Babylon, Our Own

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Babylon, Our Own (2011)

By Aleksandra Vrebalov (b. 1970)

Aleksandra Vrebalov, a native of the former Yugoslavia, left Serbia in 1995 and continued her education in the United States. She holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan, where she studied with Evan Chambers and Michael Daugherty, and a master’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory, where her teacher was Elinor Armer. She now teaches at the City College of New York.

In 1997 Vrebalov created the Composers’ Forum, a weekly gathering of composition students at Novi Sad University in Serbia. Her cross-disciplinary interests led to participation at seminars and residencies that include the MacDowell Colony, New Dramatists, Rockefeller Bellagio Center, Moral and Mythology in Contemporary Art (Novi Sad), and MultiMedeja (Novi Sad). In 2008, Vrebalov led Summer in Sombor (Serbia), a composition workshop that she co-founded with the South Oxford Six composers’ collective.

Vrebalov’s works have been performed by the Kronos Quartet, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Jorge Caballero, the Sausalito Quartet, Dusan Tynek Dance Company, Ijsbreker, and the Moravian Philharmonic, among others. Her music has been recorded for Nonesuch and Vienna Modern Masters. 

In 2005, Lila was premiered in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall by violinist Ana Milosavljevic. The premiere of the orchestral work Orbits opened the 30th Novi Sad Music Festivities and was broadcast live on national television, on the NS Channel.  The same channel produced a 30-minute television biography of Vrebalov. Her full-length ballet The Widow’s Broom, based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg and choreographed by Boston Ballet’s Viktor Plotnikov, opened the 27th season of the Festival Ballet in Providence, RI.

Vrebalov’s string quartet …hold me, neighbor, in this storm… was written for and recorded by Kronos for the album Floodplain. Her string quartet Pannonia Boundless, also for Kronos, was published by Boosey & Hawkes as part of the Kronos Collection, and recorded for the album Kronos Caravan.

About Babylon, Our Own, Vrebalov writes:

Babylon, Our Own is written for the Kronos Quartet and David Krakauer, and is inspired by their passionate and masterful playing of diverse styles of music. I wrote the piece having in mind their individual characteristics as performers: Krakauer’s ecstatic high register, David Harrington’s uncanny responsiveness in dialogue-like sections, John Sherba’s rare ability to carve the shortest phrase into a precise musical statement, Hank Dutt’s most soulful solos, and Jeffrey Zeigler’s powerful triple-stops and superhuman rhythmic precision. The result is a piece in which times, places and cultures intersect to celebrate music as the language I feel most comfortable with, a language that has brought all of us together.

“The acoustic material – the interplay between clarinet and the individual instruments of the quartet – is a celebration of human relationships and interconnectedness of us all. Each individual part is like a thread in an intricate web, responding to or triggering immediate and distant events throughout the piece.

“I imagine the single-movement form of Babylon, Our Own unfolding like a ritual, carrying one through a vast range of memories and visions triggered by pre-recorded documentary audio materials. Filtered and manipulated to different levels of abstraction, they include snippets of voices of friends, New York City street noise, Kronos Quartet and David Krakauer rehearsing the piece, gatherings of groups in religious fervor, as well as my grandmother reciting the poetry she had learned as a child in the 1930s.

“In non-musical terms and very much inspired by my long relationship with Kronos, my wish with Babylon, Our Own was to create something I’ve always hoped to experience in reality: a moment of high sonic complexity in which all of us – from ‘everyman’ to powerful spiritual leaders – simultaneously join voices in declaring that we all are equal, and that we all need to live in peace.

Babylon, Our Own was commissioned for the 10th anniversary season of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland in College Park.  I especially appreciate the opportunity to continue my relationship with this visionary institution for contemporary music.”



David Krakauer on Aleksandra Vrebalov's "Babylon, Our Own" - Part 1

David Krakauer on Aleksandra Vrebalov's "Babylon, Our Own" - Part 2

"Babylon," a Clarice Smith commission, is a searing 35-minute work, which Vrebalov says unfolds "like a ritual, carrying one through a vast range of memories and visions." Some of those memories must be painfully dark, given the intensity of Krakauer's mournful cries. The clarinet stammered with bursts of staccato notes, as if desperate to spit out a grief-ridden story. Yet there were light moments, too - a fractured waltz, episodes of sweet Klezmer music and flashes of Shostakovich-like sarchasm.

Tom Huizenga, Washington Post

Aleksandra Vrebalov’s Babylon, Our Own was commissioned for Kronos Quartet and David Krakauer by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.


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