Eastman Centennial concert features alum’s composition about Georgia O’Keeffe 

click to enlarge The Eastman Philharmonia, led by Neil Varon, rehearses "The Brightness of Light" for the Oct. 1 centennial performance. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • The Eastman Philharmonia, led by Neil Varon, rehearses "The Brightness of Light" for the Oct. 1 centennial performance.
Eastman School of Music alumnus Kevin Puts would not have composed “The Brightness of Light” without the school co-commissioning the work. So it makes sense that the Rochester premiere of the composition will be on the program of Eastman Philharmonia’s Oct. 1 concert, which is part of the Eastman School’s centennial celebrations.

“The Brightness of Light” details the power-couple relationship between painter Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, which they maintained through a correspondence that lasted more than 30 years. “The Brightness of Light” is a song cycle, a collection of songs centered on a common theme.
click to enlarge 1918 portrait of Georgia O'Keefe by Alfred Stieglitz. - PUBLIC DOMAIN
  • 1918 portrait of Georgia O'Keefe by Alfred Stieglitz.

“It’s just very meaningful for me to be back at Eastman in this capacity, to have such a central part in these centennial celebrations,” Puts says of the Oct. 1 performance. “Because Eastman, it meant so much to me as a student. I loved it there, I mean, I really loved it there. I did two degrees there: I spent seven years at Eastman doing my undergrad and my doctorate. So the school just has a kind of magical mystique for me. I still feel that way when I go through the doors of it.”

Soprano Nicole Cabell, a fellow Eastman alumnus who is assistant professor of voice at the school, sings the role of Georgia O’Keefe in the Rochester premiere of “The Brightness of Light.”
Cabell says that O’Keeffe’s sensuality and sense of poetry are apparent in her letters. “You have to embody what you think the emotions are, but not try to be Georgia O’Keeffe having the emotion,” she says.

Compared to its predecessor, “The Brightness of Light” more specifically centers on O’Keeffe’s relationship with Stieglitz, although not exclusively.

“There’s a certain kind of austere sense about her image, about the way people think of her as a public figure,” Puts says of O’Keeffe. “She was known for being kind of prickly. There’s a little of that in her letters, but of course there’s a lot more humor. She could be very capricious. She could be funny and light.

“Especially compared to Alfred Stieglitz's letters, she is more spare in the way she communicates things. She's not as effusive. Stieglitz was so romantic. He would just ramble on and on in a very sort of emotional, impassioned way. And she did, I would say, say more in fewer words. And I suppose that's there in her art as well. Her art is very direct.”

Eastman School of Music’s centennial concert featuring “The Brightness of Light” takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, at Eastman Theatre’s Kodak Hall. Tickets are $10. esm.rochester.edu/theatre.

An additional centennial event, “Prism Concert: ‘Centennial Rhapsody,’” takes place the day prior at 8 p.m., and features the Eastman Wind Ensemble and Eastman Chorale.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY's arts editor. He can be reached at [email protected].
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