“In case I don’t get to finishing this, somebody might like to try to work out the idea, and the sketch that I’ve already done would make more sense to anybody looking at it with this explanation.” (Charles Ives) Inspired by these enticing words, director Christoph Marthaler, conductor Titus Engel, and stage designer Anna Viebrock developed their own highly individual take on an unfinished project by the American composer Charles Ives: the Universe Symphony, one of the great utopian works of the 20th century. Based on the musical work initially intended for 4250 musicians, the stage production Universe, Incomplete of the Ruhrtriennale 2018 incorporates elements and music from Charles Ives’ entire oeuvre. The production is complemented by the documentary film The Unanswered Ives, which takes the viewer back to the composer’s hometown in Danbury, Connecticut and retraces Ives’ New England heritage. Presented like a collage, the film reveals a man who was far ahead of his time – a solitary radical in music and pioneer in polytonal harmony and multiple rhythms who was able to draw from the rich tradition of American music.
A performance from the Ruhrtriennale 2018 on the one and a film about the composer Charles Ives on the other DVD present the incomplete universe of the unanswered Ives. The performance is based on fragments of the Universe Symphony. Ives planned a happening in a mountainous landscape with more than 4,000 participants, to which the audience would wander during the performance. From these fragments, the two longest parts were combined with other early works by Ives into a two-hour event. The quite spacious Jahrhunderthalle in Bochum virtually replaces the mountains. The result is a performance that is at first glance as inexplicable as it is fascinating. The performers move back and forth between reality and dream and tell a compelling story that shows both the complicated and the deterrent as well as the folk-related aspect of the composer Ives.
In the almost one-hour film The Unanswered Ives musical recordings as well as statements from musicians and residents from Ives’ birthplace in Danbury, Connecticut, give in brief sketches a friendly but not exaggerated look at this enfant terrible of the US American music scene.