This preview was provided by the Duke University Department of Music.

On April 15 and 16, 2011, the Duke University Department of Music will present a world premiere double-bill of new music: Kathleen Bader’s Tentative Embrace for twelve musicians, Sonoran soundscapes and spoken text, and John Justice and George Lam’s one-act documentary opera The Persistence of Smoke. Both works are deeply connected with the place that inspired the music; Bader draws her influences from the vast Sonoran desert, and Durham’s cigarette legacy is the inspiration for Justice and Lam’s new opera. The performances are presented by Encounters: With The Music Of Our Time, in association with the Center for Documentary Studies and the Graduate School. Admission is free.

This program features performers from across North Carolina, including both the Ciompi Quartet and the Red Clay Saxophone Quartet. Joining the quartets are mezzo-soprano Sandra Cotton, soprano Nakia Verner, bass-baritone David Weigel, and baritone Scott MacLeod. Jay O’Berski, artistic director of the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, will direct The Persistence of Smoke. Both works will be conducted by George Lam.

Kathleen Bader’s Tentative Embrace, a five-movement work combining live instrumental music, spoken text and recorded soundscapes, explores the complicated sensation of being a human alone in nature, of wanting to belong but also not quite belonging. The Sonoran desert, the site of inspiration for this work, acts as an especially revelatory space that heightens these simultaneous sensations of connection and disconnection. This landscape draws attention to the biological points of contact between human beings and their natural surroundings, but it also emphasizes those cultural and material differences that we carry with us into such a space. Through the combination of the music, the text and the soundscapes recorded both in and around the Sonoran desert, this piece works to convey the ever-shifting boundaries between the self and everything else.

John Justice and George Lam’s The Persistence of Smoke is a documentary opera. The libretto is based on interviews with various individuals related to the former Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company headquarters in downtown Durham, a collection of buildings now known as “West Village.” Lam interviewed current and former Durham residents who had a connection with these buildings, including local business representatives, community leaders, former Liggett employees, historians, former and current downtown residents, municipal urban planners, journalists, and an architect. These interviews were given to local playwright John Justice, who created a libretto based on the themes that emerged.

The opera’s story focuses on Kevin, an architect about to unveil his visionary master plan for redeveloping several defunct cigarette factories in an unnamed city. As Kevin leaves his newly renovated apartment for the press conference, he is confronted by his estranged father Curtis, a former cigarette worker who desperately wants to reconcile and reconnect, deliriously recalling the glory days of tobacco and the money that followed.

The performances will be presented at Golden Belt in downtown Durham, a newly restored mixed-use space that combines artist studios, apartments and retail in the former site of Julian Carr’s Golden Belt Manufacturing Company, a textile factory that processed cotton bags for Bull Durham tobacco.

For more information, and to listen to clips from The Persistence of Smoke, please visit