Georg Friedrich Haas — Hyena
© Wien-Modern/ Markus Sepperer
© Wien-Modern/ Markus Sepperer
© Wien-Modern/ Markus Sepperer
© Wien-Modern/ Markus Sepperer



A very personal story written by Mollena Lee Williams Haas, who is by herself performing her inner talk with her very own "Hyena" – her abuse of alcoholism – intensified by her husband Georg Friedrich Haas' composition.

Mollena Lee Williams–Haas and Georg Friedrich Haas about Hyena:

Georg Friedrich Haas: Ever since I’ve begun working as a composer, my focus has been on integrating spoken language into my music – starting with the Fragment for 29 Speaking Voices for school choir in 1979 up to my opera Morgen und Abend [Morning and Evening], in which one of the central roles is performed by an actor, and das kleine ICH BIN ICH [the little I AM ME] for speaking voice and chamber ensemble (2015 resp. 2016). My wife Mollena Williams appears publicly as professional storyteller. It seemed natural to make use of our personal closeness to create a joint artistic project.
 
Mollena Lee Williams-Haas: I never wanted to talk about my recovery from alcoholism. It feels too personal and, in a way, already explored in every medium, ad nauseam. I had been invited to a very prestigious storytelling evening in San Francisco – Porchlight Storytelling – and when I was asked what I wanted to talk about my first thought out of nowhere was “Definitely NOT about going to rehab”. And so of course I was terrified, and so of course I HAD TO do it. The folks who hosted that event were hesitant for many of the same reasons I was, but then I found myself having to “sell” them an idea that I really was terrified to share. The paradox drove the performance. Afterward, over 50 people stood in a line to personally talk to me about how they related to my story... either people themselves in recovery or who had a loved one in the same struggle. It was humbling. The producer for an amazing radioshow called “Snap Judgement” was in the audience and she invited me to tell the story for their program. That took it to a whole new level. When Georg suggested to make this a collaboration, I was again dizzy with fear and absolutely screamed on the inside that this was a Bad Idea. Therefore, I knew it had to be done.

Mollena’s texts are of a very intense quality. And I know how capable she is of communicating content. I know how strong the impact of her artistic personality can be. For me, it is a challenge to create an apposite framework of sound – to find a musical expression for this existential borderline situation. And yet give the narrative precedence.

That is something you have done before, with operas. How does this feel different?

In my opera Nacht [Night], the spoken text was precisely composed – I set down complex rhythms of speech and an approximate indication of the pitch change. In the opera Die schöne Wunde [The Beautiful Wound] which was premièred in 2003, the text is spoken freely, but it mostly consists of just a few words, which had to be recited at precisely specified times. Back then, I also indicated the exact speed. In Bluthaus [Blood-House] and Koma [Coma] I apply special techniques with the aim of synchronising free speech: percussion instruments guide the actors and there are interconnected language-scores which indicate where one speaking voice should cut across another.Morgen und Abend [Morning and Evening] and das kleine ICH BIN ICH [the little I AM ME] also include extended passages in which longer sentences should be spoken within a certain fixed period. This is what I’ve taken further in Hyena: Here, extended text passages will be spoken freely, the voice can react spontaneously to the particular sounds from the orchestra, pick up speed, slow down, grow louder or fainter; it can overarticulate consonants – whatever. This becomes possible because here – as opposed to my operas – the speaking voice has to be electronically amplified.

I think that helps to allay some of my initial terror. As a trained actor, I am accustomed to strict interpretation, to pre-ordained blocking [coordination of played onstage movements] of scenes, however as a professional storyteller I am free to play with the audience, the timing, my own interpretation in the moment, to bring the piece to life. I was afraid that this more rigid structure would bleed out so much of what I love and cherish about storytelling, which is the connection with the audience without restriction. But after speaking with the conductor, Bas [Wiegers], and his assurances that he would be able to guide myself and the orchestra together, it felt more achievable. I suggested to you the approach of writing the piece as a connected flow of modular emotional musical phrases that would envelop, support and interweave each particular story segment, underscoring that piece, then transitioning (either abruptly or smoothly, as is needed) into the next bit. An emotional fugue of words, if you will. And that made sense to you, which also lifted up my confidence. This also may help me to keep pace with the story internally. This is extremely vulnerable and, frankly, terrifying for me. It is a strange tale, and I am trusting a great deal in the audience to hear what I have to say and feel what I have felt.

For me as composer this is easier. The language of music is not that direct or unambiguous. I don’t have to describe any details or expose myself with words. The musical expression’s truth – however exhibitionistic it may be – always remains abstract. As I see it, my task consists in generating an emotional framework for your story which protects you. An emotional basis to support you.

Your trusting in me to tell the story has given me at least enough bravery to share. There are so many people who struggle with so many addictions... so many folks who love people who struggle. It is rare that our lives aren’t touched, in some way, by addiction. Stories can be the perfect way to share the reality of the weight of this fear and pain. And, in the case of my story, ultimately redemption. It might seem like a contemporary fairytale, or the tracing of a descent into madness. I’ve heard all sorts of theories about my experiences, from the possibility of a psychotic episode of unusual duration, to a spiritual journey, to spontaneous Gestalttherapy, to the opening of the eyes of a prophet to the will of God. But whatever the listener’s interpretation is, THAT is not my business. They can, will and must make their own interpretation of the story. In the same way as no two people will listen to any of your pieces and walk away with the same conclusions or emotional experience, everyone will take away what they need from my story. I am apprehensive about this project, about how it will be received, and yet mightily compelled to share, to tell the story, to talk about what it means to see your darkest aspect and live to tell the tale. 

(Mollena Lee Williams–Haas and Georg Friedrich Haas, 2016)

A vividly described account of alcoholic addiction and rehab by the composer's wife Mollena Lee Williams–Haas.
The Times

Während die tremolierenden Glissandi des Klangforum Wien Unruhe und liegende Obertonklänge den trügerischen Frieden des Rausches illustrierten, wurde die Wahrnehmung weitgehend von der Präsenz der Erzählerin Mollena Lee Williams-Haas dominiert.
Wiener Zeitung

12 November 2016
7.30 p.m.
Vienna, Konzerthaus, Großer Saal science? fiction! Demons UA UA

Enlightenment may have banished the demons to the underworld of non-existence, but this doesn’t prevent them from ruling our hearts and senses. Georg Friedrich Haas and Mollena Lee Williams-Haas know how to deal with them.

Georg Friedrich Haas — Hyena UA
   
Georg Friedrich Haas (music)/ Mollena Lee Williams-Haas (text)

Mollena Lee Williams-Haas, Soloist
Klangforum Wien
conductor: Bas Wiegers

Georg Friedrich Haas — 9. Streichquartett UA

JACK Quartet

19 November 2016
10 p.m.
Huddersfield, St. Paul‘s Hall Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival Hyena EA UA

Georg Friedrich Haas — Hyena
   
Georg Friedrich Haas (music)/ Mollena Lee Williams-Haas (text)

Mollena Lee Williams-Haas, Soloist
Klangforum Wien

conductor: Bas Wiegers

Georg Friedrich Haas — String Quartet No 10 UA

Arditti Quartet

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