Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

A strange Disappearance …. and Beth Morrison Projects

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When I saw this article (A Strange Disappearance and What the Neighbors Have to Say About It ) on the New York Times Website, I was immediately drawn to it because I recognized a good friend of mine, Cree Carico, in the picture.

Vivien Schweitzer ( the author), begins this particular article with the sentence “In light of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March, David Lang’s “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field,” a musical-theater piece about a man who suddenly vanishes, has a particular resonance.”  I felt this was an interesting lead and expected Schweitzer to continue her comparison of the missing flight and the modern opera  throughout here piece, but she simply does not. This really threw me off and I wondered why she even bothered bringing that topic up?

Anyway, Schweitzer continues by discussing the plot of of the multimedia opera and in the process casually references the producer Beth Morrison.   If you don’t know who she is, you should, because she does some very impressive work with modern opera and multi-media performances.

Morrison, who began her classical music careers as a voice student at Boston University, went on to earn a Masters degree in Vocal Pedagogy from Arizona State University.  Subsequently she taught at the esteemed Tanglewood institute and in 1999 became its Director.  One thing led to another and while immersing herself in the Boston independent theater scene, Ms. Morrison “started forming this idea that I wanted to form my own company that was going to be all about the new.”

Morrison likes to build the shows from the group up, working with composers and librettists not just as a fund-raiser, but also as a matchmaker, booster, tour booker and creative sounding board. One example where she engaged in detailed work with the composer war the “Soilder Songs” by David T. Little.

Over time her her projects have grown more elaborate and accomplished over time; today, a typical production demands a budget of $100,000 to $200,000.

What I find so wonderful about her productions is that she takes music into new directions and provides almost an entirely new genre of opera. Her story from musicians to teacher to director to producer and stage director is simply inspiring.

What I found particularly interesting was her reaction when asked whether she might consider running  an institution herself.

“She smiled coyly but demurred: “The ability to make decisions as I want to make them, without an institution, means that I can take more risks, and it means that we can change course on a dime,” she said. “That mentality, that way of working, really suits me.” 

Reflect on that statement fellow Arts Managers 😉

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2 comments on “A strange Disappearance …. and Beth Morrison Projects

  1. carolynsupinka18
    October 2, 2014

    I agree about the opening. I feel like it was used as a ‘current events lead-in’ and then abandoned. There are definitely lines that can be drawn between the two ‘disappearances’, like the environment of wild public speculation that followed each event, as the community tries to make sense of the tragedy.

    Beth Morrison’s work sounds fascinating! I have never seen a multimedia opera but now I really want to. Like a freelancing artist or writer, I like the idea of a company that takes certain works and produces them uniquely, taking risks and experimenting. The mission statement from the Beth Morrison Projects website: “Beth Morrison Projects (BMP) identifies and supports the work of emerging and established composers and their multi-media collaborators through the commission, development, production and touring of their works, which take the form of music-theatre, opera-theatre, multi-media concert works and new forms waiting to be discovered.”

    It sounds like this particular form – the ‘Beth Morrison Project’ instead of ‘Beth Morrison Institute’ – is the form that is best serving the particular mission that she has set out to accomplish. A while ago, I remember talking about a particular dance company/institute in class, and somebody (Shruthi maybe?) questioned whether it was worth taking that particular form, if the artists’ main goal wasn’t education? I’m probably misremembering this, but I thought about it in connection with how Beth Morrison uses her company to achieve her artistic mission.

  2. sobashhere
    October 2, 2014

    Thanks for sharing about contemporary Opera work. I was not very familiar with Opera using multi-media or experimental forms. I’ve seen experimental work from Opera artists in fringe type shows, but never full productions. I tend to view experimental work as something that happens in more intimate settings of small theaters. For me, there is something very traditional about the grandness of Opera that is appealing over time. But nonetheless, very exciting to read of such work!

    In reference to Beth Morrison’s quote about institutions, I would argue that people themselves become institutions. As artists build reputations and perhaps their own company, their name and missions as people live on through those they mentored, the people who know and respect their work, and the society as a whole. An institution is a building devoted to such work that influences those it encounters; People can be institutions too.

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