After Conflict, Understanding: Big Grenadilla and Mumbai by Evan Ziporyn, with Sandeep Das, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, conducted by Gil Rose

By Daniel Garrett

Evan Ziporyn, Big Grenadilla and Mumbai
with Sandeep Das, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Gil Rose, Conductor
Produced, edited, mixed by Joel Gordon and Evan Ziporyn
Cantaloupe Music, 2012

Have visions of the world been as divergent in the past as they are now, with some people having no idea or care about life beyond their own neighborhood, town, state, or country, and others believing profoundly that we are all connected, and that other cultures offer lessons and pleasures that we need, and contain threats that can cause our own lives to quake?  Watching the documentary film A Perfect Terrorist (2011), directed by Thomas Jennings, about David Coleman Headley (born Daood Gilani), the viewer learns of Headley, an American citizen of both American and Asian parentage, with a bourgeois American mother and Pakistani broadcaster father, a young man who spent his youth in Pakistan, attending a private military school, and identified more with his Asian heritage; and, after returning to the United States, became first a heroin addict and drug smuggler, then a radical Islamist and a pro-Pakistani, anti-American terrorist, doing reconnaissance and planning work for the November 2008 massacre in Mumbai, India, a city of age, beauty, call centers, castes, tawdry glamour, monsoons, spirituality, and squalor.  David Headley, who had one blue eye and one brown eye, was able to move freely as he was an American citizen, and he had a relationship with an American federal agency that was thought useful.  Before Headley was apprehended as a criminal, he was mapping out a proposed attack in Copenhagen.  Years later, the American, experimental classical musician Evan Ziporyn has created and made public a musical work, Mumbai, inspired by the violent assault in that great, troubled city, partnered with another composition, Big Grenadilla, a clarinet concerto.

Inspired by both nature and music, Evan Ziporyn’s Big Grenadilla, named for the wood that is used to make clarinets, begins with a droning, nearly industrial sound, and is very atmospheric (dramatic, then whimsical), and as it develops one thinks of the Asian (the Chinese, I thought) and the American (the bleating and shrieking of free jazz), before its deeply, thickly sonorous end.  The three-part Mumbai, featuring Indian hand drums, Sandeep Das’s performance on tabla, opens with a ringing gong, and one thinks of time and ritual, of expectations and waiting; and a striking sound, as if on wood, maintains that sense, before the orchestra creates swirls of sound accompanied by a thumping percussion, like giant water drops.  The second movement offers fast beats, seeming tribal, and this part too is very atmospheric—we could be in the city or the country; and there is a rattling, nearly martial rhythm.  Is this the point at which we can imagine an attack of deep malice by men who mastered arms, disguise, espionage, and shock?  Yet, though I can imagine landscape and violence, I do not sense the presence of ordinary people living their lives in a city of tradition and modernity, poverty and wealth.  (A principal focus of the Mumbai attack was the Taj hotel, a grand monument to Indian ambition and prosperity.)  Is that all that mattered, the fight over land and property?  One-hundred and sixty-six people died.  The last part of Mumbai is quiet, slow, soft, sounding like the combination of different kinds of music: orchestral strings and wilder percussion, suggesting old and new, west and east, formality and spontaneity.  Perhaps this is reconciliation.  It does sound wonderfully strange.

The creator of Big Grenadilla and Mumbai, Evan Ziporyn, began playing violin and piano as a baby—he was three years-old, born in Illinois to a violinist father and mother who loved folk and jazz music, and as a boy he picked up the clarinet.  Exposed to European and American progressive music, Evan Ziporyn was inspired to compose; and later studied at Eastman and Yale—but hearing the Balinese gamelan as a young man in 1979 gave him a new direction.  The Yale graduate would travel to Bali, forming instructive relationships with music masters there, before pursuing and completing graduate study in Berkeley, at the University of California; and he would make a vital connection with other composers in New York under the umbrella of Bang on a Can.  Ziporyn has become a significant link as clarinetist, composer, and teacher in serious contemporary music; and his collaborators have included Glenn Branca, Don Byron, Ornette Coleman, Tan Dun, Brian Eno, Philip Glass, Wu Man, Meredith Monk, Thurston Moore, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Paul Simon, Cecil Taylor, Henry Threadgill, and I Nyoman Windha.  Evan Ziporyn has performed around the world, and his priority has remained the intersection of cultures, particularly of eastern and western spheres: and Big Grenadilla and Mumbai, presented together by Cantaloupe, is more evidence of that.

Daniel Garrett, born in Louisiana and a longtime resident of New York, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, was an intern at Africa Report, poetry editor for the male feminist magazine Changing Men, founded and acted as principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, wrote about painter Henry Tanner for Art & Antiques, organized the first interdepartmental environmental justice meeting at Audubon, wrote about fiction and poetry for World Literature Today and international film for Offscreen, and has done music reviews that constitute a history of popular music for The Compulsive Reader.  Daniel Garrett’s work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Black Film Review, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Wax Poetics.

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