Robert Spano, music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, is accustomed to the white-tie-and-tails interior of the Woodruff Arts Center, so performing at the Goat Farm is a bit of a switch.
Yes, he’ll be in a 100-year-old factory, with cracked windows and no air conditioning. With goats on the property. And did we mention he might be playing piano while in an animal-head mask? That’s also a first.
But Spano, 53, is game, mostly because he’s delighted to be working with Lauri Stallings of Glo. Their multimedia collaboration is called “Cloth,” and consists of Stallings’ choreography, set to Spano’s original music, plus sculpture from Audrey Morrison and film from Micah and Whitney Stansell, all echoing in a custom-built oval performance space inside the primitive interior of Goodson Yard.
The work premieres Sept. 10 in the West Midtown arts venue, and marks the second time Spano and Stallings have joined forces. (In 2011, they worked together on “Maa,” an experimental hit that involved covering the stage at Symphony Hall with sod.)
“The Tower,” presented during the second part of the evening, has Stallings’ troupe dancing to a version of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” performed by Spano and Bosnian keyboardist Pedja Muzijevic on two pianos and two ASO percussionists.
Spano began writing ‘”Cloth,” the music for the first half of the evening, during 10 days at the Hermitage artists colony in Englewood, Fla. Then he carried the project with him during tours of New York; Boston; Helsinki, Finland; London and Scotland. In each new city, he rented an electric piano for his hotel room, composing in the spare moments between travel and concert hall.
“No one’s heard it, but it’s been all over the place,” said Spano, speaking a few weeks before opening night. Notably, at the time of that conversation, he was still working on the solo piano composition, and delivering pieces of it to Stallings, who was creating movements for it one section at a time.
“I sketch a lot and reject a lot,” Spano said. “I write a lot of endings.”
He doesn’t use music software. “I’m old: That means I use a pencil and paper.” His manuscript, coffee stains and all, reveals a 20-plus-minute composition that is episodic, like “Rite of Spring,” but less strident and more contemplative.
Spano said he enjoyed imagining what Stallings’ dancers would do with his music, “though I know what she’ll be having them do is far greater than my imagination.”
The setting is an unusual one for Spano. The dancers will be wearing animal-head masks created by Morrison, and Stallings said there is a mask waiting for Spano, too.
This colorful outing comes as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra finds itself again embroiled in contract negotiations. The symphony musicians’ current contract, negotiated two years ago with ASO management after a lockout and many heated words, elapses Sept. 6.
Spano said the experimental piece came out of his discussions with Stallings of the “classical elements” — earth, air, fire and water. They also spoke about how the words for weaving and for rational thought are etymologically connected.
The Old English root “ar,” he said, gives rise to words such as “arts,” “army,” “creation,” primordial,” “riddle” and the Latin “ordo,” a word for “row” (as well as “order”), hence the connection to textiles.
“Cloth,” said Spano, “is about the original mystery.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.