Thursday, May 19, 2016, marked the premiere of Dylan Mattingly’s monumental work for piano, Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field. Three years ago or thereabouts, the vital, fearless pianist Kathleen Supové invited Mattingly to compose a work for piano—anything he wanted, of any length. Could Supové, or even Mattingly himself, outsized dreamer though he is, have predicted just how big it would become?
I imagine Mattingly, seized of Supové’s open invitation, taping reams of butcher paper to his walls, with stacks of post-it notes, assorted pens, and copies of The Iliad (at least one in the rhythms of its original Greek) to hand. Adjectives, verbs, and nouns erupted in a volcano of imagination, each word giving voice to a chapter of The Iliad refracted through the prism of contemporary life. What were the words, and how many? Which words served his inspiration, and which were set aside?
We do have the final words he chose for each movement, passed on to Supové and to us as listeners, not as prescriptions, but as offerings: they include words and phrases such as Invocation (I), Catalogue of Heroes (II), Gods and Insects (V), Brutality (X), For Jackie Robinson (XI), Love, Death, Paleoclimates (XVI), Muddy River (Aristea . . . If I Had Wings) (XXI), Ebbets Field (XXIII). We can take them or let them be, as we require. They are signposts that guide us along the musical journey, even as Mattingly knows and desires that Supové as performer and we, as listeners, will enter into the journey and make it our own.
In Mattingly’s hands, what started out as a volcano of word confetti became a 24 movement, two-hour, musical tour de force, shapely in every aspect, from grand design to small detail, from tranquil meditations to ecstatic visions worthy of Messiaen. Accompanied by Taylor Gonzalez’s understated, evocative projection mapping, Supové, in her riveting performance, inhabited not only each note, rhythm, and dynamic, but also reached deep inside the piece and limned, from quiet splendor to explosive force, the whole, gorgeous gamut of human spirit Achilles contains. Without Supové, it’s possible, even probable, that Achilles would not have come into being. It is likewise to her extraordinary pianism and commitment that we owe grateful thanks for bringing Mattingly’s triumphant feat of imagination to blazing, transcendent life.
Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field (Midi recording)
Part XI: For Jackie Robinson
Part XXII: Muddy River (Aristea…If I Had Wings)