Albert Einstein. John von Neumann. Kurt Godel. J. Robert Oppenheimer. The Institute for Advanced Study has been a magnet for the world’s greatest minds. But it’s also the home of some very smart concerts.
This season the Institute for Advanced Study’s Edward T. Cone Concert Series will encompass four pairs of Friday and Saturday programs, and they feature artists who couldn’t be more diverse.
The season will commence on October 4 and 5 with Meredith Monk and her vocal ensemble. As a composer and performer, Monk has pushed boundaries and blurred genres for more than half a century, captivating audiences with her expressive vocals and choreographed movements. For her IAS appearances she will be joined by Katie Geissinger, voice, and Allison Sniffin, voice, violin, and keyboard.
On November 15 and 16, Robert Schumann’s “Kreisleriana” will form the centerpiece of a recital by decorated composer-pianist Conrad Tao, recently cited by the New York Times as “one of five classical music faces to watch.”
On January 31 and February 1 pianist Vicki Ray and the FLUX Quartet will explore the importance of duration in music, in a program that will include Igor Stravinsky’s “Three Pieces” — which, combined, are about four minutes in length — and Morton Feldman’s 80-minute “Piano and String Quartet” (fairly economical by Feldman standards).
The season will conclude on March 13 and 14 with the return to Princeton of Benjamin Bagby and his mesmerizing recreation of “Beowulf.” Bagby sings, speaks, intones, and howls in Anglo-Saxon, accompanying himself on medieval harp. The program will be presented with English supertitles.
All concerts begin at 8 p.m. with a public reception following the performance on Saturday.
Musical events are held in IAS’s Wolfensohn Hall. Admission to the concerts is free, with tickets available through an online registration system. To reserve, visit ias.edu/air and click on “2019-20 Edward T. Cone Concert Series.” Acting promptly is advised. The venue seats 220 and tends to fill up very quickly.
Meredith Monk founded her vocal ensemble in 1978 to explore new textures for voice, often against minimal instrumental backgrounds. She is also a composer of instrumental and orchestral works. In the 1980s she wrote and directed two films, “Ellis Island” and “Book of Days.” Her opera, “Atlas,” was given its premiere at Houston Grand Opera in 1991. Her first symphonic work, “Possible Sky,” appeared in 2003. In 2014 she composed “Stringsongs” for the Kronos Quartet.
Her 40th anniversary as a performer was celebrated by artists all over the world. A Carnegie Hall concert included tributes by Bjork, Terry Riley, DJ Spooky, Ursula Oppens, Bruce Brubaker, John Zorn, and new music ensembles Alarm Will Sound and Bang on a Can All-Stars, along with the Pacific Mozart Ensemble. Monk was composer-in-residence at Carnegie Hall through 2015.
The Cone concerts fall under the umbrella of the IAS Artist-in-Residence Program. The program was established in 1994 with the intent to draw notable artists to the Princeton community both to curate the series and share their own work with IAS resident scholars. Past artists-in-residence have included Robert Taub (1994-2001), Jon Magnussen (2000-2007), Paul Moravec (2007-2009), Derek Bermel (2009-2013), and Sebastian Currier (2013-2015).
Now beginning his second three-year term, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang will continue to hold the position through 2022. Lang is a professor of composition at Yale School of Music. He is also co-founder and co-artistic director of the New York music collective Bang on a Can. His 2008 prize-winning work, “The Little Match Girl Passion,” was presented at IAS in 2014 in a concert of the Grammy Award-winning choir, The Crossing. His most recent project, the opera “prisoner of the state” (all lower case), transplants themes explored by Beethoven in his opera “Fidelio” to a contemporary setting.
In 2007 the IAS concert series was named in honor of composer, music theorist, and Princeton University professor Edward T. Cone, who had longstanding ties to the Institute. Cone died in 2004, but his legacy endures, thanks to decades of research and instruction, but also through his bequests to Princeton University — where he taught for 40 years — and the Council of the Humanities. The establishment of the Edward T. Cone Foundation has continued to enrich the cultural life of New Jersey and beyond.
Wolfensohn Hall was constructed between 1991 and 1993, designed to serve as both a lecture hall and a concert venue. Once described in this paper as “an instrument for sound,” its curved, wooden wall panels and open trusses were conceived by Jeff Paine in collaboration with the Boston acoustical design firm Acentech. The hall is named for James and Elaine Wolfensohn. James Wolfensohn is former president of the World Bank and chairman emeritus of the Institute’s board of trustees. He also happens to be an amateur cellist who was a personal friend of Isaac Stern. Stern performed in the hall’s inaugural concert.
IAS is a private, independent academic institution, a postdoctoral research center located at 1 Einstein Drive in Princeton. Founded in 1930 by educator Abraham Flexner and philanthropists Louis Bamberger and Caroline Bamberger Fuld, the Institute was conceived as a haven for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry.
Flexner observed, in a 1939 essay on the Scottish mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell, “Throughout the whole history of science most of the great discoveries which have ultimately proved to be beneficial to mankind have been made by men and women who were driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.”
The Institute serves as a tranquil refuge for scholars and scientists, who are encouraged to pursue their own intellectual and speculative goals. Their research is never contracted or directed. The faculty is unencumbered by teaching obligations. No tuition or fees are charged. The enterprise is supported entirely through endowments, grants, and gifts.
Some 30 faculty members oversee the work of four schools the focus on historical studies, mathematics, natural sciences, and social science. Every year roughly 200 visiting members come to IAS from universities and research institutions all over the world.
The Institute particularly benefited from an infusion of scholars and scientists who had been driven out of Europe with the rise of fascism in the 1930s. The founding faculty was one of unrivaled prestige. The Institute retains its attraction and significance as an academic and scientific lodestone.
While a belief persists that the Institute is somehow affiliated with Princeton University, no such formal ties between the two exist. However, informally, the two have enjoyed a collaborative relationship that goes back to 1933, when the university provided office space for the nascent research center over a six-year period, during which its current home of Fuld Hall was under construction. The Institute also shares collaborative ties with Rutgers University and other nearby institutions.
Since its founding in 1930, IAS has hosted 33 Nobel Prize laureates, in the fields of chemistry, economics, physics, literature, and medicine, as either faculty, members or long-term visitors. 42 Field Medalists out of a total of 61 have been affiliated with the Institute since the medal was first awarded in 1936.
Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble, Institute for Advanced Study, 1 Einstein Drive, Princeton. Friday and Saturday, October 4 and 5, 8 p.m. Free (ticket reservation required).
Conrad Tao, Friday and Saturday, November 15 and 16.
Vicki Ray and the FLUX Quartet, Friday and Saturday, January 31 and February 1.
Benjamin Bagby, Friday and Saturday, March 13 and 14. 609-734-8000 or www.ias.edu/events.
To learn more about the Institute’s mission and history, its current research and its distinguished faculty, visitors and emeriti, look online at ias.edu. IAS is also a presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.