GUITAR TALKS: BEN VERDERY

92nd Street Y has been hailed as New York’s home for the guitar, and it is particularly celebrated for its Art of the Guitar concert series.

Benjamin Verdery, Artistic Director of Art of the Guitar, hosts pre-concert conversations with the artists - GUITAR TALKS with BENJAMIN VERDERY.  Free-wheeling and fascinating conversations are filled with insight, reminiscences and anecdotes, reflecting each artist’s unique personality. They are also distinguished by Verdery’s infectious enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge as host.

92Y now presents some of the best from recent years of GUITAR TALKS

NEW COMMISSION – BRYCE DESSNER – GUITAR & STRING QUARTET

With the 92Y, Benjamin Verdery commissioned Bryce Dessner (a former student of Ben’s at Yale University and guitarist with The National) to compose a work for guitar and string quartet. The world premiere is confirmed for 10 May 2018 at Kaufmann Hall, 92Y, New York City. Ben will perform with the renown St Lawrence String Quartet. Bryce Dessner is one of the most sought-after composers of his generation, with a rapidly expanding catalog of works commissioned by leading ensembles.

INFORMATION IS TREACHERY: ANNABEL SOUTAR

 

Information is Treachery
By Annabel Soutar
Playwright and Artistic Director of Les Productions Porte Parole

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a University student, I believed that facts existed and that
the truth about any given topic could be found at the end of a long, circuitous period of
research in the archives of a good library. This belief, of course, was quixotic, but it
instilled a value in me as a young academic that is essential for the constructive exchange of
information between human beings: trust.

This trust was not completely blind. When I read a non-fiction essay, or a news article, I
understood that its content reflected an author’s limited point of view. But that limitation
did not undermine my faith in a source’s legitimacy. I accepted the idea that no author is
omniscient, and tried to learn from the unique slice of truth that a writer offered up to me.
I could be discerning and even exacting about the quality and depth of a writer’s arguments,
but did not worry about how or whether an author was trying to deceive me. I took the risk
of traveling gullibly through a writer’s version of reality without fear of losing sight of my
own.

Today I find that I have become a suspicious and risk-averse reader. My discussions with
peers, friends and family about non-fiction writing increasingly revolve around the ‘agenda’
of its author instead of around the quality of its construct and premise. When I see ideas
presented as ‘facts’ in a news article, I wonder about how they have been doctored. I accept
cynicism about truth as an unspoken tenet of public discourse, and refrain from
pronouncing any idea too categorically for fear of appearing intolerant. I have become
afraid to express myself with conviction about good writing when it contains politically
sensitive content. I sense that I am no longer completely free to do so.

I was asked to write an article for this publication about the role that documentary theatre,
my chosen literary genre, can play today in informing people. I find it necessary to start with
the above preamble, because a discussion about the act of informing people cannot happen
without addressing the times in which one is attempting to do so. And today we are living in
treacherous times with regards to information sharing.

Right now I am compelled to tell you that I am a white, privileged, heterosexual woman. My
plays receive public funding. My mother tongue is English. I lean slightly left of centre
politically. I was born in Montreal - in Westmount to be more precise.

Twenty-five years ago, I would have never felt compelled to share this information with you,
my reader. It would have been considered gratuitous and irrelevant in non-fiction writing,
unless I was addressing some aspect of my identity explicitly. Today I am acutely aware that
these aspects of my identity will be considered foundational to the tone and tenor of this
article and will be highlighted to construct a political message out of my words. I feel that I
should offer them up willingly, to preempt this type of reaction. In the words of the
American historian, Timothy Snyder, I have decided to ‘obey in advance’ to the tyranny of
interpretation that now consumes the world of information sharing, and to accept the
narrow corridor of analysis that my race, socio-economic status, sexual identity, and politics
afford me. I can no longer be trusted to inform you legitimately about experiences beyond
those borders.

Which doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try. Resistance to tyranny, after all, is the order of
the day.

*********

My documentary plays seek to inform an audience by throwing the concepts of identity and
authority to the wind. They are stories built by a writer who seeks pleasure in listening to
other peoples’ stories and passing along that pleasure and those stories to an audience.
They are stories performed by actors who play characters who don’t share their identities.
They reflect my desire to examine universal truths in the theatre, as opposed to advancing a
message about specific identity politics.

When I write a documentary play, I am transparent and unapologetic about my identity as a
narrator. I remind an audience who I am so they can decide for themselves how and
whether or not to trust my recounting of the story they are experiencing. I expose them to
my biases and shortcomings as a witness to reality, so that they may become aware of their
own. I do this because I think the most important precondition for absorbing information
is to remove the stress about being able to do so perfectly. Informing oneself is a human
activity, and therefore delightfully imperfect.

Despite the imperfect nature of my authority, I strive to be a rigorous and patient
documentary narrator. I open myself up to diverse and conflicting points of view and allow
myself to become disoriented in pursuit of clarity on a given subject. I share this
disorientation with my audience so that they may forgive themselves for also becoming
bewildered by the story I am telling them. Real life is complex and contradictory; when we
share information about it, we will collectively be wiser if we accept and enjoy a degree of
chaos. The biggest killjoy and enemy of good documentary narration is control.

And yet control is ever-present in information sharing today. Journalists censor themselves
for fear of offending an over-sensitive readership. Politicians polish their speeches and press
releases to avoid violent social media squalls. Today we read about overt efforts to influence
democracy through misinformation campaigns. The only soil in which these actions could
successfully take root is one in which the nutrient of trust has completely vanished from
storytelling. This is the environment in which I am attempting, with great trepidation, to
converse candidly with an audience today.

The theatre, luckily, is a medium that has always thrived in moments of information tyranny,
because it communicates its essential meaning through subtext, not text. Subtext is available
to a live audience, and to an open-minded reader, without being precisely apparent to
cultural control agents who obsess about narrow, literal meaning. The best plays are ones
that don’t reveal their meaning explicitly, but which offer a diverse audience multiple levels
of meaning. They are plays that trust that an audience will be intelligent enough to reconcile
various meanings without seeking to pin one message on its author.

Today, as a documentary playwright, I feel that my role in informing people is to remind
them to trust their instincts and to forgive themselves for not being perfectly informed
about the world. It is to entreat them to leave Facebook and Twitter for a few hours
everyday and to make contact with a real person who has a real story to tell them about their
actual experience in the world. That story will almost certainly contain truths that will be as
legitimate as a statistic in a news article. The added bonus of the live encounter, however, is
that it will engender some trust between two real people, and that trust – built one
conversation at a time between friends, neighbours, work colleagues and eventually between
politician and citizen - is the foundation upon which we will build the conditions to be truly
well-informed.

Annabel Soutar - Information is Treachery (original English article published in Nouveau Projet (Atelier 10) - S’informer “La trahison de l’information” — fall 2017)

Ben Verdery Releases Purple Haze video

Last May, 50 years after the release of the ground breaking album Are You Experienced, my dear friend Ray White called me to see if I would do an interview discussing my thoughts on Jimi Hendrix.Talk to Ray about my love for Jimi? Are you kidding? I was in! Ray is one of America's most beloved music radio personalities. I listened to Ray on WNEW FM when I was teenager. As it turned out Ray's film crew consisted of two Parisians, Pierre Mitz and Eric Stockplus. We all had so much fun doing the interview that I suggested we do Purple Haze video here in town. A day later, on quite a foggy purple afternoon, we borrowed a friend's down town roof top complete with a pirate flag (!) and shot the video. It is both a tribute to Jimi Hendrix whose music deeply moves me 50 years later and a small tribute to the city he loved so. Ray, Eric, Pierre and I wish you Peace, love and more Jimi!
Ben

THE INTERVIEW WITH RAY WHITE: https://youtu.be/im7TYSEESNs

Ben Verdery releases Searching for a Chorale video

Note from Ben:
Searching for a Chorale was written in November/December 2016 by my mentor Seymour Bernstein. I had asked Seymour to write a piece for me several years ago. During the intermission of a gorgeous recital by our mutual dear friend David Leisner, I turned to him and said, " so, are you going to write a piece for me or what?"

The next morning I received an email from Seymour. Here is a quote from that email:

"I am thinking of a piece for you. You know how Britten resolves his masterpiece into a Dowland prayer? Well I have a favorite Bach chorale to dissolve your piece into. I already began to play around with the chorale."

And so the journey began between composer and performer. After learning Searching.. I had many coaching sessions on the work similar to others I have had with Seymour for the past 30+ years. He at the piano and me next to him with guitar in hand. A bit of our silliness is captured in the first video clip we released announcing the work. At the core of Searching for a Chorale and it's interpretation lay two people's profound love and respect for music and friendship. 

Searching for a Chorale
Composer: Seymour Bernstein
Guitarist: Benjamin Verdery
Recorded at Elm City Records Speak Easy Studios
Recording Producer: Solomon Silber
Recording Engineer : Evan Bakke
Video Filmed by Scott Johnson and Sean Hower of Polyphonic Ind. Maui HI
Video Editor: Mitsuko Verdery
Guitar: Garrett Lee
Strings: D'Addario
Clothing: Fumi
Special Mahalo to all at St. John's Episcopal Church, Kula, Maui HI for allowing to film in this magical church and setting.
Publisher: Doberman-Yippan