Dirty Projectors | Premiering 'Song of the Earth' with the LA Phil at the Walt Disney Concert Hall

Grandness through The Most Minute and Fragile 

Written by

Bree Castillo

Photographed by

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Photographed by Brian Rapaport

Almost four years since their last performance, Dirty Projector’s David Longstreth premiered his Song Of the Earth with the LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall. In a one-night-only performance, LA was welcomed by Mount Eerie, the project of Phil Elverum of The Microphones fame, introduced to Song of the Earth, and treated with an ending set from the Dirty Projector’s discography. 

Inspired by Gustav Mahler's 1908 orchestral song cycle, Das Lied Von Der Erde meaning The Song of the Earth, Longstreth ponders on life's cyclical nature, encompassing the vast notions of existence through feelings of joy, sorrow, and impermanence through the convergence of symphonic and vocal soundscapes. Longstreth says that Song of the Earth explores the sound “through the lens of the Anthropocene,” yet there are moments of fragile beauty.  

To what Longstreth called a “COVID doodle” on stage, Song of the Earth felt, yes, like a stream of consciousness through song, but also wildly intentional. With pieces like “I walk the Wedge,” “So Blue the Lake,” and “Armful of Flowers,” Longstreth, with a guitar in hard, touches on the grandness of existence through the most minute and sometimes overlooked occurrences. Brass fanfares bring on the warmth of the day, and nightly strings whisper the secrets of the natural realm. Longstreth tells us, “I became obsessed with this beautiful irony, finding universality in the small, the improbable, the contingent.” And it is through these details that Song of the Earth finds its peaks. 

We were able to get Longstreth for a single beat to reflect on Song of the Earth.   

Photographed by Brian Rapaport

This was your first performance with Dirty Projectors in over 4 years.  

I can’t believe it’s been nearly 5 years since Dirty Projectors have played. That long!  Time isn’t real. It was so great to be back with the band. We’ve got some other work in the pipeline too, very exciting …

Tell us about your first orchestral work, Song of the Earth. How did this piece come to be? What was your inspiration or story you had to tell?

The piece grew out of my obsession with the Gustav Mahler piece “Das Lied von der Erde.”  That translates as ‘Song of the Earth.’  At first, I just loved the title: imagine a song so vast that it could somehow encompass the entirety of Earth — of nature, of wilderness, of human experience!  And in one way, Mahler’s piece does try to do that: It’s this 65-minute song cycle for a huge 105-piece orchestra and two vocalists. But in another way, the libretto it uses—translations of Chinese poems from the Tang Dynasty—point in a different direction.  The lyrics are these very detailed descriptions of small, specific situations, suffused with a sense of transience and the impermanence of all things. So I became obsessed with this beautiful irony, finding universality in the small, the improbable, the contingent. 

David wears Meals.Clothing
Maia and Felcia wears ace&jig.

How long did it take to bring this piece to fruition for the US premiere? 

The first version of the piece I wrote was for my German friend André De Ridder’s chamber group s t a r g a z e.  We’d been talking about me writing a piece for them for years and finally, during the pandemic, we did it! The first draft was for that ensemble—five strings, three winds, horn & trombone, two percussionists, and piano.  I wrote it very quickly, in about a month, because my daughter had just been born. I wrote it so fast that I had no idea what it was, only that it had surprised and confused me in a way that I liked. So I’ve spent the last few years rewriting it and turning it into a finished work. The recording is almost done now too!  

What is it like to perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic? 

It is such an incredible honor to premiere the full orchestral version with the Los Angeles Philharmonic! I feel so lucky to have landed the piece with the LA Phil because, for one, they’re my home team! And for another, they've developed a reputation for premiering new work in the US. So this is very cool! An incredible honor. 

Photographed by Kyle Thomas / King Tuff

Vocals / Guitar / Composer: David Longstreth

Conductor: Sarah Hicks 

Vocals / Harpsichord / Farfisa Organ: Olga Bell

Drums: Mike Johnson 

Vocals: Maia Friedman & Felicia Douglass

Percussion: Jodie Landau 

Percussion: Sidney Hopson 

Saxophone: Patrick Shiroishi

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Dirty Projectors, Song of the Earth, LA Phil, Walt Disney Concert Hall