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Relâche New Music Ensemble Kicks off 4th Season in Residence at the Penn Museum

September 14, 2016

Jill DiSanto, Public Relations Director


Sunday, October 16 at 3:00 pm

Penn Museum’s Ancient Collections Provide Inspiration for Part of the Program,
“Very Old Film and Very Old Texts with Very New Music”


Relâche, Philadelphia’s internationally renowned new music octet, opens its fourth season in residence at the Penn Museum on Sunday, October 16, at 3:00 pm, with a program that includes new music inspired some of the Museum’s oldest, and most famous artifacts: clay cuneiform tablets bearing some of the world’s earliest literature from ancient Mesopotamia.

"Very Old Film and Very, Very Old Texts with Very New Music" features the premiere of Sumer Redux by Relâche composer and bassoonist Chuck Holdeman.

Relâche concert tickets are just $15 ($10 for Penn Museum members, and $10 for any student with ID), online in advance ( or at the door, while supplies last.  Student rush tickets, available at the door only, are $5 with student ID, with an accompanying second student admitted free. A ticket may be used to enter and explore the Museum’s international galleries any time after 2:00 pm on the day of the concert (Midas special exhibition is an additional $5). The concerts are held in the Museum’s recently refurbished Widener Hall.

Inspired by Voices of the Ancient World

The concert will feature the world premiere of composer Chuck Holdeman's Sumer Redux, music in two parts that draws upon two distinctly different ancient Sumerian tales, and includes narrated texts edited from Oxford University English translations of the originals. The Penn Museum has original clay cuneiform texts of both “Hymn to Inana,” and a more humorous literary exchange between a Hoe and a Plow, part of its extensive tablet collection of literary and economic texts created in ancient Mesopotamia between 5000 and 500 BCE. Dr. Philip Jones, Associate Curator of the Babylonian Collection of tablets, serves as the performance’s narrator.

Holdeman, who has performed with Relâche at the Penn Museum over the last three years, became intrigued by the ancient cuneiform tablets of Mesopotamia—and the diverse stories they told:

“This oldest known written language created by a human society includes a humorously overblown ‘debate between the hoe and the plow,’ which is contrasted with a "Hymn to Inana," attributed to Enheduana, high priestess of the moon god and daughter of King Sargon of Akkad who died more than 4,000 years ago. Enheduana, thought to be not only the first woman author, but indeed the first author we know by name, describes the many attributes of Inana, the goddess she dedicated herself to, a goddess devoted to destruction, but also to creation.”

Sumer Redux, his musical response to both the humorous and serious aspects of this ancient culture, does not, however, attempt to make an antique sound. He takes a fresh approach to our limited knowledge of Sumerian scales and intervals, honoring as well the ancient harpists, pipers, and drummers with the plucked strings of Relâche, the group's piping woodwinds, and both acoustic and electronic percussion sounds.

Another Premiere and Silent Film/New Music Pairings

Another concert premiere will be Philadelphian Paul A. Epstein's Night Music 2, a resonant and mysterious meditation in sound, as well as Epstein's upbeat Fancy Flight.

The "very old film" offerings are from 1904, 1906, and 1909, created by Georges Méliès, the French genius of humor, fantasy, and special effects. Martin Scorsese's 2011 film Hugo was based in part on his life; Ben Kingsley played Méliès. The Damnation of Faust, Hydrothérapie fantastique, and The Merry Frolics of Satan will be screened with new music performed by Relâche and composed by Phillip Johnston, a veteran of the New York downtown scene and leader of the Microscopic Septet, now living and teaching film music in Australia.

Relâche presented four other Méliès/Johnston creations last June. The Broad Street Review's Pamela Forsythe wrote:

"It continues to be a revelation to see early film set to adapted and newly created music performed live. From the way the first films interpret the world, to the skill required to score them, to the enthusiasm of the performance, it is a treat to go back in time with Relâche."

The musicians of Relâche will be joined by two guest artists, percussionist Brent Behrenshausen and bassist Nancy Merriam. In addition to appearances with many local orchestras Behrenshausen is the leader of the highly entertaining percussion group "Junk Rock." Nancy Merriam specializes in new music for the bass and solo bass performances for children, as well as serving as Music Performance Coordinator for Haverford College.

About Relâche

Relâche is a new music ensemble that for over thirty years has maintained an international reputation as a leader in commissioning and performing the innovative music of our time. Relâche has a unique sound—flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, viola, piano, bass and percussion, and performs works that are neither classical, nor popular, but somewhere in between—a melding of Western classical traditions with jazz, rock, electronica, world music, and more.

Among the oldest continuously operating, non-profit organizations and chamber ensembles dedicated to contemporary music in the United States, Relâche has consistently offered world-class performances and presentations of music by leading American and international composers and artists. To date, Relâche has performed more than 600 concerts in the Greater Philadelphia area, around the country and the globe, including residency, festival, and touring appearances in South America, Japan, and Eastern and Western Europe. The Ensemble boasts a touring-ready repertoire of more than 50 pieces and a repertory library of more than 400 works. Relâche commissions include works by Robert Ashley, Kitty Brazelton, John Cage, Uri Caine, Fred Frith, Kyle Gann, Philip Glass, Fred Ho, Michael Nyman, Pauline Oliveros, Bobby Previte, George Russell, Somei Satoh, and Lois V Vierk. Relâche has released seven CDs to date, from Relâche on Edge (1991), to Comix Trips (2014).

About the Penn Museum

The Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 300 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage.

The Penn Museum is located at 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (on Penn's campus, across from Franklin Field). Public transportation to the Museum is available via SEPTA's Regional Rail Line at University City Station; the Market-Frankford Subway Line at 34th Street Station; trolley routes 11, 13, 34, and 36; and bus routes 21, 30, 40, and 42. Museum hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, with extended hours the first Wednesday of each month (to 8:00 pm). Closed Mondays and holidays. Guests with day-of Relâche tickets may explore the Museum between 2:00 pm and performance time at 3:00 pm. Regular Museum admission donation is $15 for adults; $13 for senior citizens (65 and above); free for U.S. Military; $10 for children and full-time students with ID; free to Members, PennCard holders, and children 5 and younger. Hot and cold meals and light refreshments are offered to visitors with or without Museum admission in The Pepper Mill Café; the Museum Shop offers a wide selection of gifts, books, games, clothing and jewelry. The Penn Museum can be found on the web at For general information call 215.898.4000. 


About the Penn Museum
The Penn Museum’s mission is to be a center for inquiry and the ongoing exploration of humanity for our University of Pennsylvania, regional, national, and global communities, following ethical standards and practices.

Through conducting research, stewarding collections, creating learning opportunities, sharing stories, and creating experiences that expand access to archaeology and anthropology, the Museum builds empathy and connections across diverse cultures

The Penn Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00 am-5:00 pm. It is open until 8:00 pm on first Wednesdays of the month. The Café is open Tuesday-Thursday, 9:00 am-3:00 pm and Friday and Saturday, 10:00 am-3:00 pm. On Sundays, the Café is open 10:30 am-2:30 pm. For information, visit, call 215.898.4000, or follow @PennMuseum on social media.