You can go home again. Multiple times, and in multiple ways. You just have to be creative about it.
That’s the lesson from composer Robert Honstein’s “Soul House,” an intimate musical revisitation of his own childhood home, which the Boston-based quartet Hub New Music will bring to the atrium space of the Peabody Essex Museum this Saturday evening, in collaboration with Betsi Graves’s Urbanity Dance.
“Soul House” is a nine-movement remembrance, written for the flute/clarinet/cello/violin configuration of Hub New Music. The quartet premiered the work in January, and has performed it “a couple dozen times” during a busy touring year, according to HNM flutist Michael Avitabile.
“This is the premiere of the choreographed version,” Avitabile says. “Even after two dozen performances, we are able to come to this project with a new understanding.”
Movements like “Bay Window,” “Driveway,” “Backyard,” and “Alcove” serve as inspirational starting points for Honstein. “It’s really character filled, and so evocative,” Avitabile says. “The first movement has strings going up and down, in harmonics, like light passing through a bay window. The ‘Backyard’ has Robert with his two sisters and a dog playing tag—it’s a fugue, all joyous and jumbly. Each movement is associated with a different room. He gives you so much descriptive language, it’s hard not to immerse yourself in his memory box.”
Urbanity Dance—comprised in this performance by lead choreographer Haley Day, along with Jacob Regan and Meg Anderson—will interpret the work, adding a new element to HMN’s performance.
“In a way it’s like we’re the parents, and the dancers are the children,” Avitabile says about working with the troupe. “They come up with things in the score that we’ve never thought of. Large phrase structures, and rhythmic variations. While we’re workshopping it with them in rehearsal, we can’t really see too much of it. But the videos we see of the workshops afterwards—to see it interpreted in an entirely different medium, it feels like a complete artistic statement.”
The creative staff of the Peabody Essex Museum has also played their part in interpretation. “I love working with them, because everything we do there is unique to the museum,” Avitabile says. “The lighting, the sets. For ‘Soul House,’ to replicate Robert’s home, they ordered a bunch of old furniture—grandma furniture—for the audience to sit on. It’s a really special thing, when a presenter is so dedicated to making the experience unique to the space.”
“Soul House”—scheduled for recording “sometime in the spring,” says Avitabile—fills the second half of the program. In the first half, HMN performs works by Anna Clyne, Judd Greenstein and Angélica Negrón.
“Anna Clyne's piece is for quartet and electronics,” Avitabile says. “Urbanity Dance will do an improvisation on that piece as well. The tape part is made up of various sounds from a music box that Anna’s father gave her mother. It’s evocative of her own childhood, and we thought it would make a nice connection with ‘Soul House.’
“The program feels like it belongs together,” Avitabile says. “And one of the best things about ‘Soul House,’ for us, is that it feels just like playing Bach does. Even after performing it so many times, it doesn’t seem like we’re done with it. It’s been a rewarding project, getting to know him and getting involved in the context of the piece. And now we’re adding this new layer with choreography.”
Hub New Music and Urbanity Dance perform Robert Honstein’s “Soul House” and other works on Sat., Dec. 1 at the Peabody Essex Museum. For tickets and information visit www.pem.org or call 978-745-9500.