For the world premiere of the staged version of My Lai, Harris Theater’s brand new commission for the Kronos Quartet composed by Jonathan Berger, will make its debut on Friday, January 29 at 7:30 PM. After outstanding reviews at the concert premiere of My Lai at Stanford University in October, the Harris looks forward to welcoming this deeply emotional and important story to Chicago.My Lai approaches the My Lai massacre through the memory and imagination of Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, Jr., the American Army helicopter pilot who intervened in the events in which American G.I.s killed over 500 Vietnamese villagers, including many women and children.
Hugh Thompson became a passionate and devoted witness of the events of that day, and his testimony in 1970 became critical for the Army’s investigations and prosecution of guilty parties. Thirty years later, Thompson, Lawrence Colburn, and (posthumously) Glenn Andreotta were awarded the Soldier’s Medal for their actions.
“I was in high school when [journalist] Seymour Hersh’s revelations about My Lai first came to light,” composer Jonathan Berger recalled to the Chicago Sun-Times. “Now, working on this new piece for Kronos, I looked at my students [at Stanford] and thought: Thompson and his crew were just kids of your age when they were put into this situation in Vietnam. And telling the story of what they did is of great ethical and social importance. Thompson never felt he was a hero. He was a true patriot, who continued to work for the military, and then in veteran affairs. And I think he died still filled with ambivalent feelings and frustration.”
Thompson grappled with a devastating moral dilemma between following orders, and following his heart. The passionate portrayal of these events through music forces audiences to ask themselves the question: what would you have done? Obviously Thompson decided to take action to help end the massacre, but dozens did not. It begs the question, when do you step in? When do you speak up? What would you have done?
Dramatizing Thompson’s experience, with a libretto by Harriet Scott Chessman, engages audiences in the human story at the center of this historic event. My Lai is more than just a reflection on a particular day, war, or time: it challenges audiences to consider the consequences of human action and inaction, on the scale of society as a whole, and of a single human life.
“Music and the arts are created to make you think, and to express something of importance. My Lai personifies both of these ideas and has audiences confronting their own morality,” said Michael Tiknis, President and Managing Director of Harris Theater. “The music is incredible, evoking such strong emotion while transporting you straight to this particular time, and even more vividly, this specific place: 1968, Vietnam. We are proud to have commissioned such a truly important work of a story that simply has not been told enough; that of the unsung hero who changed history.”
In addition to the world premiere performance, the Harris Theater will host two events the same evening, which will deepen the audience’s experience of this powerful work:
Pre-Performance Lecture by Scott D. Sagan: “The Legacy of My Lai” – 6:00 PM
Scott Sagan, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and an expert in use of force, weapons proliferation, and security in South Asia, will conduct a pre-performance lecture on the historical and political context of My Lai, setting the stage for the world premiere.
Post-Performance Conversation with the Artists
Following the performance, the composer, artists and director will return to the stage to engage in a conversation exploring the inspiration and creative process behind the staged work.
About the Artists:
For more than 40 years, the Kronos Quartet-David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello)-has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually re-imagining the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of their time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 50 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, collaborating with many of the world’s most intriguing and accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning more than 850 works and arrangements for string quartet. In 2011, Kronos became the only recipients of both the Polar Music Prize and the Avery Fisher Prize, two of the most prestigious awards given to musicians. The group’s numerous awards also include a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and “Musicians of the Year” (2003) from Musical America.
Jonathan Berger is widely regarded as one of the foremost living composers. His works include orchestral, chamber, vocal, choral and electro-acoustic music. He has been commissioned by some of today’s most exciting chamber ensembles and has enjoyed commissions and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bourges Festival, Westdeutscher Rundfunk and Chamber Music America. Berger lives in California where he teaches and does research at Stanford University.
Harriet Scott Chessman is a fiction writer, the author of the acclaimed novels Someone Not Really Her Mother, The Beauty of Ordinary Things, Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper, and Ohio Angels. Her fiction has been on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Best Books list and featured on Good Morning, America and in The New York Times, in addition to being translated into ten languages. She has taught creative writing and literature at Yale University (where she gained her PhD in English), Bread Loaf School of English, and Stanford University. This is her first libretto.
With a virtuosic command of gesture, language and song, Rinde Eckert moves beyond the boundaries of what a ‘play,’ a ‘dance piece,’ an ‘opera’ or ‘musical’ might be, in the service of grappling with complex issues. Eckert was named an inaugural Doris Duke Artist in 2012, won a Grammy for Best Small Ensemble Performance as a collaborator on the album Lonely Motel on Cedille Records in 2011, and was a finalist for Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007.
Van-Anh Vanessa Vo devotes her life-long passion and mastery of the dan tranh zither to the creation of distinctive music blended with a cultural essence that can only come from this unique Vietnamese instrument. Among her accomplishments are the 2009 Emmy Award-winning soundtrack for the documentary “Bolinao 52”, which she co-composed and recorded, and the soundtrack for the Sundance best documentary and 2003 Academy Awards nominee “Daughter from Danang”. Van-Anh also co-composed and recorded for the recent documentary “A Village Called Versailles”, winner of the New Orleans Film Festival Audience Award.
Jonathan Berger, composer
Harriet Scott Chessman, librettist
David Harrington, violin
John Sherba, violin
Hank Dutt, viola
Sunny Yang, cello
Rinde Eckert, vocalist
Vân-Ánh Võ, t’r?ng, ?àn b?u, ?àn tranh
Mark DeChiazza, video projections designer
Brian H. Scott, lighting designer
Drew Cameron, creative consultant
Janet Cowperthwaite, producer
Kronos Performing Arts Association, production management