Orpheus Unsung Steven Mackey and Jason Treuting
STEVEN MACKEY AND JASON TREUTING
Orpheus Unsung is the first collaborative album from composer-guitarist Steven Mackey and composer-percussionist Jason Treuting, praised by PopMatters as "another success for New Amsterdam, another recording as rich in ambition as it is in a payoff."
Orpheus Unsung is an hour-long narrative for solo electric guitar (Mackey) and drums (Treuting) that traces the Greek myth of Orpheus in the underworld, casting Mackey's electric guitar as the disembodied voice of the legendary musician, poet, and prophet Orpheus. Mackey's virtuosic and exposed performance portrays Orpheus as he seeks to reverse fate and regain his irrevocably lost love, Eurydice, through the power of his divine musical gifts.
According to legend:
Orpheus marries his true love Eurydice. Following the wedding, Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies. Orpheus cannot bear this and embarks on a perilous journey to the underworld with the aim of bringing her back. Orpheus’s musical gifts are supreme, animals, plants and even stones move in order to better hear him sing and play his lyre. He sings his plea to the ruler of the underworld who does allow him to take Eurydice back with him under the condition that he not look back to check to see if she is still there. When Orpheus crosses the threshold back to the surface he can no longer resists and he looks back but Eurydice has not yet crossed and she is immediately drawn back to the underworld, gone forever. Orpheus mourns but eventually comes to terms with his loss. Later, a mob of Thracian women in a Dionysian Orgy rip Orpheus apart. Dismembered, his head and lyre float down a stream, his head still singing and his lyre still playing, until they rest at the head of the stream and become an oracle.
Although Orpheus's tale is slim, it feels expansive. The story encompasses huge mysteries and complex truths about separation, loss, love, will, weakness, and perhaps most compellingly, the artist’s dream embodied by Orpheus himself: of creating expression so persuasive, clear, and powerful that it might even alter the immutable, and stand against death.
The concept of Orpheus Unsung was first developed as an opera without words by Mackey and filmmaker, designer, choreographer and director Mark DeChiazza, with Mackey composing the score with Treuting. The project was co-produced by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music Series and Guthrie Theater, and premiered in June 2016 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in a production conceived, choreographed and directed by DeChiazza and featuring performances by Mackey, Treuting and an ensemble of three dancers.
The album was produced by Mackey, mixed by Tom Laxurus and mastered by Joe Lambert. It was recorded at Guilford Sound by David Snyder, with editing by Snyder and Matt Hall serving as the assistant engineer.
Development of the work was made possible by a Baryshnikov Art Center Space Grant, an on-stage residency at Carleton College, and the Princeton University David A Garner '69 Magic Grant.