Kevin Puts and Robin Williams never met. But when the beloved comedian committed suicide last summer, the composer found himself mourning with the rest of his fans worldwide—his grief manifesting in an original piece of music.
“I started playing around with [the song], and the first three notes reminded me of the theme song from ‘Mork and Mindy,’” Mr. Puts said of the TV sitcom that first put Mr. Williams on the map in 1978, providing his introduction to the actor at age 8. “The music had this character of lightheartedness, but something deeper beneath it, and that became the focus of it.”
The piece, titled “Rounds for Robin,” took two weeks for the composer to pen, and it will be performed by flutist Marya Martin, director of the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, on August 9 at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church. The 32nd annual Chamber Music Festival kicks off this weekend with seven musicians at the Bridgehampton Museum.
The Yonkers-based composer, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his opera “Silent Night,” explained that he makes use of rounds, a musical device in which there is a lead melody and at least one other imitation melody, in different voices, that follows it. The rounds inspired the name of the piece, as well as the musical path it takes, beginning first in a playful manner before taking a dark turn, he said.
“That was certainly intentional, to suggest that there’s something that none of us could see with Robin Williams,” he said. “Demons, I think a lot of comedians have, that we don’t know about.”
The upcoming performance is not Mr. Puts’s first experience with the festival, which was founded in 1984 with two concerts featuring five musicians. Over the last 32 years, Ms. Martin and her husband, Ken Davidson, have ramped up the festival into a major event that boasts 12 concerts and 40 musicians.
This year, among the participants is Roger Waters. But the co-founder of Pink Floyd will not be performing rock or classical music. In fact, he will not be playing at all.
Instead, he has put his own spin on Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale,” a nearly 100-year-old composition. The piece, written for seven instruments, involves three characters—the narrator, a soldier and a devil—which will be performed on August 14 by Mr. Waters, who will incorporate more modern language and circumstances.
“It’s asking him to do what he does best,” Ms. Martin said. “It’s all about the words and the story. And, as you know, he is a great storyteller.”
Composer Mohammed Fairouz’s recently commissioned piece also tells its own story, this one of the end of the Civil War in Alabama, in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery. He began writing in late 2014 and finished this past February, inspired largely by his own interests in civil rights, he said, which have included contributions to the Huffington Post and on NPR.
“My focus is largely on foreign affairs, which is sort of interlinked with civil rights, and I think that’s very compelling,” he explained. “When you’re a writer, you can write novels, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you like poems. And when you write music, it’s not all that different when writing about politics. Oftentimes, I use words as my medium.”
His piece “Deep Rivers,” which will be performed on August 10 at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, makes use of his willingness to use words musically. In it, Mr. Fairouz sets the text from historical documents and poems to his original melodies, and a singer brings those words, now lyrics, to life. The piece, which is written for a wind quartet and a vocalist, is the first of its kind, Mr. Fairouz said.
“When you write, you’re faced with problems. And when I went back to the literature, there wasn’t a single piece I could find with wind quartet and voice combined,” he explained, still shocked. “This was the first thing ever written for that combination. So we had to spend several months finding solutions to these problems that nobody had ever faced before.”
Setting historical documents and poetry to music is something Mr. Fairouz has been doing since he was a boy. He learned piano at age 7 and composed his first piece, an Oscar Wilde poem set to music, a year later.
“I think it’s important to study these documents and to know where we come from, to develop a clear vision to know where we are going,” he said. “The biggest mistake we can make is to ignore these texts, and the conceit that we can move forward to a bright future by ignoring these past thousands of generations is very strange to me.”
The 32nd annual Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival will kick off with a free concert on Wednesday, July 29, at the Bridgehampton Museum. Ten more concerts will be held on select dates from August 1 through 23. Tickets start at $45. For a full concert schedule, visit bcmf.org.
One fine body…