Menu Close

Tyshawn Sorey premieres “Monochromatic Light (Afterlife)” at the Rothko Chapel.

In 1971, the Rothko Chapel opened in Houston, Texas. It is a spiritual sanctuary with no particular religious affiliation, founded by the French-American philanthropist couple John and Dominique de Menil in 1971. It was named after Mark Rothko, who was commissioned by the couple to create fourteen large canvases for the central meditation area of the space. The artist, who worked closely with the architects for the precise placement of his works – Philip Johnson on the plans and Howard Barnstone and Eugene Aubry on the execution of the building – never saw the building completed: in February 1970, a year before the construction was due to open, he committed suicide. The composer Morton Feldman, a friend of Rothko’s, attended the chapel’s opening in February 1971, and it was at that moment that Menil’s patrons asked him to compose a tribute to Rothko, and he created Rothko Chapel, a contemplative score that premiered in the non-denominational chapel on 9 April 1972.

Now, fifty-one years later, the Chapel’s legatees and the music performance company DaCamera commissioned American composer Tyshawn Sorey (Newark, 1980) in 2018 to compose a new Chapel-inspired work that was to have premiered in February 2021, but was postponed due to the covid-19 pandemic, and, finally, Monochromatic Light (Afterlife), premiered yesterday, Saturday, conducted by Sorey himself and performed by the Houston Chamber Choir, violist Kim Kashkashian, percussionist Steven Schick and Sarah Rothenberg on piano and celesta (all of whom were featured on the 2015 ECM recording of Rothko Chapel), as well as bass-baritone Davóne Tines. ECM will also be releasing the work in the near future, following on from the previous release. Sorey has commented on the occasion of this release that Feldman is his “main influence as a composer” and said that the score he has composed “is synonymous with meditation in that it is intended to expand one’s consciousness and fulfillment THROUGH the act of listening as well as giving the experiencer the opportunity to heighten their sense of awareness… my music perfectly aligns with the intention of the Chapel, which has always served as a place for meditation”.

Given the small size of the venue, only 300 people in total will be able to attend the two performances of Monochromatic Light (Afterlife), yesterday and today, but this autumn it will be performed again in New York at the Park Avenue Armory from 27 September to 8 October, with a commissioned set design by Peter Sellars.

© Photograph downloaded from the Park Avenue Armory website.