Elizabeth Morgan-Ellis, the voice behind Berio’s 14 Sequenzas, an upcoming show for this year’s Fringe Festival, came all the way from Seattle.
“I grew up on the West Coast, and the West Coast doesn’t have nearly as many artistic opportunities as the East Coast,” Morgan-Ellis said. “I was really excited to come here, so I came all the way from Seattle to go to school.”
Morgan-Ellis, a graduate of Boyer College of Music and Dance, is releasing a considerably broader set of performances that is comprised of 14 different pieces from the recently deceased composer Luciano Berio’s 14 Sequenzas. The show will run from Sept. 18-20 at the First Unitarian Church on Chestnut Street.
The pieces, which were written from 1958 to 2002, are each notoriously intricate and are rarely performed together.
“[They] are generally considered to be the hardest pieces for each instrument, and so using them shows off all of the amazing performances we have to offer in Philadelphia,” Morgan-Ellis said.
Morgan-Ellis will add yet another aspect to the display: instead of sitting in a hall and watching one piece at a time, each audience member can freely wander through six rooms, observing each performance as the sequence unfolds.
“The problem with most musical performances is that if you’re listening to something that you aren’t feeling in the mood for, that you aren’t necessarily enjoying, you are trapped,” Morgan-Ellis said.
Like a radio, the listeners and viewers can switch between different stations, or travel to a different room, to maximize their experience of the show.
“It’s all a matter of you being in control of your own experience, rather than the experience being in control of you,” Morgan-Ellis said.
Each room will be equipped with visual effects that reflect different aspects of each Sequenza. For example, some pieces are related to the era in which the piece was written. There will be rooms set up to mimic the decorative style and popular culture of the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, when Berio wrote many of his pieces.
Others are adorned to inform the audience of the history or story behind the piece. Sequenza III, which will be performed by female vocalist Alize Rozsnyai, was originally written for Berio’s wife, who became his ex-wife by the time he finished the piece. Under Morgan-Ellis’s direction, Rozsnyai will perform the piece with theatrical choreography.
“She’s begging to be allowed to create her own home and her own identity,” Rozsnyai said.
“These pieces frame an entire lifetime of someone,” Morgan-Ellis added.
With FringeArts, Morgan-Ellis discovered experimental territory in art that she had never explored.
“I was just blown away at the capacity of the people in Philadelphia to innovate in the arts,” Morgan-Ellis said. “I was so used to just going to musical performances that were just an instrument on a stage playing.”
Morgan-Ellis began pushing some boundaries of her own when she created her own non-profit company, A Change of Harp, to promote local harpists in Philadelphia. She hopes to not only help local modern composers with these harp pieces, but to change the reputation of the instrument itself.
“The harp doesn’t always play kind of flippant music,” Morgan-Ellis said. “It sometimes plays very meaningful music.”
In Fall 2013, A Change of Harp made its debut on the Philly FringeArts scene by performing a show entirely comprised of talented harpists.
“We just wanted to show off the amazing Philadelphia composers that are at work in our city right now that I don’t even think people know exist,” Morgan-Ellis said.
Angela Gervasi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org