October 8, 2018

CIM, Kasumi Films Commemorates Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat with New Interpretation

Kasumi Films
Image credit: Kasumi Films, featuring Martín Céspedes

Stravinsky’s classic Faustian musical tale L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) turns 100 this year. CIM commemorates this special occasion with a brand new interpretation by guest artist Kasumi, who uses her unique story-telling ability through visual presentations in a pointed world premiere. We sat down with Keith Fitch, head of composition and the specialized studies division, for a behind-the-scenes look. 

This was such an innovative program, Dr. Fitch. How did all of this come about? 

Kasumi and I had been talking about this for a while. I know her really well. She was actually one of the first people I met when I moved to Cleveland. I got to know her work, and she’s a fascinating artist. This opportunity presented itself and I thought, “There’s no other person I’d rather do this with.” Generally, we have a guest composer. We perform two or three pieces by that person and figure out what else works with that composer. In this case, Kasumi is our guest artist. She already had a film created for the Esa-Pekka Salonen (Catch and Release), which is the same instrumentation as L’Histoire. So it made sense to program them together. To open up the program, I wanted something else by Stravinsky for continuity. I thought of the Three Movements for String Quartet because they set up the world we’re living in with L’Histoire really well, and they’re pieces that often get studied but people don’t hear them live. 

How does Kasumi work as an artist, and how did that style impact L’Histoire? 

I think Kasumi is one of the true geniuses I know. She builds her works from small clips from extent films. She’s got a library of tens of thousands of these little clips from TV commercials in the fifties, from army training films in the forties. And let’s say, for example, in the Stravinsky movement with the three dances, she might have gone to a file that had “women dancing” and it was two or three hundred little clips of different women dancing from these little tunes, from films, from b-roll. She combines all of these together to create a visual narrative. In this version of L’Histoire there’s no spoken text, no narrator or actors. Kasumi created the complete visual narrative that tells the story as it’s played. In creating this work, we found a recording that we really liked, where the tempi were correct—they were Stravinsky’s tempi—and we decided those were the tempi to use. She coordinated the films with that recording. That was our time template.  

You decided to use a conductor for this interpretation. 

We put a lot of thought into this. Many ensembles do the suite without a conductor. But then the obvious question becomes, “How do you coordinate with the films, in the dark with stand lights?” You can’t rely on normal visual cues. We were really lucky in that [CIM conducting student] Dean Buck had conducted the entire L’Histoire before, so he knew it. He’ll wear headphones, and before each movement there are clicks to indicate the tempo. The thing about Stravinsky’s music is there’s very little rubato, so everything works out as long as the tempo is kept. We’ll rehearse with the films a lot, and the same process for the Salonen. 

For full concert information, click here.
To watch the trailer on Facebook, click here.

– written by Matthew Arnold, recording arts & services office manager