FROM ELLEN BACON, PRESIDENT, THE ERNST BACON SOCIETY
Matthew Owens has the gift of eloquence, which shines through in his writings and paintings, as well as his musical compositions.
A PROGRAM ANNOUNCEMENT WRITTEN BY 'CELLIST NICK ANDERSON, 1994
Within the past year, Matthew Owens completed work on his landmark composition, The Pope of Fools, a large-scale chamber-music setting of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo. This piece has been several years in the making, and is a work of important and unusual dimensions by a composer of enormous resources. In the excitement generated by the piece's availability, a number of us who are his musical associates have come together and constructed a program with this work as the centerpiece.
Matthew Owens, well known to concert audiences as a 'cellist, is a remarkable Renaissance Man who is also a highly recognized composer, graphic artist and poet, (based in the Bay Area.) In the present work he tells the story from the Hugo novel in a cycle of nine songs for baritone voice with violin, 'cello and piano, for which he wrote all the lyrics as well as the music. The piece has an almost operatic proportion to it. It is a tribute to his imagination to have tackled this particular story, one that has received relatively little musical treatment in the past, although there have been four major film versions of it. The legendary triangle of Quasimodo, Esmeralda and Frollo is, of course, Hugo's background for a much larger philosophical crucible. It is this issue that the Owens work penetrates with a depth and force that is perhaps uniquely possible in a musical realization. Even though the novel was written in 1831 and set in 1482, the implications brought out by the Owens piece are somehow particularly relevant to our time.
When Pablo Casals was once asked what elements he thought gave music a sense of direction, he said "Exaltation of beauty, logic, consolation, hopethese are what I must find. And they must be presented in an absolutely understandable way. For me, twentieth century music does not do this. For me it is a wrong path." In the midst of an overwhelming trend toward the "wrong path" among the composers who get most of the limelight, it is a breath of fresh air, to say the least, to find a rare and brilliant exception in Matthew Owens. You will find his writing to be accessible and musical to the ear. He is a genuine article from an artistic point of view.
FROM ALAN B. SISKIND, PH.D., EXECUTIVE VICE-PRESIDENT, JEWISH BOARD OF FAMILY AND CHILDREN'S SERVICES, INC
Dear Mr. Anderson:
On behalf of the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, I would like to thank you for your touching and heartfelt performance of [Matthew Owens'] Kol Nidrei at our memorial service for Annaclare van Dalen. The music conveyed a message of inspiration and spirit that set the tone for the morning. I know that Avrom was very pleased that you honored Annaclare with such a beautiful composition and with your superb standard of playing.
FROM RODRIGO SIGAL, COMPOSER
...I was really moved by the cello pieces [on your CD]especially Kol Nidrei. Being a Jew myself, the melody started bringing back multiple feelings and memories. I am very impressed by the performance as well.
FROM GALEN ROWELL, WRITER, PHOTOGRAPHER, CONSERVATIONIST AND SON OF MARGARET ROWELL
December 23, 2000
Many thanks for the CD with your remarkable Rowell Sonata. I've been traveling and spending lots of time at our second home in Bishop, and I've only recently had the pleasure of listening to the whole CD several times. The Kol Nidrei is such a unique arrangement, compared to the one that I heard coming out of the living room, live, several times a week growing up. It's a perfect lead into the Rowell Sonata, which has such bold simplicity in the opening parts of the first movement, as my mother would have loved. It does sound like her in a way that I can't express in words, but you have done in music.
I'm honored by what a wonderful piece you have composed in my mother's name and wish you both critical and commercial success with it. I've got it in my car for a six-hour drive to the mountains, and it has such variety that I might not change it at all!
With warm regards,
FROM DANIEL DAVID FEINSMITH, COMPOSER
I was impressed by your instrumental facility, expressive subtlety and range, and improvisational ear.
FROM CHRIS WHITE, NEW DIRECTIONS CELLO ASSOCIATION AND FESTIVAL
...I was struck by the beauty and artistry of your cello playing and compositions.
Matthew's new CD "Matthew Owens performs his works for unaccompanied cello" was recently featured in the Bay Area-based Nightletter Theater production "The Waiting Room," written by Arthur and Sydney Carson.
FROM SYDNEY CARSON, DIRECTOR, NIGHTLETTER THEATER
In the last scene of "The Waiting Room," a play that was presented in SF in the fall of 2000, we used Matthew's beautiful, emotive cello music to bring back the voices of the main characters from a limbo to which the characters had returned after a brief hour on stage .His music gives the words an emotional depth and strangeness that we found astonishing.
The piece ends on the lovely, plaintive sounds of the voices disappearing into Matthew's cello music. Matthew is an extraordinary musician whose music we feel privileged to have been able to use in our theater production.
ABOUT THE NIGHTLETTER THEATER
Sydney and Arthur Carson have written, co-directed and designed all Nightletter Theater's twelve performance works. Sydney Carson teaches acting, performance, installation art and literature at California College of Arts & Crafts. Arthur is a writer, photographer and sound designer. They are both involved in all the aspects of creating theater. For many years their work has focused on discovering new theatrical ideas by layering text, imagery and sound.
The goal of Nightletter Theater, a collaborative, multi-disciplinary theater/performance group, is to create an evocative visual reality in which live performance, video, film, slide projection, sound composition, sculptural elements, puppets and masks are used to explore the landscape of the mind and to reveal its rich, unconscious processes. Their original works take up to two years of active development. All performances by Nightletter to dateincluding "Nightletters" (1980), "Hour in Glass" (1981), "Mind Freight" (1982-83), "Auspices of Blackbirds" (1985-85), "Ulterior Rooms" (1986-87), "Mind Freight" (1987-88), "Puddle Travelers" (1989-90), "Private Eye" (1991-92), "It's About Time: an installation" (1993), "Hungry Tree" (1995-96), and "Persephone's Dream" (1998)have involved collaborations of up to twenty and sometimes as many as thirty artists.
Sydney and Arthur have taken great leaps forward in the theatrical expression of the non-linear nature of the human mind and psyche. It was a pleasure to be involved with them and their work. Matthew Owens
Matthew Owens’ powerful work addresses the condition of the American City, revealing its despair, craziness, humor and tragedy. Centering on Meshach’s search for his father, Owens’ remarkable orchestration creates a world of contrasts in its eloquent rhythms, poignant melodies and striking harmonies, all beautifully held together in this masterful composition.
City of Saint Francis speaks to our times, launching us into a world of collisions and contrasts, challenging us to confront what we prefer to deem invisible. An audience with the leisured luxury of listening to classical music, we now find our attention directed to the speech and stories of San Francisco’s homeless street-people. Inspired by the nights he spent among the homeless with a San Francisco street mission, Matthew Owens’ libretto is a tremendous feat of language: it captures the rhythm and dynamism of language on the streets, and the narrative shapes of the stories that unfold there. In constant motion, the shifting life of the city streets brings characters to the foreground, only to steal them back into its unforgiving under-life. In the words that they speak we hear coarseness, wit, banality and dignity, and song of indictment, lament and hope for the society that binds us all.
City of Saint Francis impresses me as a brilliant and highly original work, on a number of levels. Its dramatic narrative tells a story that is not only deeply human and affecting as a piece of storytelling, but which reveals onstage one of the most poignant and thorny public issues of our time: homelessness. The timeliness of this, in the form of an opera, is startling and hugely memorable. As a piece of musical drama, it combines vividly drawn characters and beautiful poetry with an interweaving of musical elements that authentically reflect our own era as well as the lives of people who live on the streets.
As a further outstanding element, the orchestration supports the text and vocal lines with a multi-level musical vision that wonderfully fulfills the promise and meaning of the story. This is opera, and the orchestral achievement here gives the piece the richness and size that opera demands.
This is a work that simply must be seen now, in this city where the story takes place.
The text is full of emotion and sensitivity, a thrilling exploration of childhood and its whirlwind of wonder and pain, insight and misunderstandings. A precocious and sensitive child, Matt navigates his parents’ unhappy marriage, the politics and hierarchies of the Palma Ceia Village kids, and his growing love of music (the author is a professional cellist). The voice, personality, and aspects of the style happily reminded me of William Saroyan, one of the best chroniclers of childhood out there (in my humble opinion).
© Matthew Owens, 2004-2011