As I write these words, Rep. Nancy Pelosi has just completed a history-making eight-hour speech on the House floor—believed to be the longest continuous speech in the chamber—on the subject of Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who today find themselves the focus of a heated national conversation. Across the country, emotions run high, on all sides of the debate, and each day brings developments in the news that can feel—simultaneously—hopeful and encouraging, bewildering and frightening. With the future of millions in question, one can only wonder how this will all end.
As someone who has spent his entire adult life working with and around performing artists and creators—representing the entire spectrum of the arts—I am always energized and inspired when these extraordinary talents rise to the challenge and directly address the most pressing issues of the day. Great art has much to contribute to this dialogue; over the centuries, it has often been artists—composers, choreographers, writers, performers—who have helped us place difficult issues in their deepest context. And to point toward paths to a promising future.
These thoughts have been much in mind this past week, as a major new project focusing on Dreamers and the DACA debate continues to develop right here in Zellerbach Hall.
Last November, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced the first recipients of the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions. Launched in celebration of the foundation’s 50th anniversary, this ambitious initiative will support the creation of 50 new works, and their premieres in the Bay Area. Each year over the next five, a different discipline (music, dance, theater, etc.) will be featured, and I am delighted that Cal Performances has been selected in the inaugural year.
As a result, Cal Performances has commissioned Berkeley-based (and Berkeley graduate) Peruvian composer Jimmy López to create Dreamer, an oratorio for orchestra, chorus, and soprano, to be performed by Esa-Pekka Salonen and London's Philharmonia Orchestra. López will work with Cuban-American, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz to create this piece, which will explore the US immigrant experience, in particular that of Dreamers.
In alignment with the principles of our Berkeley RADICAL initiative, Dreamer will be part of an extensive residency by Salonen and the Philharmonia in 2019, and will feature long-term community partnerships including forming a cohort of Dreamers who will serve as members of the creative team, and as ambassadors ensuring meaningful connections between the creators, Cal Performances, and our wider community.
In recent days, the reality of this project came into focus, as members of the Dreamer cohort met to discuss their personal experiences with López in Cal Performances' offices. Having spoken with Jimmy following these first interviews, I know these talks provided fertile ground that will inform and enrich the process of creating Dreamer.
López has said, "Our oratorio will center on the story of a so-called Dreamer, who came to the United States as a child in search of a better life, but whose legal status has remained in limbo due to the fact that she and her parents arrived in the US illegally. There are thousands of children living in the Bay Area who find themselves in this legal conundrum.... We will research those stories, gather testimonies, and create a narrative describing the travails of crossing the border, the difficulty of assimilating into a completely different culture, and the uncertainty that the future now holds."
It is a great honor to be in the first class of recipients of the Hewlett Foundation commissions, collaborating with world-class artists to bring new, relevant, and contextual programming to our community. You can look forward to judging the results yourself, with performances scheduled for March 2019.
Executive and Artistic Director,