Louisville composer Rachel Grimes has a new project with some high-profile collaborators.
“The Blue Hour” is an ambitious new composition commissioned and performed by the Boston-based string collective A Far Cry. Grimes — whose work has been performed internationally by groups like the Amsterdam Sinfonietta Trio, the Dublin Guitar Quartet, the Portland Cello Project and the Louisville Orchestra — composed the piece with four other co-composers. They include Sarah Kirkland Snider, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, and Pulitzer prize-winner Caroline Shaw.
“The Blue Hour” is an adaption of the Carolyn Forché poem “On Earth.” It is written from the perspective of a dying woman who creates a listing of images, thousands of them, all in alphabetical order. On the surface, it sounds a little clinical — but the result is an intimate look at the subject’s final hour on earth.
Grimes said she knew the composers wanted to adapt the work of a living American poet.
“I got a couple of Carolyn’s books from the library, and I knew instantly, just from her language and her imagery and the intimacy of her work, that there would probably be something of hers that would work,” she said. “Then when I discovered this longer poem, “On Earth,” well, it’s enormous and beautiful and deep and tragic and glorious — almost too big to even think about approaching.”
The poem is 42-pages long, an epic by modern poetry standards that would result in about a three-hour musical work if performed straight from the text.
The composers approached Forché about adapting the work.
“The very first thing she said was ‘I want you to feel free to adapt this poem, to edit it, to extract what you are inspired to work with,’” Grimes said. “I think there was like stunned silence for a second because it didn’t seem possible that the very first thing she would do would be to offer us this generous opportunity to edit her work in this way. “
In turn, “The Blue Hour” maintains the alphabetized structure of the original poem, but comes in at just over an hour. The performance features the Grammy award-winning lead vocalist, Luciana Souza.
It premiered in Washington D.C. earlier this month, and then traveled to Boston last Friday. The full performance was recorded and can be streamed for free on A Far Cry’s website until November 17th.