Claremont Insider: Leonard Cohen Days at CMC

Friday, February 13, 2009

Leonard Cohen Days at CMC

Photo originally uploaded to
Wikimedia Commons by Rama
Claremont McKenna College's Gould Center and the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum are currently presenting an exhibit of the artwork of Leonard Cohen. The exhibit, "Drawn from the Heart," opened Monday in the Athenaeum's Security Pacific dining room.

CMC's website has a press release for the exhibit with the following information:
Leonard Cohen is widely regarded as one of the most influential artists of our time. In addition to his internationally recognized music and poetry, his artwork is taking center stage through the production of Book of Longing, a concert work by world-renowned Philip Glass based on the poetry and artwork of Cohen’s recently published book of the same name. Many of the poems and drawings in Book of Longing were created while Cohen was in residence as a monk at the Zen monastery on Mt. Baldy.

(Performances of Book of Longing are scheduled from Feb. 25-March 1, 2009, at Garrison Theater, Scripps Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.)

Spanning over 40 years, the exhibit highlights selected art from the drawings and journals of Cohen and reflects his life-long love of drawing. All images are produced with permanent pigmented ink on 300 lb. Arches watercolor paper, finished with a hand-deckled edge. For each print, Cohen has signed, titled, numbered and dated, and embossed and stamped with his official seal. More than 50 pieces of artwork will be featured.

....The exhibition is open to the public and can be viewed from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, 385 E. Eighth Street, Claremont, Calif. The Athenaeum may be closed to the public on holidays and for scheduled events.

For more information about viewing times, call 909-621-8244.

The exhibition is sponsored by The Family of Benjamin Z. Gould Center for Humanistic Studies and the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College.

As the release indicated, CMC's Gould Center will also be hosting the Southern California premiere of a work by composer Philip Glass called Book of Longing based on Cohen's work. The performances will feature Glass himself at the keyboard:

Click to Enlarge

The performances were scheduled to run five nights, from Wednesday, February 25, to Sunday, March 1, in Garrison Theatre on the Scripps College campus. We hear, however, that the show on Thursday, February 26, may have been canceled, so you'll want to double check if you're interested in tickets.

All performance begin at 8pm. Tickets are $50, and students can get a "substantial discount," though those are limited and require a special student code, which students can get by calling (909) 607-8558 (on campus x78558). Click here for the Ticketmaster website for those interested in going.

Here's more information from CMC's website:

Book of Longing

Book of Longing is an evening-length concert work composed for ensemble, singers, spoken word, and imagery and is based on the poetry and artwork of Leonard Cohen’s recently published book of the same name. The performance in Claremont is significant because Cohen wrote many of the poems featured in Book of Longing at the Buddhist monastery on Mt. Baldy. Glass will perform on keyboard in these five performances, and the artwork of Cohen will be prominently incorporated into the set. Book of Longing is signature Cohen—at once meditative, playful, erotic, and provocative. The diverse collection of poems falls loosely into the categories of ballads, love and confessional poems, spiritual meditations, and short and comic pieces that Glass has called “limericks.” Glass’ composition is the culmination of years of mutual admiration between two of the most celebrated artists of our time. Glass conceived the concert as a collection of poetic songs from each of these loose categories to run as a continuous evening rather than a traditional song cycle. The music is performed by an ensemble of eight musicians including electronic keyboards (one played by Glass himself), flute/bass clarinet, hand percussion, violin, cello double bass, and oboe/English horn that are visible on stage throughout the evening. The music is directed by Glass’s longtime musical director Michael Riesman. The set is designed by Christine Jones, with costumes by Kasia Walikca Maimone and lighting by Scott Zielinski.

Mt. Baldy Zen Center zendo
Photo uploaded to Flickr by LinSu

Why so many Cohen-related events? There's a significant local connection: as the CMC information tells us, much of Cohen's Book of Longing was in fact created while Cohen was in retreat at Mt. Baldy (he was there from at least 1994-1999).

Cohen's association with Claremont and Mt. Baldy are the reason, of course, why the Glass premiere is taking place, and why there is this very rare Cohen art showing at CMC.

At Mt. Baldy, Cohen took Buddhist vows in the Rinzai Zen tradition. Rinzai Zen involves intense meditation on "koans" -- Buddhist puzzle-poems -- the most famous of us which is "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

A number of the poems set by Glass mention "Roshi", the 101-year-old Rinzai Zen Master who is among the last of a generation of great Japanese teachers who brought the Dharma to the West.

Unfortunately, the Mt. Baldy center will be itself in sesshin, or retreat, during the five performances at the end of the month -- otherwise many of the monks might have attended. It's also worth observing that the audiences for those performances will be facing north towards Mt. Baldy and the Zen Center when they are seated in Garrison Theatre.

"Ten New Songs" (Cohen's album made immediately after his Mt. Baldy retreat) may be the best Cohen album ever produced. It is certainly among his best. Those years in retreat changed him. Whether it was a function of all those years of meditative self-examination, or merely a matter of growing older, Cohen says (in interviews) that a measure of his despair lifted in the 1990s. And while it's true that Cohen was always writing "koan"-like lyrics and aphorisms, those years above Claremont added a certain Buddhist knowledge and richness to his long-existing thematic obsessions. People in the know about Buddhism say the development is obvious, and both Glass and Cohen have explored in various ways this interesting Jewish-Buddhist continuum.

If you have time, see the "Drawn from the Heart" exhibit at the Ath. If you have time and money, catch one of the Book of Longing performances. Even a jaded Claremont blogger can find enlightenment in unexpected places:
From "Historic Claremont Village":

I don't remember

lighting this cigarette
and I don't remember
if I'm here alone
or waiting for someone.
I don't remember when
I've ever seen so many
beautiful men and women
walking back and forth
in Historic Claremont Village.
I must have been working out
because I don't remember
how I got these muscles;
and this serene expression:
I must have done my time
reflecting on the bullshit.

March 2, 1997
Leonard Cohen, Book of Longing