James Drake-Inspired Stage Performance to Premiere in Houston

by Glasstire January 10, 2024

Can We Know the Sound of Forgiveness, a stage performance inspired by celebrated artist James Drake’s monumental drawing of the same name, is set to debut next week in Houston. Rice University’s Morrison Theater at Brockman Hall for Opera will be the venue for the sold-out world premiere, which will take place on Saturday, January 20 at 8 p.m. In a press release from Moody Gallery, a commercial art gallery in Houston that represents Mr. Drake, the production is called a “groundbreaking multidisciplinary performance that merges visual art, music, dance, movement, and spoken word to create an urgent new language for collective expression.” 

The media-spanning piece was commissioned for Rice’s Shepherd School of Music in collaboration with Carnegie Hall. It is scored by Mexico-based, Latin Grammy-nominated composer Gabriela Ortiz. Benjamin Saenz, who in 2013 became the first Latino author to win the PEN/Faulkner Book Award for Fiction, wrote the work’s text. 

Performers include artist Shaun Leonardo, who was the subject of a recent art21 video titled The Freedom to Move Up Close, Rockefeller Foundation-honored Mexican flutist Alejandro Escuer, and Pennsylvania-based chamber choir The Crossing. Conducted by Donald Nally, The Crossing has been nominated for nine Grammy awards, with wins for Best Choral Performance in 2018, 2019, and 2023. 

A black and white, large-scale charcoal drawing depicts many people jumping on each other's backs and moving in dynamic poses.

James Drake, “Can We Know the Sound of Forgiveness,” 2021, charcoal on paper mounted on canvas, 144 x 288 inches

Can We Know the Sound of Forgiveness is produced and directed by Stephen Jimenez, curated by Leila Hamidi, and choreographed by Harrison Guy with guest creative advisor Lauren Anderson. Photography was provided by Polish cinematographer Adam Holender, whose first movie credit was Midnight Cowboy in 1969. Houston-area organizations featured in the production include the Houston Ballet Academy, the Shepherd School of Music, Julia Krohn and Houston-area Military Veterans, and the Houston Children’s Chorus.

While this is the world premiere of Can We Know the Sound of Forgiveness, the piece is the culmination of a series of workshops and rehearsals that began in 2020 at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming. From there, work was done in El Paso, New York, Santa Fe, Houston, and Philadelphia to prepare for the main event. More information on those gear-ups can be found on the production’s website.

To coincide with the performance of Can We Know the Sound of Forgiveness, Moody Gallery is set to open a new exhibition of drawings by James Drake on January 13. The new show, titled The Heart Has Many Rivers (For Carmen) Drawings 1962 – 2023, will feature the 144 x 288-inch charcoal drawing that inspired the performance at Rice, alongside a survey of other drawings from Drake’s long career. In conjunction with the exhibition, Mr. Drake will present an artist talk at the gallery at 4 p.m. on January 13.

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