Performance Tuesday, April 22, 2014 | 6 PM

collected stories: hero

Zankel Hall
This inventive program, curated by composer-in-residence David Lang, examines the use of music to prop up a heroic character or underscore an anti-hero. Vocalist, harpist, and scholar Benjamin Bagby performs scenes from his dramatic interpretation of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, followed by the Harry Partch Institute Ensemble's performance of The Wayward, Partch’s collection of musical compositions based on the spoken and written words of hobos riding trains, hitchhiking, and searching for nourishment during the Great Depression in the Western United States.

This concert is part of My Time, My Music.


  • Benjamin Bagby, Storyteller and Medieval Harp
  • Harry Partch Institute Ensemble


  • BENJAMIN BAGBY Scenes from Beowulf
  • PARTCH The Wayward
    ·· "
    ·· "
    San Francisco"
    ·· "
    The Letter"
    ·· "
    U.S. Highball"

Event Duration

The printed program will last approximately two and one-half hours, including one 20-minute intermission.


  • Benjamin Bagby

    Benjamin Bagby is descended from a Germanic clan that emigrated from Jutland to northern England circa 630, from where his branch of the family is known to have emigrated to the colony of Virginia almost a millennium later. Following 321 years of subsequent family wanderings, he was born on the shores of Lake Michigan, and 12 years later was captivated by Beowulf.

    Mr. Bagby has been an important figure in the field of medieval musical performance for more than 30 years. After voice and German studies in the United States (Oberlin College and Conservatory) and Switzerland (Schola Cantorum Basiliensis), he and the late Barbara Thornton formed the legendary ensemble Sequentia in 1977 in Cologne, Germany, where the ensemble was based until moving to Paris in 2002.

    Sequentia is renowned for its more than 30 recordings, including the complete works of Hildegard von Bingen, re-released by SONY as a box set (nine CDs) in 2014; and Canticles of Ecstasy, which has sold more than one million copies worldwide and was nominated for a Grammy Award.

    More recently, Mr. Bagby and Sequentia have shifted focus to reflect a growing interest in medieval oral poetry from the oldest known sources, leading to a series of programs grouped under the banner The Lost Songs Project. The resulting recordings include Edda: Myths from Medieval Iceland, The Rheingold Curse, Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper, and Fragments for the End of Time. All of these programs have been heard in New York, and The Rheingold Curse was also staged by Ping Chong for the 2001 Lincoln Center Festival.

    Apart from his research and ensemble work with Sequentia, Mr. Bagby devotes his time to the solo performance of Anglo-Saxon and Germanic oral poetry. An acclaimed solo performance of the Beowulf epic is an ongoing project, with performances given yearly worldwide; a DVD production of his performance, filmed in Sweden by Stellan Olsson, was released in 2007.

    In addition to his activities as singer, harpist, and director of Sequentia, Mr. Bagby writes extensively about performance practice. He lectures and teaches throughout Europe and North America. Since 2005, he teaches medieval music performance practice at the Université Paris-Sorbonne. In 2011, Mr. Bagby was awarded the Howard Mayer Brown Award for lifetime achievement by Early Music America. Visit and for more information.

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  • Harry Partch Institute Ensemble

    The Harry Partch Institute Ensemble performs using original the instruments invented and built by American composer Harry Partch. The ensemble consists of many skilled performers whose backgrounds span a wide range of musical traditions and genres. All have a passion for integrating music with other media and engaging in what Partch termed corporeal performance-using the human body in a musically meaningful way. The Harry Partch Institute Ensemble and the Partch Institute currently reside at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

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About collected stories

At the start, I have to say that I am something of a composer groupie. I love writing music and I love the other people who write music, no matter what kind of music they write or when they wrote it. I really believe that I belong to an international community of composers, stretching across all boundaries of time and place, regardless of style or category.

It's not the way we are normally taught to listen. Music and the people who make it can get separated from each other—by time, culture, genre, commerce. It makes it easy for us if all the different kinds of music stay separated. If everything sits neatly in a particular category, it gets much simpler to find the music you already know and to avoid the music you don't. But because I am a composer groupie, I always want to listen to music outside of these categories so I can pay attention to the things that different kinds of music and composers might have in common, and to consider their differences.

collected stories looks at one of music's more universal functions, namely how often music gets called upon to help tell different kinds of stories. What I am particularly interested in is how the act of composing changes depending on what kind of story the composer is trying to tell.

I started thinking about this in the mid-1990s when I was finishing two commissions at the same time. One was a giant grand opera for Santa Fe, an extravaganza with a big cast and chorus and speaking roles and children and ballet dancers. The other was a loud, aggressively static piece for the English post-rock ensemble Icebreaker. As I went back and forth from one composition to the other, I could really feel my approach change. The opera required me to tell a story, to reveal things in such a way that the audience experienced surprise, shock, elation, and sadness. In the opera, everyone experienced those things pretty much at the same time. The static piece was more like an object, an odd thing that changed very slowly. It didn't tell the listeners much about what they should feel or when they should feel it. I began to notice how my job, my skills, my musicality, my aesthetic sense all changed, depending on the needs of the piece in front of me.

collected stories divides the world not by genre or style, but by the various kinds of stories that a piece of music can tell in order to see how the story and the composer work together. The pieces I chose highlight some of the different ways a composer's job changes. But the truth is that everything on this series is music with which I have a long relationship and that I love. All of it. I hope you will too.

—David Lang

Program Notes


David Lang introduces collected stories


Beowulf ("Battle")
Benjamin Bagby

Part of collected stories, curated by David Lang.
David Lang is the holder of the 2013–2014 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall.
This performance is part of Non-Subscription Events, and collected stories.

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