Gavin Bryars: Never Failed Me Yet

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Not since our festivals for Steve Reich and JacobTV has Q2 devoted such extensive programming to the sound world of one composer, but beginning today, April 14, we're proud to launch our third immersive, multimedia deep-dive into the mind and music of one composer, Gavin Bryars. Each day, from April 14-20, we spotlight a different aspect of a style informed by jazz, minimalism, Renaissance polyphony and constant experimentation. 

Every day includes insights provided by Bryars himself to many of the featured pieces. We hope you'll join us for the festival!

  • Thursday, April 14: The Sinking of the Titanic. We begin with the first piece in Bryars's now extensive catalogue: The Sinking of the Titanic from 1969. Throughout the day, hear multiple versions of this meditation on the circumstances surrounding the Titantic's demise back in the early morning of April 15, 1912. Hear versions from the Gavin Bryars Ensemble; the Smith Quartet as recorded live at the Bang on a Can Marathon; and the Alter Ego recording from the 2005 49th International Festival of Contemporary Music of Venice Biennale. The day culminates with a live version, Webcast from the Guggenheim Museum at 8:50 p.m. ET with the Wordless Music Orchestra.

  • Friday, April 15: Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Described by Bryars as a "testament to this one man's simple faith," Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet is based on a simple 26-second loop of a homeless man's poingant profession of faith and has come to occupy a pivotal moment in the artistic growth of many a musician and music-lover. Hear distinct versions of this piece throughout the day, including ones from the balladeer Tom Waits.

  • Saturday, April 16: Choral Fixation. Many strands of Bryars's distinctive approach to composing come together in his works for large vocal ensemble: his gift for melodic line, affinity for the lower registers, passion for the voice, and belief in the ennobling virtue of music-making. Hear some of his masterstrokes for choir, including Cadman Requiem, On Photography and Three Poems of Cecco Angiolieri.

  • Sunday, April 17: Madrigals and Lauda. End your weekend with a pointillistic canvas of pieces for solo voice and small vocal ensemble, including the beautiful sets of Madrigals and Lauda that Bryars has been composing over a richly prolific career for groups such as his own ensemble and the illustrious Trio Mediaeval.

  • Monday, April 18: A Concerto By Any Other Name. The New Canon host Olivia Giovetti fills in for Nadia Sirota from 12-4, a.m. and p.m., beginning Monday for a guided tour through works for solo instruments and ensemble, including concertos for saxophone, cello, tuned percussion and violin. Concertos of other persuasions will be heard throughout the day.

  • Tuesday, April 19: Profound Strings. Originally an improvising jazz double bassist before focusing on composition in the mid-1960s, Bryars makes no secret of his affinity for low strings, both as a performer and composer. His writing for low strings is evocative and compelling and you can listen all day for exemplary works, including his string quartets and pieces for cello and double bass. 

  • Wednesday, April 20: Kaleidoscope. On the final the day of Never Failed Me Yet, explore a shifting, polychromatic trip through the vast repertoire of a composer versed in solo instrumental, chamber, vocal, choral, orchestral and stage music. Given the positive response to the festival, we're clearing the schedule for a 24-hour, non-stop Gavin Bryars marathon. Celebrate with almost 40 introductions by Bryars himself to pieces spanning an entire creative output.