Prism at Roulette in Brooklyn

World Premiere is Luminescent

By: - Feb 17, 2022

Four instruments shimmering in the lights of Roulette, the iconic Brooklyn venue, might suggest you are at the brass concert. Yet the saxophone in all its glories, principally soprano, tenor, baritone and bass, is a member of the wind group. It sounds are full, rich, warm and smooth. Together, the Prism group makes one single sound. It can be raucous for fun. Or very dark when the mood requires. 

Who could ask for anything more?  We got more in a world premiere of four newly-commissioned works, which form Mending Wall, as Prism stepped out live from the pandemic.

Prism is not only a superb saxophone ensemble. It ranks high in the chamber music world. Delivering unique and surprising programs in high style is their forte. Mending Wall was no exception.

The quartet not only gave us stunning music. In matching grey wigs, they moved smoothly to rhythms which impelled them across a large flat floor area. The earth is not flat here. The dancing figures and compelling notes suck us in and whirl us about. Poetry and incanted critical phrases like “Identity, community, division and freedom“ dance too.  

The instrumentalists pushed around dollies on which light batons formed walls of ever changing colors. Lighting director Aaron Copp is a magician with spots, even changing the colors of small banks of light above the stage.

Martin Bresnick’s movement Mending Time recalled Robert Frost, who had a cool view of humanity. Walls to be sure divide, yet upkeep is required, and so the occupants of either side meet periodically to keep the wall up and make separate lives possible. 

Jury Seo conjured up an Unsung Lullaby in what she refers to as an echo space. Early in the evening we heard suggestive lines of melody repeated, amplified and sometimes distorted.

George Lewis remembers Keora-Petse Kgositsile, a post-apartheid poet laureate of South Africa in the mbube, a South African musical style that emerged from a fusion of church singing and the traditional choral music of the Zulu people.

Arturo O’Farrill took to the stage to perform his wild offering on piano. He creates the impression of an annual gathering in San Diego on the Tijuana border where people sing, ‘fuck your wall.'

Dutch director Jorinde Keesmaat came on board for this ambitious project which combined moving florescent tubes, instrumentalists choreographed and speaking, and the remarkable Tony Arnold singing and speaking, as well as gathering rocks. Keesmaat has said,  “Through new staging and lighting, we are exploring the paradox of personal contact: our simultaneous discomfort with strangers and our intrinsic longing for human connection.”

Pauline Oliverios made much of rocks in her Rock Piece, introduced at Tanglewood in 1979.  Then the audience was invited to bring their own rocks and make their own music, gathering at the end in a circle.  Prism members bend to fix the rocks, a mini wall suggesting the real thing.  Standing on the Rio Grande in Big Bend Park and looking up at the natural wall separating Mexico and the US, it is hard to think that we need to build any walls. 

If walls encourage the kind of work Prism brings us, bring on the walls. Prism co-founder Matthew Levy imagines: “As artists we’re called to build another structure: a collaborative structure that restores mystery, complexity and generosity to our encounters with one another.” 


Matthew Levy, Timothy McAllister, Taimur Sullivan, Zachary Shemon, Matthew Koester. 

UNSUNG LULLABY (2019) by Jury Seo (b. 1981)
Inspired by "Algaravias: Echo Chamber" by Waly Salomão (1943-2003),
translated by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi
Performed by PRISM Quartet
Poetry read by Tony Arnold and PRISM Quartet

MENDING TIME (2019) by Martin Bresnick (b. 1946)
Inspired by “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Performed by PRISM Quartet
Poetry read by Tony Arnold and Arturo O'Farrill

WHERE HER EYE SITS (2019) by George Lewis (b. 1952)
A setting of "Where Her Eye Sits" by Keorapetse Kgositsile (1938-2018)
Performed by Tony Arnold and PRISM Quartet

SOMETHING TO DECLARE? (yeah, fuck your wall) (2019) by Arturo O’Farrill (b. 1960)
Inspired by “Freefalling Toward a Borderless Future” by Guillermo Gomez-Peña (b. 1955)
Performed by Arturo O'Farrill and PRISM Quartet
Poetry read by Tony Arnold, Arturo O'Farrill, and PRISM Quartet