Far Travelers Special Concert


On May 1st, 2018, Far Travelers premiered in a special developmental concert of 5 major scenes (45-50 minutes), featuring a full cast with live string quintet/piano reduction.


 

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This concert took place through a composer-in-residency/JDT Lab fellowship from the Guild Hall of East Hampton


F A R        T R A V E L E R S 

a viking opera

 

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018

7:30pm


 

Creators
Composer/Librettist: Jeffrey Leiser
Orchestrator, Arranger: Andrés Soto
Conductor: Harrison Hollingsworth
Cast 
FREYDIS – Kirsten Chambers
GUDRID – Joanie Brittingham
ERIK THE RED – Samuel Druhora
LEIF – Samuel Druhora
KARLSEFNI – Bray Wilkins
HAKI  – Raymon Geis
THORVARD – Eric Lindsey
THJODHILD – Michelle Jennings
Players
Violin 1 – Lynn Bechtold 
Violin 2 – Karla Donehew
Viola – Leah Hollingsworth
Cello – Jisoo Ok
Bass – Troy Rinker
Piano – Matthew Mamoine

 

 

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Springing free, into 2018

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     Much time has passed,

                      and there is much to tell.

    FAR TRAVELERS

                     has begun a new journey…

Since the summer of last year, events have been set into motion towards my ultimate goal: that the Far Travelers opera premiere, in full production, at a prominent opera house. The destination still appears very far away, as a flickering light on the horizon, but to know that it exists is heartening.

Last August, after completing the 1st full draft of the opera, both libretti and music, I once again hired the wondrous Andrés Soto to work his magic for the 2nd draft orchestrations and arrangements. It’s always a fruitful and symbiotic relationship working together: I give him the freedom he needs, and he vitalizes the vision. Just as leaven makes dough ferment and rise, so I feel Andrés elevates and enlivens my projects.

It was around this time that an opportunity came into scope: a composer-in-residency offered through the Guild Hall of East Hampton, which is the major main performing arts venue in East Hampton. A friend recommended that I apply for the residency, called the JDT Lab, and I did, but they had already laid out their roster. I felt disappointed, because in my eyes, we could’ve prepared some arias in time for a late-October concert.

How happy it can be to be wrong! For we must allow opportunities to pass us by that were not meant for us, at least not in their proper time. If the concert has taken place last autumn, it would have not have been fulfilling, for we were not ready. Andrés needed to finish a major film score, and I needed to invest myself on an off-broadway theatrical production, so we couldn’t have given the work its proper care. By the way, the production was a new staging of Macbeth, and you can hear snapshots of my theatrical score here.

But the most elemental shift in my life was the decision to move back to California after living in NYC for almost 9 years. It was a decision my wife and I had discussed, pondered, and prayed about for some time, so in 2017 one of the motivating factors for completing the opera was for my mental state, to have closure so that I could prepare for the move.

What I didn’t realize was that, following the completion of the 1st full opera draft, I would have a nervous breakdown. And I don’t type “nervous breakdown” for nothing, for it was the first (and hopefully last) time that I suffered such an episode. I have always been freaked out by infinity, by eternity in heaven and such, but I finally gave full energy to these nasty, anxious thoughts, and I won’t mince words: it was hell on earth, an utter nightmare. I was beset from waking until sleeping by fear and worry, and nothing seemed to help (my poor wife was so good to me, as I wasn’t easy to live with). Basically, from August until November, I was not myself, and the anxiety became so severe that my body started to shut down: no appetite, shivers, constant stiffness…I was caught in a mental vice grip. So I got on prescription meds, something I hadn’t done for well over a decade, but the side-effects were comparably awful, so I went holistic. But still, the fear was a greater foe than that. It was indeed a spiritual oppression, as I felt and thought things that I would never have entertained before. This thing – it was trying to Take. Me. Down.

Healing isn’t always spectacular, and I don’t have an AHA! moment, but I know for certain that God was indeed bringing freedom and deliverance to this poor, selfish man, (however slowly I realized it) because that’s what this was – utter self-absorption. Not invited, of course, as it ruined me for a time, but the fact was that I could not look away from my self, from my thoughts, into the face of my Father, into that wide place He called me to frolic in…until His love broke through and that warm, heavenly light dawned once again.

It’s the edge of February, and I can honestly say that I have entered into that healing. I’m not fully well, but my life is once again hope-filled and free. But while all of that inner baggage was taking place, there was also the outward change to process: driving from New York to Los Angeles at the end of last November (epic U-haul trip!), settling into our new apartment, getting a car, getting work, and…getting a CHRISTMAS PUPPY!

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Olive at 5 Weeks

 

Take about therapy..

So…lots and lots of change, both ground-level and subterranean. And that was 2017. Now we’re a month into 2018, a year promising new vistas and breakthroughs…starting with:

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I was notified that, for the next season of the JDT Lab at the Guild Hall, I will be honored as one of their composers-in-residence!

The concert, approaching 1-hour of music from Far Travelers (with paired-down ensemble), will be taking place on Tuesday, May 1st at 7:30pm and you can RSVP HERE. We are just beginning to cast personnel and are anticipating a wonderful night of selected music. It will be filmed professionally and used as a pitch-tool for a certain major Scandinavian opera company by the end of 2018 (or companies, but I’m thinking of one in particular).

Until then, I’m here in Los Angeles, considering what new projects to begin while exploring this city that is so new to me after 9 years away. Lindy and I are building new friendships, sustaining old ones, and are excited to ride these winds of change. But it’s also been incredibly difficult, with many thoughts of returning to NYC. I won’t go into all of that, because we are still very heartsick. We so dearly miss all of our friends (and family, for my brother Eric lives there) back east…but we will reunite in three short months, God-willing (puppy in tow!).

Lastly, something to celebrate right now. The feature film that Eric and I produced, Apocalypsis, secured wide distribution through Indican Pictures and will be released this March! Catch the trailer here (trailer music not mine, the distributor put this pulpy, genre-heavy piece together). I’m proud of my score for the film because it took me into new realms (eastern instruments, a return to synths), so I hope you enjoy it too.

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On the note of film scores, I’ve overhauled my website to include selections from my feature film scores!

Check in Out

Thanks for reading, and may your 2018 be filled with joy and hope!

Love,

Jeffrey

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Summer 2017 Update

Dear Readers,

It’s been an exciting few months for the FAR TRAVELERS OPERA.

A) Firstly, on May 25th I accepted my 2nd Cultural Grant, this time from the American Scandinavian Society. It was an amazing event and I was honored to accept this award along with the other gifted 2017 recipients.

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(I’m the tall smiling guy in the center)

B) Next, on my 33rd birthday, July 17th, I FINISHED THE OPERA! 

At least – as far as I could take it. I have officially hired Andrés Soto to orchestrate and arrange the opera. What that means is that we’re going to spend the next several months fine-tuning, thinking and rethinking, re-arranging the instrumentation, experimenting with the vocal writing, ETC ETC ETC. Basically, renovating all 20 scenes.

I can’t say when the final score will be done, but we’re aiming for next Spring.

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C) Lastly, I’ve created a Facebook Page (please ‘like’ it!) and Instagram for Far Travelers.


 

D) In FILM MUSIC news, there will be a special NYC screening of a new feature film my brother Eric directed, APOCALYPSIS, at Anthology Film Archives.

• Friday, September 15 at 7 PM – 9 PM

• Anthology Film Archives 32 Second Ave, New York, New York 10003

I helped him produce it and composed original music for the film. I also created all the sound design, which proved the most difficult feat I’ve ever attempted! I used upwards of 1000 sound FX to paint the aural landscape of…. HEAVEN ITSELF, across all 22 chapters of the book of Revelation!

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Have a great summer everyone!

 

 

 

 

Spring 2017 Update

Dear Friends

I apologize that I have not updated this blog for several months, but I have been in the busiest (and most prolific) season of my composing career (if you can call it a ‘career’ yet).

Late last year, I left a safe and consistent day-job of 6 years to embark into the unknown of my opera. It took several months of fighting the darkness before, on the exact day of February 10th, 2017, the flood-gates were finally let loose. The grace and favor of God has been my stay as I was able to complete in 2 1/2 months what took 2 1/2 years to develop.

Currently at 162 minutes, the 1st draft of my opera still needs a dialogue track, so I plan to spend the next 3-4 months filling in what is currently vocal gibberish sung by yours truly. Then, the plan is to work with my friend, the amazingly gifted orchestrator/arranger Andrés Soto to bring the 2nd draft to life.

About a year ago, I was awarded an amazing grant from the American Scandinavian Foundation which allowed me to conduct vital research in Iceland (watch this). That propelled me for some months until, as it happens, my fears came back. It was a long and dark autumn/winter season where I very seriously wanted to give up. But then the spring sprung, physically and spiritually, and I got into a great rhythm, composing most of those 162 minutes in a few months!

Still, I feel very alone with it because, at the end of the day, it’s just me and my computer + keyboard. This is a huge opera, and the weight of it certainly takes its toll, especially when since I don’t have a commission… so the news this week that I have been awarded a second Cultural Grant, this time by the American Scandinavian Society, is so precious to me. I feel it will propel me through to the final (fully) 1st draft, to be completed late this summer.

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Tonight, I put together a little mock-poster because the more concrete items I create, the more it feel like a real project and not a guy in a tiny room shared with his cat. I do believe and have real faith that this project will be staged by an opera house. That’s the highest goal in my mind. But even if it should all fall through, that can also be the course for me: the dark-horse, secret-passage-through-the-mountain-fjord as it were. Perhaps it will be a filmed or virtual-reality experience (I’m open to any and all expressions). My only job is just to see it through, to believe in it with all my heart and mind.

Which I do.

Lastly, enjoy a new little teaser video I made for the project.

Far Travelers teaser (origins)

To the West,

Jeffrey Leiser

 

 

 

 

 

The Fire Within, The Ocean Without

The Fire Within, The Ocean Without (aka A Fire Inside…)

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Enjoy this short documentary! It will explain what I’ve been up to lately.

In FILM NEWS, our new feature film Apocalypsis screened at the prestigious Wexner Center and LA Film Forum!

Also, our short film Anthropic Principle was included in the Whitney Museum of American Art major exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2015

And lastly, Eric and I were interviewed on the famed radio show Filmwax!

Returning to Iceland

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Recently, I received a letter (in the mail!) from the American-Scandinavian Foundation. Before I opened it, I said a quick prayer. I have never received any type of grant or fellowship before, although I have applied for them several times.

When I opened it and found out that I had received a cultural grant, it was very affirming for me. The sum is not large by any means, but it allows me to briefly visit Iceland this summer to research my opera subject, Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir.

The first time I left the country (and visited Iceland) was in 2004 with my brother Eric, following the passing of our childhood dog. I can only describe the experience with the (oft-overused) word transformative. Following the adventure, I was able to process some basic emotions through music and text, but it was not until I devoured the saga-compilation The Sagas of Icelanders that I began to understand what it must have been like at the end of the Viking-age.

For the next ten years, the landscape of Iceland and the Saga-Age inspired my brother and I, from short films [Landvættir, 2004, Norsk Folksang, 2010] to art projects [North Wind, an exhibition at the Scandinavian East Coast Museum, Pilgrimsferd til Nidaros, Live With Animals gallery, Williamsburg] which spawned an E.P. I released [Niðarós, 2011] in the Norwegian language and an as-yet unreleased composition called Möte.

But where does infatuation end and comprehension begin? What began as an impulse to merely skip through green fields and fairylands has now taken the form of investigating real lives and the darker side of the human condition. And while I would not suppress my childlike fascination and curiosity, I must also ask questions which may lead to difficult answers.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to meet a few important people who are much more learned than I, which fuels my confidence in this endeavor. So this time around, returning to Iceland will not be so much about gaining new information as pondering the castles that I have built within myself. What walls and ornaments need to come down, what needs renovation, and how should I reinforce my strengths?

As of this writing, I’m closing in on the 1st draft of my libretto for Far Traveler and I’m very curious about how it will coalesce with the musical ideas I’ve been developing for the past several months. I’m learning as I go and am anticipating many breakthroughs as well as pitfalls, but isn’t that the best place to be as an artist? Traversing the volcanic, unpredictable landscape of the soul, both within and even without as I tread through Gudrid’s homeland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gramophone Mag and other News

Winter-NYC

It’s cold in New York. Not so much today, but still I find myself longing for the spring. It’s a particular feeling only residents of colder climates get (I am well aware that there are far-colder climates, my northern friends). It has yet to manifest as late-March spring anxiety, but still it can be bothersome.

As cold as it’s been outside, I’ve found myself even more constricted inwardly. I approached my opera project The Far Traveler from so many directions that I lost sight of the vision. It wasn’t until last night that I finally surrendered to my own limitations. Will this opera be ground-breaking, highly complex, avant-garde, and/or masterful? Since November, that’s what I was forcing it to be, and like before with my symphony preparations, I had to fail in a big way before my spirit found rest. And I believe it has. Last night, I composed the first 3 minutes of what I think the opera will sound like. I’m working the only way I know how, which is to compose the music of my soul, instrumentals first. Alongside, but not in conjunction, I’m continuing to write the libretto before I finally massage the vocal writing into the first draft.

End of somber first act.

Second Act.

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Out of the silence of January sprang some exciting news for The Summit Symphony. First, I was acquainted with a prominent music director/conductor of a philharmonic orchestra who is currently considered The Summit (in part or full I do not know) for performance later this year. I can’t supply any other details, but this seems promising!

 

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Secondly, I was approached (through my distributor) by the UK classical titan Gramophone Magazine for an interview, which I was happy to cooperate on. They also informed me that a full review of The Summit will run in conjunction with the interview in the next (March) issue!! It will hit the stands on March 3rd, which may or may not sync with the U.S. date.

 

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Thirdly, the prominent new-music blog/magazine I Care If You Listen will be posting a review of The Summit in the next week or so.

It’s enough to convince me that I’m perhaps not just a weekend warrior with a full-time job, but a composer with an opportunity to enter the wider marketplace of classical music. Either way, I feel truly – not hashtag blessed – but actually profoundly blessed that God opened doors that appeared to be locked. He does that.