Assembly Series features groundbreaking music

Members of the world-renowned Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra will make a special appearance at the University next week as part of the Assembly Series.

Two modern American masterpieces will be offered at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 4 in Simon Hall’s May Auditorium on the Danforth Campus. The concert is free and open to the public.

Both pieces are considered groundbreaking works in contemporary music by composers who are at the forefront of experimental American music.

‘Vox balaenae’ (‘Voice of the Whale’)

Composer George Crumb creates hauntingly beautiful and uniquely theatric pieces. His “Vox balaenae,” also known as “Voice of the Whale,” has been called a work of mystical impressionism. Written in 1971 and scored for electric flute, electric cello and amplified piano, the piece conjures up the world of the humpback whale in the deep seas. The musicians use their instruments to create the sounds of an underwater world. To enhance the theatrical nature of the piece, Crumb directs the performers to wear black half-masks under deep-blue stage lighting.

“Vox balaenae” will be performed by Andrea Kaplan on flute; Melissa Brooks-Rubright on cello; and Martin Kennedy, Ph.D., assistant professor of music in Arts & Sciences, on piano.

‘Different Trains’

Before sampling became a staple of hip-hop and rap artists, it was used in this pioneering piece by the renowned composer Steve Reich. This work of “astonishing originality … possessing an absolutely harrowing emotional impact,” according to the New York Times, landed Reich a Grammy Award in 1989 for best contemporary composition.

“Different Trains” weaves recorded speech with train sounds and music to evoke the experiences of two separate train rides during World War II, one that captures the romantic feeling of Reich as a boy traveling by train across America, and one that captures a far different feeling — that of Holocaust victims being transported to death camps.

“Different Trains” will be performed by Joo Kim and Asako Kuboki on violin; Bryan Florence on viola; and David Kim on cello.

SLSO conductor David Robertson will introduce the musicians. Last November, Robertson and the Symphony made an appearance at Carnegie Hall to rave reviews. For more information, visit

The second half of the spring Assembly Series schedule follows. (The first half was previewed in last week’s Record.)

Carl Phillips

4 p.m., Tuesday, March 25, Umrath Lounge

With nine volumes of poetry published and several major literary awards, Phillips, Ph.D., is firmly established as a great poet. The professor of English and African and African American studies at WUSTL has been twice nominated for the National Book Award.

Strobe Talbott

4 p.m., Wednesday, March 26, Graham Chapel

Talbott is a statesman, diplomat, author and current president of The Brookings Institution. With his sharp intellect, gifted writing and wide-ranging experience, the former deputy secretary of state under President Bill Clinton has written books that capture an insider’s view of the United States’ foreign policy and its relationship to other nations, especially Russia.

Ari Sandel

4 p.m., Tuesday, April 1, Graham Chapel

One of the most hopeful and humorous takes on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was created by filmmaker Sandel in a live-action short film called “West Bank Story.” The musical parody featuring two warring families in the falafel business won an Oscar in 2007.

Ken Paulson

4 p.m., Wednesday, April 2, Graham Chapel

In 2004, the veteran newspaper executive became editor of USA Today. Prior to that position, he ran the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free press and free speech for all.

Calvin Trillin

4 p.m., Thursday, April 3, Steinberg Hall Auditorium

Combining a reporter’s eye with a wicked sense of humor, Trillin turns every subject into masterful pieces. With more than 30 years of writing books, essays, columns, articles, novels and poetry on an astounding array of topics, he is an extraordinary chronicler of American culture.

Glen Bowersock

4 p.m., Thursday, April 10, (location to be announced) “Globalization in Late Antiquity”

For more than four decades, the eminent scholar of ancient Greece, Rome and the Near East taught at Harvard University and later at Princeton University, retiring in 2006 as emeritus professor of ancient history. He is the author of more than a dozen books and 300 journal articles, including “Fiction as History: Nero to Julian” and “Martyrdom and Rome.”

Helen Fisher

11 a.m., Wednesday, April 16, Graham Chapel

In the groundbreaking book, “Anatomy of Love,” anthropologist Fisher laid out her theory of three main phases of romantic love, noting that, at each stage, different hormones are involved and different areas of the brain are activated. Her research, detailed in several books and numerous articles, indicates that when it comes to love, we are at the mercy of our biochemistry.