Theotokia - program notes

Commissioned by The Spoleto Festival, USA for Dawn Upshaw, Pedja Muzijevic and the St. Lawrence String Quartet (Scott St. John, Geoff Nuttall, Lesley Robertson, and  Christopher Costanza)


Theotokia is, as the title suggests, a set of hymns to the mothers of god. In this case, god is the persona of a delusional schizophrenic whose mothers include both conjured characters and a very real mother – one who proves to be as troubled as her son.

As a composer often plagued by imagined music, I have been fascinated by auditory hallucinations, both musical and lexical - and, more generally the phenomenon of obsession of which such auditory hallucinations are so often a component.

Theotokia portrays  the highly ritualized quasi-religious beliefs and practices that might be characterized by a individual suffering from such delusional mental illness.

Palywright and poet Dan O’Brien’s brilliant texts meld the painful inner thoughts of a schizophrenic with allusions to ‘normal’ religious ritual  - which is, in its own way, obsessive and divorced from reality.  As we explored the musical expression of a person tormented by his delusions, we discovered a shared fascination with people haunted by their past. We are currently collaborating on an opera, to be premiered here at Stanford in April 2013.

Theotokia  received its world premiere to critical acclaim in the Spoleto Festival in June 2010 and has been broadcast nationally and abroad over the National Public Radio network.


Recordings on this page are recorded live from The Spoleto Festival performance at the Dock Street Theater, Charleston SC  by WDAV on June 9. 2010

Copyright 2010, Jonathan Berger, all rights reserved