Commissioned by the Grant Park Music Festival, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, CityMusic Cleveland, Interlochen Center for the Arts, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts, in partnership with The Knights.
I. The Can Man
II. The Poet
III. Mosaic Man
IV. Garbage Art
V. The Can Man (Reprise)
Conceived as a series of vignettes, each of the five movements of L.E.S. Characters depicts a different real-life street performance artist or character from the Lower East Side, recalled as a childhood memory shared between myself and Masumi Per Rostad, who commissioned and premiered the work. We both grew up and studied music together as children of the famed L.E.S. of the 80s and early 90s. I thought a series of character pieces would be a fun frame in which to place the viola at the center as subject and storyteller, recounting the images and memories of these artist souls and their impact on our creativity.
The Can Man is inspired by the work of Gene Pool, an environmental activist and performance artist who used to ride around our neighborhood on a unicycle dressed in a full-body suit of aluminum cans. Imagine the spectacle! His character bookends the form of the work, and in between, a tribute to Jim Power — The Mosaic Man — all of the poets and teachers, and the way they fashioned the gardens with sculptures made of scraps, junk, and debris to create something playful and imaginative.
This piece is dedicated to the memory of Chris Pors; Mary Lou Francis, our violin teacher and Executive Director of the Third Street Music School Settlement when Masumi and I were studying there; and Robbie McCauley, my mom… all of whom we lost during the COVID pandemic of 2020-2021. The tragedy of these losses framed the creation of this piece, which, at its conception, was inspired by child-like wonder and creativity. Thank you for the gift, for setting the stage, and giving us a path to play in. Forever in our hearts.
— Jessie Montgomery