A new performance by Angelika Machnik-Jones sheds new light on Krzysztof Penderecki's Notturno
Until his death in 2020 at age 86, Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki created music powered by tension and dissonance, plumbing the depths of the human experience through landmark compositions such as 1960's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. Penderecki's ominous tones and penchant for unsettling atmospherics are paired with rising light effects in From Darkness, cellist Angelika Machnik-Jones' groundbreaking performance of the composer's Notturno for cello.
Machnik-Jones will perform From Darkness with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic live from Oklahoma Contemporary's Te Ata Theater at 6 p.m. Thursday. The sold-out event will stream on Facebook.
For the performance, Machnik-Jones, director and founder of Oklahoma Conservatory of Music, used the work of her fellow Polish artist to create a literal work of artistic illumination, performing Notturno as the lights in the Te Ata Theater rise to meet the music. The chaotic elements of Penderecki's work become transformed by the eventual saturation of light, creating a sense of hope "from darkness."
"The music of Penderecki is extremely powerful," Machnik-Jones said. "There’s really nothing beautiful about it. With the dissonant language that Penderecki creates, I feel that he taps into the darkest parts of our souls. I don’t know if that was something he ever strove to do intentionally, but that’s the effect it has on me.”
“When I was looking for a fitting opening to this program, this piece immediately came to mind. It even inspired me to create a music video of this work. My husband, Dustin Jones, and I shot the video on an old highway bridge near El Reno at sundown. The colors we created with that were so gloomy and ominous. They were exactly what the Notturno represented to me: our darkest secrets, our inner psyche."
Jaime Thompson, director of education and public programs at Oklahoma Contemporary, said that From Darkness presented an opportunity for Oklahoma City Philharmonic and Oklahoma Contemporary to collaborate on an event that illuminates what both organizations offer the community.
"This is a unique opportunity to celebrate local talent through the Philharmonic, but also through Angelika Machnik-Jones,” Thompson said. “We worked through lighting cues to create an enhanced visual experience for the performance that ties to the Penderecki piece she selected. This is a great opportunity for Oklahoma Phil and Oklahoma Contemporary to work together as true partners.”
Balancing the visuals with the music in From Darkness is key to shaping the cumulative effect of the production, said David Pilchman, technical and production manager at Oklahoma Contemporary.
“With this production, we really wanted to focus on the music more than the spectacle," Pilchman said. "We begin the show in darkness, placing the audience in an environment to focus on the sound and not the visual. As we move through the piece, the lighting will begin to crescendo with the music, bringing us to full light. Our challenge will be timing the pace of lighting with the music so it all feels like one continuous motion.”
Machnik-Jones said the effect will likely be different for each viewer as they experience entirely individual feelings based on the visuals, the light and the music.
"The program is a journey, and each audience member can decide on their own what kind of personal journey it is for them," she said. "It begins with our inner fears, taps into the dark parts of our soul, then moves into the struggles that we all face every day. But the light always wins, and in the end we find love, beauty, peace and kindness. It’s important for me to show whoever is listening and watching that there’s always darkness in the world, but it’s up to us to not let it overtake us, and see the love and beauty in each of us instead. And with that struggle, the love is so much more meaningful to us.”
While Penderecki’s work is iconic among 20th century composers, From Darkness shows how great works can be built upon to form a deeper understanding of their themes and even create new perceptions within the audience.
“Artistically, I wanted to show the music also as a visual experience with the changing light throughout the program, and also try to put it into words through the narration, so that it’s not just a concert, but a more immersive and thought-provoking experience," Machnik-Jones said.
Don’t miss the one-of-a-kind performance, streamed here, Thursday.
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