Premieres in Music City:

chatterbird to Premiere Leila Adu’s ‘Mahakala Oratorio’

Originally scheduled as a live performance in March, the project has been reimagined as a one-of-a-kind video project with contributions from interactive media artist Aaron Sherwood and will take place on December 17 via livestream on chatterbird’s Facebook. Mahakala Oratorio will feature 14 chatterbird musicians as well as the composer performing as vocalist. Following the world premiere, chatterbird will host a virtual Q&A panel with Adu, chatterbird musicians, and others involved in the recording process. The Q&A will be facilitated by Colleen Phelps, the Host of “Classically Speaking” on Nashville Public Radio.

Mahakala Oratorio’s inspiration draws directly from the Buddhist deity of the same name. In her work, Leila Adu uses ancient texts describing Mahakala as a tool to empower listeners to consider the idea of radical compassion in this era of social, political, and environmental extremism. The music itself reflects Leila’s genre-mixing style, which draws on the traditional music of New Zealand; her informal training in punk, indie, and hip-hop as well as freely improvised music in the African-American free jazz tradition; and formal training for chamber ensemble and orchestra.

In the collective spirit of Mahakala’s themes, the video component will represent the work of many collaborators coming together through their diverse artistic backgrounds and varied geographic locations. Leila Adu will be recording her portion remotely from New York City. Chatterbird will record musicians in two separate groups to allow for adequate distancing, featuring in-studio recordings of each musician group spliced together into a single cohesive performance. Nashville-based videographer Lauren Balthrop and Abu Dhabi-based interactive media artist Aaron Sherwood will work in tandem to blend together the various recording locations and musical elements with visual components that are responsive to the music.

After the video premiere, chatterbird will work with Adu and Sherwood to engage youth from W.O. Smith Music School and YEAH! (Youth Empowerment through Arts & Humanities) through an educational workshop. Students will learn elements of coding related to Sherwood’s visual effects, and the composer will discuss her work, including the compositional process and themes of social activism. Chatterbird will also create an in-school curriculum for Metro Nashville Public School teachers that covers Leila Adu’s life, compositional influences, and themes from Mahakala.

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