Asylum 4Across ten texts set to music, and with special focus on the voice as speaker and vocalist, witness and agent, and ultimately storyteller, Asylum straddles a line between music, theater, drama, and film and is ultimately best understood as a hybrid work. Asylum is meant to be a raw exploration of life felt through the lenses of various cultural histories, represented in the pastiche of authors that inhabit the work’s landscape. My mother’s own life as a refugee after World War II is the foundation inspiration for this work.


Asylum 6The work is framed at the beginning by a poem by Adrienne Rich that opens a question on the possibilities of life, the mind and connection to others. The work concludes with a passage from an epic poem by Weldon Kees, A Distance from the Sea, which likens the psychological sensation of memory to the often confusing physical sensation of viewing the depth of the horizon and landforms between. Within the frame of these two poems, texts from 19th and 20th Century authors represent philosophical, psychological and passionately instinctual aspects of the human condition. Asylum is in itself a kind of poem or treatise on the human experience.

Asylum 1Another foundation for the work is Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus: a painting that inspired a text by Walter Benjamin, which is the subject of the work’s second movement. This painting and image of the ‘Angel of the Future’ is a touchstone for the global condition of the refugee that World War II loosed upon the world. Klee and Benjamin were both profoundly effected by World War II along with many of the poets cited in Asylum. This work is also an homage to their lives, struggles and contributions.


Forthcoming in 2020 will be a premiere performance accompanied by video installation by artist Laine Rettmer to celebrate the work’s CD release. The video installation is scheduled to be installed on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, MA in September and October, 2020. 

Audio and Live Performance Excerpts (Video) below. Contact for full score, parts, libretto and related media materials (all texts in public domain or used with permission).

Full Audio Below.

Workshop Video:

Excerpt (Movement V (Secret Memory) and beginning of VI (Anima)

Asylum. 65
Recorded by the Ecce Ensemble.
June 19th, 21st and 22nd.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters. New York, NY.

Nina Guo, voice
Jean-Philippe Wurtz, conductor

Emi Ferguson, flutes
Hassan Anderson, oboe
Barret Ham, clarinets
Pala Garcia, violin
John Popham, cello
Sam Budish, percussion

Joel Gordon, Recording Engineer
Sarah Borgatti. Recording Manager

Mixed and Mastered by Joel Gordon and John Aylward

Produced with funds from: The Guggenheim Foundation, The Catherine and Paul Buttenwieser Foundation, The Cynthia and John Reed Foundation & The American Academy of Arts and Letters.

I. What is Possible (Adrienne Rich)

II. Angelus Novus (Walter Benjamin)

III. Dream Images (Arthur Schopenhauer)

IV. Life in the Abstract (Friedrich Nietzsche)

V. Supreme Triumph (D.H. Lawrence)

VI. Secret Memory (C.G. Jung)

VII. Anima (Aylward / Thomas Mann)

VIII. Angelus (Plato)

IX. The Wing (Plato)

X. A Distance From the Sea (Weldon Kees)