Chomsky Suite + A Toronto Symphony


(left) Andy Ryan. (middle) Caroline Alden. (right) Creative Commons.

Image credit: (left) Andy Ryan. (middle) Caroline Alden. (right) Creative Commons.

Friday — Saturday
May 8, 2020 —
May 9, 2020
7:00pm — 7:00pm ET

As part of its ongoing weekend concert series, Arts at MIT will present two works by Tod Machover, Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media, Academic Head of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences, and director of the Media Lab's Opera of the Future research group.  Concert links will be shared on Arts at MIT's Facebook and Twitter profiles.  

Friday, May 8 at 7pm 
Chomsky Suite (2011). Originally presented at MIT 150 Festival of Art, Science and Technology. 

Saturday, May 9 at 7pm
MITSO performs A Toronto Symphony by Tod Machover. US Premiere!

Chomsky Suite

Chomsky Suite (2011) was composed by Tod Machover for Noam Chomsky and the Kronos Quartet as part of the FAST Festival in celebration of MIT’s 150th anniversary. It was premiered at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium on April 11, 2011 during the Festival’s New Music Marathon, curated by Evan Ziporyn. 

Machover says of the work: “I was asked to create a piece for the Kronos Quartet based on Noam Chomsky’s work. I decided that it didn’t feel right to set Chomsky's words to music; instead I wanted Chomsky to appear on stage with the quartet. I didn’t want to script a narration, but rather to set up a situation where Chomsky would respond in the moment to what he was hearing, and—prompted by onstage questions from Kronos’ founder and violinist, David Harrington—would hopefully address key issues from his work, his life, his activism, and his lifelong love of music. So I composed music based on Bach’s Cello Suite No.1, designed so that it would inspire Chomsky to listen, reflect and respond, with the music in turn responding to whatever Chomsky ended up saying. (I chose the Bach because Noam had told me that it was a key piece in his life, as it has been in mine.) David Harrington and I spent a lot of time planning the event together, and we also spoke numerous times with Chomsky. But we didn’t let Noam know ahead of time exactly what would happen on stage, nor did he hear any of the music in advance. Chomsky Suite has five movements; the speaker listens in movements one, three and five, and responds in movements two and four. This performance was enhanced by live video produced by Peter Torpey, which included multiple video feeds of the performance as well as video of Chomsky on stage by videographer Joan Logue. Video captured was edited by Paula Aguilera and Jonathan Williams into the version we are delighted to be able to share with you now.” 


MIT Media Lab

A Toronto Symphony

A Toronto Symphony is the first of Tod Machover’s City Symphonies. It was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, who premiered the piece in March 2013. With this project, Machover “rethought the symphony as a community event” (Musical America), a portrait of a place created for and by the people who live there. 

When Machover launched the project publicly in 2012, he explained that the goal was to create a sonic portrait of Toronto by “listening” to the city in order to discover its special features. As part of the process, he invited all Torontonians to collect and submit their favorite sounds of the city and also to create original musical compositions using the Media Lab’s Hyperscore software. Then, everyone was invited to engage in online and in-person workshops and activities to help shape the composition itself. The result produced a model which Machover and his team have brought to cities around the world.

The MIT Symphony Orchestra (MITSO), led by Evan Ziporyn, programmed A Toronto Symphony for a concert that was  to have taken place on March 13, 2020. For this occasion, Machover revised the composition and also invited the student players of MITSO to collaborate with him to create a new section of the piece, now called “MIT Interprets Toronto,” a new twist on the City Symphony model. 

Another surprise was in store for the project when it was announced that MIT had to shut down—and students needed to leave campus—on March 13, the very day of the concert, which needed, of course, to be cancelled. However, the MITSO players voted to come in for what would have been the dress rehearsal on the evening of March 12, to play together for one last time before dispersing, and to record the music for the concert. 

The video you will see on May 9 is the produce of that March 12 recording, filmed by Peter Torpey, Paula Aguilera, and Jonathan Williams. Torpey, who created the original visuals for the Toronto premiere, combined live footage of MITSO with collected visuals from Toronto, and added evocative new material as well. The video of Toronto’s CN Tower in the Toronto Dances finale is live footage from the 2013 premiere, when Machover, Torpey, and team synchronized the tower’s LED lighting to the orchestral performance, which was broadcast by the CBC. 

Of this video performance, Tod Machover says: “Although we were not able to give the public performance of A Toronto Symphony as planned, it is especially meaningful to have this documentation of the piece that represents months of devoted work by MITSO and Evan Ziporyn. I am delighted that these young musicians were able to perform this difficult music so well. I’m also pleased that the piece ’transposed’ smoothly from Toronto to Cambridge (complete with a new section), and that orchestral music, electronics, 'found' sounds, and multilayered visuals are combined just as I originally imagined them.”

For more information on City Symphonies and A Toronto Symphony, check out these videos and articles, full of detailed explanations from Tod about the ideas and the process behind the projects.

Symphonies WITHOUT Orchestras, “Cities without…” Conference, (Hamburg 2019)
The Sonic City, CityLab Conference (Detroit, 2018)
Original Video Trailer for A Toronto Symphony
A Toronto Symphony Blog (videos, media coverage, other fun stuff)
The Future of Digital Musical Expression - World Frontiers Forum (Berlin, 2019)
A Toronto Symphony, Tod Machover’s participatory orchestral opera,” LOFT Magazine 

For more on Philadelphia Voices: 
How a Philly Cheesesteak Goes From the Grill to Carnegie Hall The New York Times,  2018
Program Booklet for Philadelphia Voices, including notes, texts, and more

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