Connected \\ November 27, 2018

Performing inside the Soul House

One of the most beautiful and moving aspects of performing contemporary music is the inherent empathy imbued in a new work. I’m drawn to a quote by Leonard Bernstein:

Any great work of art... revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world — the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air.

With a new piece of music, that world is an interpretation of the same universe we all collectively inhabit, seen through the interpretation of the composer. When we all occupy this same imaginative space, we are immersing ourselves in a shared human experience through the eyes and ears of another.


Hub New Music. Photo by Nile Scott Shots.

This Saturday, December 1, Hub New Music invites you to travel into a new universe with PEM and Urbanity Dance. The point of departure for this collaborative program is Robert Honstein’s Soul House. Robert, who has been a close friend for a number of years, wrote the piece as an extended love letter to his childhood home. Each of the work’s nine movements is evocative of a different section of the house, from the Bay Window to the Backyard to the piece’s concluding movement, Secret Place. It’s not often that we have the privilege to perform a work so deeply personal to the composer. This piece becomes doubly special in that the world it creates and consequently invites the listener into is quite tangible - a yellow house on Newlin Road in Princeton, NJ.

The yellow house on Newlin Road. Photo courtesy Hub New Music.

This past October, Hub New Music had the special privilege of playing Soul House in the Soul House itself. As it turns out, Robert’s parents are selling the house, and we knew we could not pass up the chance to play the piece inside the inspiring place before it was too late. As we prepared to record the work, which was written as a commission for Hub, it also seemed necessary to learn as much about the yellow house on Newlin Road as possible. In a way, it was a musical recon mission.


While we expected to see the Bay Window, the Alcove, and the Hallway we had imagined during rehearsals, we weren’t prepared for the utterly life changing evening that came with performing in that house. As we had the entirely-too-meta experience of performing a piece about a house within that house, we couldn’t help but feel that we became part of the narrative from which Soul House was born. We were living the piece in the physical place that inspired it. And thus, what was already a very personal piece became much more personal. For us, Soul House is not only about Rob’s childhood memories, it’s now colored with our own memories of being there.


Violinist Alyssa Wang tours Robert Honstein’s childhood home. Photo courtesy Hub New Music.

The day of the concert was a long one. We had left another engagement in Ohio at 4 am to catch a flight into Newark, NJ, followed by an afternoon of heavy napping and semi-conscious pizza eating. This is an all too familiar experience for any traveling musician. That evening, about 50 people crammed into the foyer on Newlin Road — members of Robert’s family, colleagues who would soon become new friends and several of his parent’s neighborhood compatriots. The warmth we felt from that audience was indescribable, and would make anyone forget the most daunting of long travel days. The performance was followed by an evening of stories, laughter and a candid round of vodka shots in the Backyard with Rob’s mom. Nights like that only happen a handful of times in one’s life.

Hub New Music performing with Matthew Aucoin and the Asia/America New Music Institute at PEM in 2017. © 2017 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Ken Sawyer

As we prepare for a particularly special performance of Soul House at PEM, in which memories are translated into movement by the brilliance of Urbanity Dance, I’m especially looking forward to recreating the yellow house on Newlin Road for each audience member. In keeping with Bernstein’s words, we aim to “revive” our collective experiences in the Soul House and simultaneously “readapt” PEM’s atrium to become the house in which we had such a life-altering evening. Contemporary music offers a distinct empathetic experience and few works are more resoundly true to that experience than Soul House.

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Hub New Music performing with Matthew Aucoin and the Asia/America New Music Institute at PEM in 2017. © 2017 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Ken Sawyer

Saturday, December 1, 2018 at 8pm

Presented with Hub New Music and Urbanity Dance

Unfolding over nine movements, Robert Honstein’s Soul House is an extended elegy to the composer’s childhood home. Glittering light through a bay window, jovial romps in the backyard and curious introspection in a secret place are translated from memory into movement through the cutting-edge artistry of Urbanity Dance. This exploration of childhood also includes works by composers Anna Clyne, Judd Greenstein and Angélica Negrón, with choreography by Haley Day and lighting design by Mary Ellen Stebbins.

Location: Atrium

$10 members, $15 students, $20 nonmembers

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