I've always loved the visual poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire's 1918 Calligrammes. Type that is shaped on the page is appealing to me. What would this poetry sound like if sung? Composer Albert Behar has answered the question his way, written up in his notes as a "song cycle for soprano and accordion that celebrates the 100-year anniversary of Apollinaire's visual poetry." The newly reopened Berkeley Art Museum featured Behar's work—its west coast premiere—in a concert on the eve of May 21, 2016, and I was very happy to be there.
The program was an unbound booklet made from four folded pages. I immediately wanted to sew mine together. (Albert told me he had asked for them to be stapled.)
Albert played the accordion and sang with Ariadne Greif. The costumes, made from cloth printed with lines from Apollinaire's text, are by Gretchen Vitamvas. He said later that the cloth was printed digitally, laid out so that the text would match up when cut up and pieced and sewn together. Another appealing craft.
The performance was joyful. The two of them had great chemistry as they acted and sang playfully, their faces expressive. It was fun having the original text in front of us to follow as they went, seeing how Albert interpreted the lines. It was polished and clear. It felt like we were inside a book.
I introduced myself to him afterwards. When he was fifteen he attended a summer program at the college where I teach. He was in my ten-day bookmaking class with a friend. He said he thought I looked familiar and remembered that some of my books are in his grandparents' collection.
His grandparents, the Sackners, own The Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry.
One of his books was made of handmade stencils of a lava lamp.
At that time he told me he was a musician. He was a talented composer, even then, and he is quite successful now. I knew he wasn't going to continue making books, but he has, in a way.