Thursday, March 26, 2009

Composition for orchestra and psychedelic mushroom

The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra - as I will be the first to tell you - is pretty far out, under the musical direction of David Robertson. But I am thinking this weekend, for the first time, the orchestra will perform a setting of a poem written by a mushroom.

The composition in question is "Mirage" by Kaija Saariaho, which the orchestra will perform Friday night and Sunday afternoon to air out an inspired program that they are taking to Carnegie Hall on April 4.

"Mirage" sets a text by Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina. Her translator into English, Henry Munn, summarizes the traditional wisdom on shamanic performance: "It is the mushrooms speaking through them."

Maria Sabina, a mystic from Oaxaca, drew her visionary poems from the sacred mushroom (psilocybin), which was introduced to the U.S. via the banker (R. Gordon Wasson) who recorded her chants.

I can't find the text used for "Mirage," but here is a taste of Maria Sabina from Jerome Rothenberg's great anthology Shaking the Pumpkin (in Henry Munn's translation):

She is a Book woman
Ah Jesusi
hmm hmm hmm
hmm hmm hmm
so so so
Lord clown woman
Clown woman beneath the sea
Clown woman

Banker meets magic mushroom shaman in the preservation of Maria Sabina's otherworldly language - and cello mashes up with soprano in Saariaho's setting of it.

In the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra performance of "Mirage" - the U.S. premiere - Anssi Karttunen will play cello Karita Mattila is the soprano.

I'll be in Powell Symphony Hall to see the show, along with a poet with his own visionary travels and texts, K. Curtis Lyle. We will be guests of the Symphony on Blogger's Night II.


The Henry Munn quote is lifted from Jerome Rothenberg's blog.

A nice taste of "Mirage" may be heard on its publisher's website.

Mushroom image from a Maria Sabina site.