5 Questions to Hajnal Pivnick and Dorian Wallace (Tenth Intervention)

New York City based Tenth Intervention, founded in 2012 by violinist Hajnal Pivnick and composer/pianist Dorian Wallace, is an artists collective committed to presenting bold and progressive modern music at the intersection of performance, experiential art, and social activism. On Saturday, January 20, 2018, they present their latest offering, It Can’t Happen Here: art in response to oppression, at Renee Weiler Concert Hall in lower Manhattan. This chamber music program features six works that were inspired by events that challenged freedom of thought, expression, and religion. The program also includes a visual art response project, developed in partnership with Artistic Noise, which works to bring the freedom and power of artistic practice to young people who are incarcerated, on probation, or otherwise affected by the justice system. We recently spoke with Hajnal (HP) and Dorian (DW) to find out more.

What were your motivating factors in forming Tenth Intervention?

HP: The most exciting part of running a group like Tenth Intervention, for me, is the opportunity to develop my voice as a curator with a focus on social issues often overlooked in classical music. New York City is a hub of creative minds and community-driven activists. There seems to be an endless assemblage of performers and creators wanting to express what means the most to them through their art. I see Tenth Intervention as a community that examines, questions, and seeks to challenge our society through curating and performing.

DW: The planet is bursting with brilliant artists of countless demographics and everyone deserves a seat at the table. My early years as a composer were concentrated on promoting an environment for new music. When life became more challenging due to financial reasons, I became more alarmed about class issues. This eventually led me to social activism, both as a composer and community member. Through Tenth Intervention, we are dedicated to the promotion of new music, social activism, and community building.

Untitled work by Artistic Noise artist Angel

How are you engaged with Artistic Noise?

HP: Artistic Noise is a nonprofit that provides visual art and entrepreneurship programs in Massachusetts and New York to young people who have been affected by the justice system. In collaboration with the Director of the Art, Entrepreneurship, and Curatorial Program, Nic Holiber, we recently hosted four monthly workshops, during which we had the chance to discuss the thematic, musical, and social impact of the music we have selected for It Can’t Happen Here. The workshops included everything from YouTube video sharing to live improvisation and freestyling, to discussing politically charged messages in both popular and classical music.

DW: I am currently in school studying music therapy, so the experience of collaborating with Artistic Noise has been all the more meaningful. For example, in one meeting, Hajnal and I improvised a score based on the subject matter of the Iraq War, while the students created a response through drawing. Each student shared their work and explained what it meant to them. One participant’s piece was a blank page with his name signed at the bottom. His description of the work: “I have nothing more to say.”

How did you devise your event theme, It Can’t Happen Here?

HP: The inspiration for the title came from the 1936 novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis about the rise of Fascism in the United States. In the story, a charismatic politician defeats Franklin Delano Roosevelt and is elected President. Running on an anti-elitist platform, he promises to return the nation to prosperity and greatness, even though his campaign foreshadows authoritarian policies.

The date of our performance is January 20th, which also marks the one-year anniversary of the latest US presidential inauguration. Finding ourselves wanting to program music that had been written in response to oppression, we immediately thought of the composer Frederic Rzewski, who will celebrate his 80th birthday in 2018. After brainstorming with pianist Adam Tendler, a frequent collaborator, we decided to program Frederic Rzewski’s work, Bring Them Home, a 35-minute piece for 2 pianos and percussion written in 2004 in response to anti-war sentiments. Adam will perform this with pianist Kathleen Supové and percussionists Ellery Traffod and Elliot Wallace.

Elizabeth A. Baker (photo by Jake & Katie Ford Photography)

What other works will be on the program?

HP: We are also really excited to be programming two recent works by composers Elizabeth Baker and Alexandra du Bois. Alexandra’s work was commissioned as part of a response project spearheaded by Cincinnati-based pianist Brianna Matzke. Together with Brianna, this piece was co-commissioned by Kathleen Supové and myself and was premiered in February 2017 at the Tribeca New Music Festival. Alexandra wrote Bells From the Abyss in response to the 2016 US presidential election, during a time in which she felt that she had lost her voice. Her piece is a heart-wrenching look into the aftermath of a political and ideological shift in our country, one that juxtaposes youthful naiveté with anger and confusion.

Elizabeth Baker’s piece Protracted Retribution uses audio footage from the 1968 memorial in Central Park following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The work was originally written for solo piano and live processing, and has been arranged by the composer for violin. The piece includes choreography for the performer, which adds to the theatricality of the piece.

What can you tell us about Manusa, Dorian’s work being premiered that evening?

DW: Since 2013 there has been an escalation of brutal attacks in Bangladesh by religious extremists on secular writers, bloggers, and publishers. The Bangladeshi government has done little to nothing to address these massacres. They have even charged and imprisoned these bloggers for ostensibly offending religious groups. To date, there have been 48 people who have fallen victim to these assaults.

Written for cellist Nicholas Finch, Manusa, which translates to “human” in Bengali, is dedicated to the courageous individuals who exercised their human right to free speech and, as a result, paid with their lives. I had the honor of meeting some of the survivors, who are now on refugee status in the UK and USA. The message behind the work became more imperative when Mr. Trump became president and pushed his oppressive ‘Travel Ban’/ICE initiative.’ Some of these brave individuals were faced with being removed from our country and sent back to the unspeakable dangers they escaped. Manusa is dedicated to them.


January 20, 2018 at 8:00 PM: It Can’t Happen Here: art in response to oppression, Renee Weiler Concert Hall, 46 Barrow St, New York, NY