The summer of 1964 was an ignominious time in Rochester’s history. During a three-day period from July 24-26, racial tensions exploded in the city. The National Guard was called in to quell the unrest. The immediate costs were enormous: four deaths, about 350 injured, nearly 1000 arrests, and over one million dollars in property damage. Fifty years later in 2014, the consequences are more difficult to calculate but the scars are readily apparent in Paolo Pellegrin’s recent photographs of Rochester’s inner city. One of the world’s leading photojournalists, Pellegrin spent several weeks in the spring and summer of 2012 embedded with the Rochester Police. His graphic images clearly show the levels of poverty and violence that still exist in Rochester: they chronicle the stark reality of life on the streets and demonstrate just how many social questions have gone unanswered.
Pellegrin has stated that he is interested in photography that is “unfinished” and that “can trigger a conversation or dialogue.” The goal of this project is to enter into a musical dialog with Pellegrin’s pictures of Rochester. Table Top Opera is a chamber ensemble comprised of faculty and friends of the Eastman School of Music that specializes in combining live music with other media, including still and moving images. Through the use of cutting-edge computer programs, it sets out to present the images in real time, thereby allowing the musicians to respond spontaneously to what they see. In this case, the musicians respond to Pellegrin’s extraordinary photographs with a newly created score based on music performed in Rochester fifty years ago with "echoes" from the classical repertoire. The music includes arrangements of J.S. Bach's Sonata for Violin and Keyboard in E major and Duke Ellington's Night Creature (which was performed in Eastman Theatre some ten days after the riots).