World premiere of Eleanor Cory's "Rikers Island" with Ensemble Pi, Oct. 10


Oct 10 2015 - 7:30pm

Ensemble Pi Celebrates the 10th Anniversary of its Annual Peace Concert Series With "Music & Captivity"

Eleanor Cory: Rikers Island (World Premiere)

Frederic Rzewski: Attica

Olivier Messiaen: Quartet for the End of Time

Excerpt from Joseph Assadourian’s theatrical piece, The Bullpen

October 10, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. @ The Sheen Center, NYC

The rise of mass incarceration and the racial disparities it reveals have become pressing issues today. For the 10th anniversary of its annual Peace Concerts series, the socially conscious music collective Ensemble Pi presents a program of contemporary chamber works written in response to imprisonment, its politics, and the emotional toil it takes on inmates.

The concert’s highlight is the world premiere of Rikers Island (2015) by veteran New York composer Eleanor Cory. Scored for clarinet, piano, cello, violin, and a narrator, the work draws mostly from the newly published These Are Hard Times for a Dreamer – the fruit of a two-year workshop at Rikers Island, led by NY Writers Coalition. Written by women inmates, the texts and poems mine with great pathos family tragedies and the pain of raising children while being incarcerated.

The program also includes Frederic Rzewski’s minimalist masterpiece, Attica (1972), composed in the wake of the 1971 upstate New York prison rebellion. Scored for narrator and open ensemble, the work is based on a letter by Sam Melville, one of the leaders of the Attica riots in which he was killed. It makes use of melodic and harmonic repetitions to convey the frustration of life behind bars and ends with an accumulative crescendo of anger about injustice.

Capping the concert is the sublime Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time (1941), composed and first performed in the prisoner-of-war camp of Görlitz, Germany. Scored for the four instruments available at the camp – clarinet, violin, cello and piano – the quartet was premiered at the camp on January 15, 1941 to an audience of fellow prisoners and guards. Due to the fact that the keys of the piano remained lowered when depressed, Messiaen composed a piece that allowed the pianist to push them back between chords, thus introducing one of the slowest tempi in chamber music.

The evening will also include an excerpt from Joseph Assadourian’s The Bullpen, an acclaimed multi-character, tragi-comic play based on Assadourian’s experience of being arrested and thrown in a cell with an outrageous collection of races, nationalities and sexual orientations. His fast and virtuosic piece has been playing at the Playroom Theater (West 46th street) since earlier this year, to critical acclaim.

Performers: Idith Meshulam, piano; Airi Yoshioka, violin; Katie Schlaikjer, cello; Moran Katz, clarinet; Bill Trigg, percussion; and Sycil Mathai, trumpet guest player.

Guest: Joseph Assadourian, actor

Music and Captivity will take place at The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture, located at 18 Bleecker St. in New York City, on Saturday, October 10 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors). To order tickets, visit For more information about the ensemble, visit

This concert was made possible in part by public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, and the Fund for Creative Communities supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, as well as through the generous support of individual donors.

Ensemble Pi, a socially conscious new music group founded in 2002, features composers whose work seeks to open a dialogue between ideas and music on some of the world’s current and critical issues. For the last ten years, Ensemble Pi has presented an annual Peace Project concert, commissioning new works and collaborating with visual artists, writers, actors, and journalists such as William Kentridge, Naomi Wolf, Frederic Rzewski, and Philip Miller. The ensemble was in residence for four American music festivals presented by the American Composers Alliance and now collaborates with the APNM. Ensemble Pi can be heard on two CDs, a tribute to Elias Tanenbaum titled Keep Going, and another recording featuring music by Laura Kaminsky.

For more information on the Ensemble Pi: