Mimi Stern Wolfe, director of Downtown Music Productions.
For nearly 20 years, Downtown Music Productions has been delivering offbeat, often politically motivated musical programming to audiences in Lower Manhattan. The group will continue the trend this season with a presentation of War and Pieces, an ambitious five-part series that began Nov. 9, in honor of Armistice Day, at St. Marks church on 10th Street and 2nd Avenue.
The war has been in the air for a long time now, way before I got this repertory together, said Mimi Stern Wolfe, the organizations founder and ensemble director, who developed the program. Ive been following it like a maniac. I think this is a way to express my thoughts about war and about peace and what it means to people in some kind of meaningful way. Our countrys really in a mess now, I think, and music speaks to a lot of people.
The first segment of War and Pieces, called Armistice Day Remembered, featured nine performances by the Downtown Chamber and Opera Players, including an arrangement of Mark Twains The War Prayer, by Nicholas Scarim, and a musical rendition of Gerard Manley Hopkins Peace, by Joyce Hope Suskind. It will conclude with the Irish folk tune Johnny I Hardly Knew You.
Its a chance to do the army songs and a lot of it is like, Hip-hip-hooray, lets go to war, said Stern Wolfe. Its a lot of patriotic songs but sort of gone askew, Wolfe said in an interview before the show.
Andrew Bolotowsky, the ensembles flutist, said. Mimi never sort of just does a performance. She gets you involved in her viewpoint, in her ideas about social reform. But it all works musically. Its not for special interest groups. The performance is not so totally bound by the message that the music suffers.
While the on-going military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan provided an impetus for developing War and Pieces, Wolfe also hoped to address broader social themes that the actions have made salient. For International Womens Day in March, for instance, she will be presenting Women and War, which highlights music from female composers and includes a performance by the all-female Colorado String Quartet.
In late January, the ensemble will perform a program called I Have a Dream, which includes a gospel chorus and some music from a composer lost in the Holocaust. In May, for Mothers Day, they will present Children and Peace, which features a number called Tubby the Tuba meets Babar the Elephant and a folk sing-a-long for peace.
It gives us a chance to do something for the little ones without scaring them with the horrors of the world, Wolfe said.
War and Pieces will culminate on June 19th and 20th with performances of Igor Stravinskys A Soldiers Tale, directed by James Nicola and choreographed by Valentina Kozlova, and featuring the violinist Marshall Coid.
Ive always looked for a way to synthesize my political proclivities with my music, Wolfe said. I wanted to find a way to play music and yet to do it in a way that could educate people.
Some of her previous endeavors include Composers of the Holocaust, which focused on the work of Jewish composers who lost their lives in concentration camps, and The Benson Series, a number of benefit concerts for AIDS relief that featured music from composers who died of the disease.
Ive looked around for ways to produce music for people or for causes that would make a difference, she said. Its sometimes very hard to feel, as an artist, that you make a difference. But we try.