Chance Encounter

Chance Encounter


Lisa Bielawa's Chance Encounter is a 35-minute piece in, and about, transient public space with texts overheard in transient public space. Chance Encounter has been recorded by The Knights and Susan Narucki for Orange Mountain Music (December 2010), and has been performed in Venice with Lisa Bielawa as the soprano soloist as part of the 12th International Venice Biennale of Architecture, in partnership with urban placemaker Robert Hammond, known for championing New York's High Line. It was performed in Rome by soprano Susan Narucki, the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, and the Rome-based Blue Chamber Orchestra on the banks of the Tiber River and as part of the opening of the celebrated new MAXXI Museum, also in partnership with Hammond. The work has also been performed in Vancouver, and at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, by Ms. Narucki and members of The Knights. A project of Creative Capital with additional funding from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Chance Encounter was premiered in September 2007 at Seward Park in Lower Manhattan. During the creation of this work, from 2007 to 2009, Lisa Bielawa blogged about her the experience on The Chance Encounter Blog

Chance Encounter is a site-specific musical work, co-conceived by world-renowned soprano Susan Narucki and Lisa Bielawa, in which a soprano and 12 instruments convene, one or several at a time, in and out of the texture and context of public spaces. The soprano sings songs and arias constructed of texts collected in transient public spaces, thereby enacting the listener’s private (yet collective) experience of the performance space itself. Each performance ‘venue’ requires a re-mapping of the spatial and movement elements of the piece onto the new location. The piece is available for national and international touring.

The Film

The Chance Encounter film (left), directed by Lisa Guidetti, won the Gold Medal for Excellence in a Performance Film at the 5th Park City Film Music Festival. 

The Research

Susan Narucki and Lisa Bielawa researched Chance Encounter for more than a year. Bielawa carried a notebook with here everywhere, jotting down utterances that begged to be proclaimed, sung. She said, "I noticed over time that people often say things in transient spaces that help them locate themselves in space and time ('Last time I ate here by myself;' 'Remember – it was snowing horribly? And she was holding the dog?'), or provide a summary understanding of ‘the way things are’ ('They used to give you a paper bag with a sandwich and an apple, and that was the beginning of the end;' 'It’s tough when you know what’s out there, and all you can do is look'). Susan and I collected hundreds of such utterances, many of them in Lower Manhattan. I have organized them into categories – Aimlessness; The Third Person Who Is Absent; Nostalgia – and created free-form arias or songs that animate the particular mood of each collective topic."

The Performance

A single musician sits down and begins to play the opening, solo section of the piece. It is a flexibly-timed section, expandable. Several minutes later, another musician shows up at the site from some highly visible location: pulls up in a taxi or comes out of the subway or bus, comes out of a nearby deli or store. This person begins playing, across the street or plaza from the cellist. Some people on the street can only hear one player. Walk across the site, or across the street – the piece changes. There is no 'backstage' from which players wait for entrances etc. The players will have synchronized their watches earlier in the day via conference call – their entrances can be governed by absolute time.

The soprano soloist is not the first to arrive, nor the last. She sings about nostalgia (“Do you ever go to your old apartment?” “We used to have a house here, but then my father lost his job. I never go there now.”) and strangely resonant commonplaces (“What kind of place are you looking for?” “Are you by yourself?”) Some players arrive in groups. Once a critical number of people have convened in one location, the piece becomes more structured in its orchestration. The large group migrates, over the course of the piece, away from the soprano to where the smaller group is, and others migrate back towards her. It is impossible to stand in any one location and hear the whole piece.

Players stagger their exits - walk away, hail different cabs or become listeners for the rest. The soprano ends the piece alone, decisively but without ceremony.