During a Creative Fusion residency at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Serbian composer (and Kronos Quartet’s longtime friend and collaborator) Aleksandra Vrebalov wrote ANTENNAE, after she was inspired by the museum’s Virgin Eleousa, a 15th-century icon attributed to the Greek artist Angelos Akotantos. Originally conceived of as a site-specific sound experience featuring members of the Serbian Orthodox Kovilj Monastery choir, 60 local singers, four trumpets, two organs, and percussion, ANTENNAE was intended to be “a human tuning fork through which we align and for a moment sustain a common frequency.” The work was to receive its world premiere on March 27, 2020. The event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response, Vrebalov created an adaptation and arrangement of a short fragment of ANTENNAE during the first week of April 2020, while in home isolation in Novi Sad, Serbia. As she developed the work with Kronos, whose members are spread across San Francisco as they shelter in place, and Monk Hierotheos at the Kovilj Monastery in Northern Serbia, she still found a way to accomplish its goal “to tune in to this other, nonverbal level and to feel what it is like when we harmonize.” With this collaborative video, ANTENNAE receives its world premiere just 18 days behind schedule.
“The world is at a halt and most of us have been in isolation, stripped of our external identities,” Vrebalov writes. “If we’re fortunate to be healthy, I think we all wish at this moment that we could do something concrete to help others heal as quickly as possible. I never rehearsed, performed, and recorded a new work with Kronos without being in the same room at some point during that process. But as surreal as this process has been, we made something very real that taps into the raw, lonely uncertainty of this moment that defines our collective experience. At the same time, even being physically apart, I feel that through creativity and music we communicated care and compassion for one another and the entire human family.”
“We had no experience recording or filming ourselves,” writes David Harrington, Kronos Quartet’s artistic director, founder and violinist, of the experience of making ANTENNAE. “We played our instruments alone in our separate homes and tried to imagine and remember our group. We couldn’t hear each other or see each other. We needed proof that our work could continue. Aleksandra, Monk Hierotheos, and Jovan are in Serbia. We are in San Francisco. Aleksandra’s ANTENNAE fragment receives its world premiere in a different way than any piece we have ever played. Within the strangeness of now, there is energy and glimmers of light. We are grateful to our staff and the community of music lovers. With much help, we can move forward.”
In ANTENNAE, Monk Hierotheos chants in old Slavonic an excerpt of “The Secret Command,” the Apolytikion of the Saturday of the Akathist (the fifth Saturday of Lent) in plagal fourth mode.
Audio and video documentation was captured by Kronos Quartet, with support from the Kronos Performing Arts Association, and Monk Hierotheos. Audio mix and video editing by Jovan Shpira Obradovic.
ANTENNAE was commissioned by the Cleveland Museum of Art in partnership with the Cleveland Foundation.