Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kay George Roberts: 'Where Elephants Weep' 'had the most diverse audience any event in Lowell has ever seen.'

[Kay George Roberts (New England Orchestra]

This is the fourth and final installment of a cover story in UMass Lowell Magazine, Spring 2009, Bringing Music to the People: Kay George Roberts, Ambassador with a Baton. Geoffrey Douglas writes:

“She had been searching for some time for a work by a Cambodian composer that might reach out to Lowell’s vast Cambodian population – the second-largest in the U.S. She found it in 'Where Elephants Weep,' a love-story opera by composer Him Sophy, that tells the story of Sam, a Cambodian-American who gives up his life in the U.S. to return to his native country, where he joins the monkhood in Phnom Penh, then falls in love with a Cambodian karaoke star. Based loosely on an old Khmer legend, it blends traditional Cambodian and Western music in a mix that calls on every style and genre from ancient Khmer lullabies to operatic arias and the sounds of cellphone rings.

“After traveling to Cambodia to conduct a workshop presentation of the opera in Phnom Penh, she was instrumental in fusing together what the International Herald-Tribune later called 'an unprecedented private-public partnership' to bring it to Lowell – where it rehearsed in the Lowell High School auditorium, to 'roars of appreciation,' before making its debut, in April 2007, at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. 'I can’t judge the importance of “Where Elephants Weep” for a U.S. audience,' Kay Roberts says. 'What I do know is that the production of this opera in Lowell brought the cultural community together, and that its performance here had the most diverse audience any event in Lowell has ever seen.'

“In the end, though, she will tell you, she is a teacher. But the teaching doesn’t end in the classroom. And her students aren’t the only ones who learn. 'When I came to UMass Lowell thirty years ago, I experienced the University as an encouraging environment that stimulated my creativity and challenged my abilities. Inside the UMass Lowell community, the question seems to be how education can create a whole person – not only to open doors to a profession, but also to stimulate growth throughout the person’s life. Teaching here gives me the chance to share this attitude with my students, as well as to reach out to the Lowell community to give back what’s been given to me – education and opportunity. 'I think of the role of a conductor as an educator, in the broadest sense. Not only with musicians in rehearsals and performances, but in enhancing the audience’s understanding of what they will be hearing and seeing.'”

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