We will be presenting a preview/fundraiser of City of Saint Francis at Capp Street Community Music Center in San Francisco (544 Capp St, San Francisco, CA 94110), Saturday 8pm Feb 28th, 2015. Harriet March Pages Goat Hall Productions will feature scenes from the Opera on their "Fresh Voices" series, July 11th and 12th 2015 also at Capp Street Community Music Center.
In December of 2013 my associate, Jef Anderson and I recorded excerpts from City of Saint Francis, with wonderful singers, Jo Vincent Parks, Nik Nackly, Erina Newkirk, Max Coulter, Sam Rabinowitz, Aisha Campbell and Mete Jasin, at Faultline studios in San Francisco, with Jef on keyboard and Tim Anderson as recording engineer. You will be able to catch some of these fantastic singers at all of the upcoming events. Throughout the intense and demanding rehearsals and recording sessions enthusiasm and professionalism of all involved was rewarding. The result was an exciting CD which will help us in promoting City of Saint Francis.
I have nine CDs available:
These CD's plus the already available; "Matthew Owens Performs His Works for Unaccompanied 'Cello", reflect my travels in Israel, Palestine, Russia and the U.S. Their focus is the unseen, those among us who are trapped in refugee camps, prisons, and on the streets, or those who find themselves otherwise politically marginalized. Even the love poems in "Darkening Blue" center around a street woman who lived in a cardboard box; and Nilsson's film, 'Attitude,' for which I prepared the music with David Feinsmith, was shot largely among the homeless on the outskirts of Berkeley.
All of these CDs, with the exception of "Moscow Live", the two CDs for the film 'Attitude', and "Matthew Owens Performs..." are based on and include my poems. On some of them the music is composed, on some of them it is improvised. Most of the CDs are recorded live. The liner notes describe the circumstances of my travels. The covers, designed by Roberta Pulupa, include my paintings and photos of my encounters.
It has been my practice, before going overseas, to prepare myself by performing here in Berkeley, taking the opportunity to record, as recording can be a problem in the third world. I thank Marvin Saunders of the Berkeley Art Center, and Jon Balily, friend and student, for opening his home to those concerts, and for his care in recording.
I'm grateful to Roberta Pulupa for her many skills – engineering, designing, graphics and computer – and for her patience, and for involving the skills of her husband, Marc Pulupa, as well. Special thanks go to Opsie, much of this would not have happened without her.
Above all, I am forever indebted to the remarkable people I have met on my travels – in the camps, on the streets, in the prisons, and on the road, a road which their shining humanity illuminates for all of us. Please take a look at my new CD's and enjoy.
These last years have kept me busy with a number of projects, including several trips to the middle east; traveling back and forth between Israel and Palestine, performing, reading my poetry, and teaching; and connecting with the peace movement; visiting San Quentin prison, meeting with and performing for the inmates; researching the homeless situation in this country, especially in San Francisco. All of these projects have led to creative endeavors that continue to occupy me. Additionally I have more CD's to produce in my series of live performances from here and abroad, and I have begun to venture into the world of publishing hoping to share various manuscripts with a wider audience. What follows outlines some of this work.
In 1998 I was invited to perform, and to exhibit my paintings in Israel. Setting foot in the Middle-East for the first time led immediately to my desire to connect in some way with the various grass roots movements for peace between Palestine and Israel. I began with teaching at the Edward Laid National Conservatory in the West Bank, which I did for two summers. Over several further visits I met with members of a variety of movements in both Israel and Palestine, performed in schools, refuge camps, universities, spent time on the streets and the homes of West Bank towns, villages, and camps learning much about life under occupation. At the end of this period I felt I could do more here in the States by writing about my experiences, which I did in my book (ms.) “under the Same Sun”, and works for cello and spoken word: “Handful of Red Earth and “The Day 30 Million Voices Said No!”. Though, for a variety of reasons, it has been some time since I have returned to the Middle-East, I have kept up my involvement here, with performances to support the Middle East Children’s Alliance, the Rachel Carrie Foundation, and by speaking on our “Free speech Radio” station, KPFA, about my experiences.
The first time I thought of performing for prison inmates was in my student days. It was three decades later before I finally made my way, with my cello, through the maze of check points of San Quentin prison. Spending time with the inmates on the prison yard, and performing for them in the chapel was one of the most illuminating experiences of my life, and in some ways, mirrored my experiences in the Middle-East. Following my first encounter at San Quentin I wrote “Ain’t Gonna Serve No Time No Mo’” for solo cello and spoken word, for the inmates. I premiered it at San Quentin in a return visit.
The issue of the world’s invisibles, including the poor has been a life-long passion. As a child I found it difficult to pass by the so-called “bums” living in the down town alleyways of Oakland and Hayward CA, where I lived, and ignore them, as I was told. When I was a young teenager in Modesto CA, I often found ways to give money, or food to so-called “wines”. Later, studying in New York city I witnessed scenes of women and men wrapped in furs, emerging from limousines, stepping over human beings lying in the gutter. As a teenager in Modesto I spent part of my summers during high school with my girl friends church group working with the children of migrant laborers, and part of these summers working side by side in the tomato fields with their parents.
In June 2007 I decided it was time to learn more about homelessness and to create a new work on the subject. At that time I had a remarkable encounter with an astonishing woman, a psychic healer. She looked me straight in the eyes, silently for several moments, and then announced, “You are going to write an opera!” A friend put me in touch with the San Francisco Night Ministry, whose director, Lyle Beckman, loved the idea of an opera about the homeless. That summer, I spent many nights with the kind, intelligent, visionary men of the S.F.N.M. on their rounds of the streets of the Tenderloin. After each night on the streets, I returned across the bay to my Café, Fat Apples, in El Cerrito, which opens a 6:45am, and “debriefed” the encounters I had had with a staggering array of beautiful, extraordinary, human beings. The essays I wrote on those mornings served as a basis for my libretto to “City of Saint Francis”. One of my students connected me with a musician who suggested I send my libretto and orchestral score to Goat Hall Productions, so I have now had the pleasure of meeting the splendid Harriet March Page and her wonderful partner Mark Alberger who have taken on the project of producing “City of Saint Francis” on their 2014 season.
Another project has been the start of an auto biography. For sometime, looking back on the period from the mid 50’s to the early 60’s when I grew up in a place called Palma Ceia Village. In Hayward California, I have thought there was something unique to that time and place that I needed to set down. My book (ms) “Palma Ceia Village” came out of those memories and reflections. I have just completed a second book, “Harris Road”, which is an account of our family’s recovery from the disastrous downward spiral that led, among other things, to divorce.
Along with my three manuscripts I am endeavoring to publish a number of stories and poems, and I am happy to write that two of my poems, “The Circle”, and “Hanukah” (which is an account of one of my trips to the Middle-East) are soon to be published by the California Quarterly, and the Alembic, respectively.
I have also written two works on the theme of romantic love – my “Dialogues”, for violin and cello, and my piece for solo cello and spoken text, “Lie Down Beside Me”.
My recent project of producing a series of CD’s of my live performances from Europe, Russia, the Middle-East, and the U.S is in high gear. So over the next few months, more of those CD’s will begin appearing on this website.
I hope to include at least one CD of performances that took place over a two year period at the home of the late Margaret Rowell, the much beloved and internationally revered cello pedagogue. Those were the last years of Margaret’s life. I had kept a deep friendship with her since my days as her student, but in these last two years, Margaret was too feeble for our usual three-hour Monday afternoon dialogue. One afternoon, she seemed so terribly tired – completely ‘there’ mentally, but so tired. She looked out the window at the leaves of a tree that was trembling in the wind. “Oh! How do they know to do that!?” were her words. That afternoon, I got out my cello, near her piano, and began telling ‘fairy stories’, to her and her wonderful Russian caretaker, Klara. I went back and forth between the cello and the piano, weaving my invented stories. Margaret opened up to these stories with such enthusiasm that these performances became a regular thing once or twice a month over those two years. We called them “Fables for a Golden Age”, and in the second year Klara invited people to come up to Margaret’s to listen. It became a kind of underground concert series with the radiant presence of Margaret at the center of every evening. So many of Klara’s friends were coming in from Moscow that those evening led to my first concerts in Russia and the premier of my cello sonata.
The following is a list of some of the works which are or will soon be available on this site.