to King’s prophetic speech. He never made it to the Promise Land, and he knew he never would.
The video began with snippets from “King’s Mountain Top” speech addressing the recent threats to his life, and immediately the stage was set. The Roosevelt University Conservatory Chorus was clear and precise as 30 voices swelled and pulsed to echo King’s words “I just wanna do God’s will” and “Survival!” King’s words blasted the video screen, rhythmic, repetitive and stretched, as his image slowly materialized from a blur of pixels. The fear and hate of a not so distant past was palpable in the Symphony Center and King was a willing sacrificial lamb.
The piece was eerie and incessant.
As conductor Mei-Ann Chen passionately lead the spoken word, the choral voices and instruments into a climactic cacophony, the audience could finally see the portrait of Dr. King emblazoned on the video screen. It was only moments later that the very same image faded back into the sea of muddled pixels from which it slowly arose. His voice garbled and distant with only the hum of the chorus persisting: hushed…low…flat-lined.
Well done, JacobTV…Well done, Chicago Sinfonietta…Well done!
How did you pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy?
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