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About this Piece

Composed: 2005
Length: c. 65 minutes
Orchestration: flute (= piccolo), oboe, clarinet (= bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet), bassoon, horn, trumpet (= piccolo trumpet), trombone, tuba, piano, electric guitar, electric bass guitar, timpani, percussion (glockenspiel, tambourine, bass drum, cymbals, tam-tam, marimba, vibraphone, hi-hat, snare drum, kick drum), 2 violins, viola, cello, bass, and 3 sopranos

In classical music, it is quite unusual for composers to collaborate, but it wasn’t like that among Flemish Renaissance painters – if the painter in the studio next door did better angels and you painted better flowers, it wasn’t unusual for a collaboration to ensue. In my case, however, the requests for collaboration have often come from others, and Julia Wolfe, David Lang, and I found ourselves embarking on our third collaborative piece in 2004, courtesy of the Cologne-based musikFabrik ensemble and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival.

The two other Gordon/Lang/Wolfe collaborative works – Lost Objects and The Carbon Copy Building – are made up of numerous short musical movements. With Shelter we wanted to stretch out a bit, and we conceived of the piece in seven longer movements. Once again wereunited with Deborah Artman, who had written the libretto for Lost Objects. Like Lost Objects, Shelter is a staged oratorio, but with smaller forces: three sopranos and a large mixed ensemble. And we reunited also with Ridge Theater and their principal artists, director Bob McGrath, visual artist Laurie Olinder, and filmmaker Bill Morrison, our collaborators on The Carbon Copy Building

— Michael Gordon


Shelter was recorded in 2013 and released by Cantaloupe Records (the Bang on a Can label), with the following note:

Over the past 25 years, Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe have changed how composers think about writing, commissioning and presenting music. Since the founding of Bang on a Can in 1987, these three artists have defined their own landscape in modern music, fusing classical tradition with pop techniques in ways that continue to inspire an emerging generation of young artists.

Shelter is the third in a trilogy of collaborative works that began with 1999’s The Carbon Copy Building, followed by 2001’s Lost Objects. Shelter taps into the various meanings and connotations of the word, from basic protection from the elements to the building of an American home. Commissioned in 2005 by the Cologne-based musikFabrik ensemble and BAM’s Next Wave Festival, the project reunited Gordon, Lang and Wolfe with Deborah Artman. Artman notes that Shelter “evokes the power and threat of nature, the soaring frontier promise contained in the framing of a new house, the pure aesthetic beauty of blueprints, the sweet architecture of sound, and the uneasy vulnerability that underlies even the safety of our sleep.”

Ensemble Signal first performed the work in 2010 at the Bang on a Can Marathon in New York City. This premiere recording – conducted by Brad Lubman and featuring vocal soloists Martha Cluver, Mellissa Hughes, and Caroline Shaw – was produced by Michael Riesman. On Shelter’s American premiere at BAM in 2005, which was also conducted by Lubman, the Wall Street Journal’s Barbara Jepson wrote, “The pursuit of shelter is as old as humanity itself. But these forms of refuge can be shattered in an instant, as events like the terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina have all too recently reminded us.”