Speak, Memory


Common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.

Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of Time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the gray gap between black beats: the Tender Interval.
-Vladimir Nabokov

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
-T. S. Eliot

We embark on a journey through a river of memories - a continuous stream of time past, present, and the imagined future. We travel through different velocities and intensities of perception - a limpid stream in parts, a raging rapid in others. Different lanes of memory are accessed by music both old and new, notated and improvised. The memories of the performer, composer, instrument, and ultimately those of the listener, combine to form a multifaceted present.

Strains of the past play upon entry, an amalgamation of old records, radio static, interviews - we explore elements of nostalgia through sound. The sounds intensify; from the cacophony of church bells and rhythms of passing trains and vehicles, we plunge into the lowest drones of the cello. We explore the natural overtone series of the instrument, as well as the memories contained within - each note encapsulates a world of its own. John Tavener’s Lament for Phaedra bridges time past and present; the harmonic modes of the ancient past are accentuated by live improvisations. The voice of Hildegard von Bingen, polymath of the 1100s, emerges from the heights of cello harmonics, and morphs into Julie Zhu’s Eleison, an exploration of sounds and musical gestures birthed through compelling visual imagery.

Peter Kramer’s Circle Circle throws us back into the present - a confluence of harmonic modes of the past with an entirely modern sound world. Kaija Saariaho’s ethereal butterflies emerge out of darkness, each recognizably present yet never fully within our grasp (Sept Papillons). The butterflies give rise to storm, their fluttering paths seeding the violent throes of a tornado. Christopher Stark’s Fire Ecologies emerge from the crashes of thunder; an affecting ode to mother nature follows. The music ends, and strains of human life take over - we end abruptly in darkness, back where we began.

About the Performer

Issei Herr embraces openness and vulnerability, a sense of wonder and exploration, and a search for truth and beauty through the vast expressive sound worlds of the cello. Wielding between an expansive array of stylistic genres and time periods, from notated music to improvised, acoustic to electronic, Issei maintains a commitment to musical discovery in every facet of their performing endeavors.

Highlights of the 2021 season include performances with musical artist Rachika Nayar at The Shed, Knockdown Center, Elsewhere Rooftop, and Market Hotel; performances across the United States with Unheard-of Ensemble, from the waters of the Gowanus Canal to spaces in Texas, Ohio, and beyond; performances in New York with electroacoustic ensemble PinkNoise; and a solo performance at St. John’s in the Village, New York. Past highlights included a series of duo concerts with distinguished violinist Rolf Schulte in Mexico and New York, a solo concert tour in Oregon, a collaborative performance art project with choreographer Mary Armentrout in San Francisco, performances in Guangzhou and Shanghai with PinkNoise, and a recording of the complete solo cello suites of Bach.

Committed to musical partnership and cross-disciplinary endeavors, Issei is a fervid collaborator. Highlights of past partnerships include a video collaboration with composer and visual artist Julie Zhu and artist Chong Gu. Issei also recently performed a fully improvised set with Rachika Nayar, at the Shaker Mountain Festival in New York. Issei has worked closely with some of the leading classical composers of our time, including Mario Davidovsky, Kaija Saariaho, Nico Muhly, and Augusta Read Thomas. In 2020, they performed the world premiere of composer Nico Muhly’s solo cello work “Overture Study”, as part of a commission by St. John’s in the Village.

Issei completed musical training at The Juilliard School, as a student of pioneering cellist Fred Sherry.


Musical selections:
John Tavener, Lament for Phaedra
Hildegard von Bingen, Kyrie eleison
Julie Zhu, Eleison
Peter Kramer, Circle Circle
Kaija Saariaho, Sept Papillons
Christopher Stark, Fire Ecologies
Improvisations and original compositions by Issei Herr

Lament for Phaedra by Chong Gu
Eleison by Julie Zhu
Sept Papillons by XUAN
Fire Ecologies by Zlatko Ćosić

Set design: Chong Gu
Sound design/engineer: Ford Fourqurean
Lighting consultant: Jacob Wesson
Graphics: Dayi Novas

Special thanks to Chong Gu, Rachika Nayar, Ya-Lan Chan, Taiga Hashimoto, and Dylan DeWald.
©2022 Issei Herr | web design by Michiko Kishi
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