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Mont Levy '69

March 5, 2017

Mont Levy '69 was featured in the 3.05.17 St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a preview of The Cave, which will be performed at Burroughs on March 11 and 12. "When Steve Reich’s The Cave has its St. Louis premiere next weekend, it will be the product of a 24-year quest. The Cave, with music by Reich and video by his wife, Beryl Korbut, is a 2½-hour multimedia opera. The title refers to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, on the West Bank, a site sacred to all three of the Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — where Abraham, Sarah and other patriarchs and matriarchs of the Bible are said to be buried. The content is taken from responses from Israelis, Palestinians and Americans who were asked such questions as 'Who is Abraham?' Mont Levy has wanted to see The Cave produced since he encountered it at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1993. 'I happened on this gallery with pulsing music and video screens. I wandered in to see what it was about, and two hours later I had experienced The Cave.’ Levy found it artistically gripping. 'But the messages of it — the learning that I got about common roots and this shared history, with a totally distinct narrative — I found fascinating and compelling. It was just clear that this is a great vehicle for interfaith dialogue and understanding.' Levy is a member of the philanthropic Levy family; his mother is Sally S. Levy, for whom Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ home is named. The vice chair of the American Jewish Committee’s Interreligious Affairs Commission, he was already involved in interfaith initiatives when he saw The Cave. Those include Arts & Faith St. Louis, which grew directly out of Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ programs surrounding its 2011 production of The Death of Klinghoffer, the sometimes-controversial opera by John Adams and Alice Goodman. Arts & Faith came together to sponsor the first 9/11 Interfaith Commemoration in Music in 2011; that concert, headlined by soprano Christine Brewer, turned into an annual event. Arts & Faith 'has developed into a wonderful collaboration,' centering on the concert, says OTSL general director Timothy O’Leary, 'but each year when we conclude that event, we think that it would be wonderful to keep (it) going throughout the year.' Levy suggested The Cave to the committee. 'It was a natural for this organization,' O’Leary says, 'because the idea behind the collaboration is that artistic works speak to our common humanity across differences. Here is an artistic work that is actually about the shared heritage of these faith traditions.' OTSL contributed technical expertise, including working with the video elements; the new-music group Alarm Will Sound, which has an annual residency in St. Louis, is doing the performance. The ensemble has a long history with Reich’s music, including parts of The Cave, and Reich is a member of the group’s board of directors. The John Burroughs School is contributing the use of its auditorium; a committee of volunteers put it all together. The score calls for 24 musicians, including four singers and 20 instrumentalists. 'The music has a rhythmic intensity to it that is found in all of Steve’s music,' says Michael Clayville, a member of Alarm Will Sound who will perform in the production. 'It starts with a computer keyboard that a musician is playing. As they play, a text from Genesis comes up on the screens. It’s very rhythmic, and has an almost drumming pattern to it. That rhythmic drive really creates a lot of intensity and a lot of complexity.' The singers — two sopranos, a tenor and a baritone — perform passages from Genesis; Clayville calls that 'some of the most gorgeous music in the piece.' Then come the interviews and a quintet of questions posed to them: Who is Abraham? Who is Sarah? Who is Hagar? Who is Ishmael? Who is Isaac? Reich uses the voices of the speakers in a musical way. The first act deals with Jewish Israeli responses to those questions; after a short break, the second act gives a Palestinian Muslim interpretation. After an intermission, New Yorkers give what Clayville calls 'a Western take. You could call it Christian, but it’s not exactly from a Christian point of view. It’s more from an American point of view.' In the “American” take, the answer to the question 'Who is Abraham?' is Abraham Lincoln. 'It shows a real distance from the cave itself, but also from the commonality of experience' of the traditions which revere the site and worship there. He adds: 'Steve chose to use the cave, and the cave itself has meaning for the three faiths. It’s the resting place of the founder of all the Abrahamic religions. But it’s also interesting in that place, that is common to the three monotheistic religions, is a cave, a place where somebody was buried. That’s probably one of the most poignant times that people can come together, when there’s a loss. That’s something that can pull people regardless of how disparate their faith is. They can come together and mourn, but also to celebrate this person.' One of the sonic elements of the piece is ambient noise recorded in the cave itself. As OTSL did with Klinghoffer, Arts & Faith has offered programs with scholars and faith leaders, to help with understanding the piece, before, during and after the performances. 'It’s our hope and expectation that this project will serve as a community coming together that speaks to unification rather than division, that speaks to understanding rather than intolerance,' Levy says. 'Important and relevant as the piece was when I first saw it in 1993, it’s critical watching today. The message can help people really reassess the sense of other.' The desecration of Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery 'was obviously a horrible act,' he says, 'but the response of the interfaith community, and in particular the Muslim community, both in St. Louis and around the country, should give us all hope.' Levy observes that The Cave is rarely performed. 'It’s not an easy piece to produce. This may be the only time that people in St. Louis will have an opportunity to see it performed live. They won’t be sorry they came out.'"