Saturday, April 25, 2015, 08:00 pm | Arts and Culture

Port Bou

Port Bou is an opera by Elliott Sharp about the final moments of philosopher Walter Benjamin’s life in Port-Bou at the French-Spanish border as he flees Nazi-occupied France. It features bass/baritone Nicholas Isherwood, accordionist William Schimmel, pianist Jenny Lin, and pre-recorded electro-acoustic backgrounds by Sharp. Video projections by Janene Higgins provide the set and staging, as well as subtext and commentary. From his studies of Benjamin's texts and letters, Sharp has created a dramatic interpretation of Benjamin's internal reality on his last day, drawing reference to the hugely influential author’s key works including The Work Of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction, The Task of the Translator, and The Arcades Project.

View the trailer here!

Location: Konzerthaus Berlin, Gendarmenmarkt, 10117 Berlin

Tickets (15€):; or by phone: + 49 30 20 30 9 2101

Thursday, April 30, 2015, 07:30 pm | Humanities
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Towards a Comparison of Vilnius and Tallinn "City Texts"

Tomas Venclova contends that the Baltic capitals of Tallinn and Vilnius, despite their many apparent similarities, have generated creative works of a very different nature. These works are collectively examined as “city texts” and can be reduced, Venclova claims, to the underlying opposition between historical and mythic paradigms: Vilnius as the “city of myth” and Tallinn as the “city of history.”

Venclova will be introduced by the writer Michael Krüger, who is president of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste and is currently a 2014/15 fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015, 07:30 pm | Economics
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Whither the World Economy? The Promises and Perils of Monetary Policy

In October 2008, the G7 finance ministers and central bank governors met in Washington to respond to the market mayhem that followed the failure of Lehman Brothers. Their short statement (“We’ll do whatever it takes”) was followed by action to recapitalize the banking system on both sides of the Atlantic. The banking crisis ended in the second quarter of 2009, but the global economic crisis, of course, did not. So why, after the biggest monetary stimulus the world has ever seen, and six years after the end of the banking crisis, has the world economic recovery been so slow? Sharp downturns normally lead to sharp recoveries.

Mervyn King’s lecture will discuss the role of monetary policy – whether through interest rates or quantitative easing (QE) – which is most effective in a Keynesian down turn when spending falls because people lose confidence in the level of future aggregate demand, so they too cut back. But after a certain point, monetary policy confronts diminishing returns. During the crisis, King called this the paradox of policy: doing in the short run the absolute opposite of what we knew we had to do in the long run to rebalance our economies. Now, he asks, what will policymakers do? And what should they do to move to a new equilibrium?

Thursday, May 07, 2015, 07:30 pm | Arts and Culture
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Current Strategies for Composition and Performance

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp uses a wide variety of strategies to compose and perform music. His recent string quartet Tranzience is traditionally notated, but makes use of extended techniques and alternative bow materials. The score to his work Sylva Sylvarum was created by processing notation with graphic editing software in the same manner that composers process the 'physical' sound of instruments using digital processing: modulating, filtering, layering, inverting, distorting, sequencing. Over 250 images were sequenced and then layered with satellite videos of various regions of earth to form an animated movie that was both a score and a work of retinal art in its own right. His operas Port Bou and Substance reflect and comment on the life and works of philosophers Walter Benjamin and Baruch Spinoza, respectively. Sharp will discuss these compositions as well as the formal ideas at play in his improvisation before concluding with a brief improvised performance on his 8-string electroacoustic guitarbass.

After his lecture and performance, Sharp will be presented with the Jahrespreis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik for his 2014 Album 4am Always. The award will be presented by Bert Noglik and the evening will be moderated by Reinhard Friedl.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015, 07:30 pm | Humanities
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Slavery, Property, and the US Constitution

The delegates to the Federal Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 clashed repeatedly and sometimes fiercely over slavery. The convention settled most of these arguments with a pair of historic compromises but also rejected efforts by proslavery delegates to recognize and sanction property in man. This refusal, looking back, amounts to the first important political victory over slavery and the slaveholders in the history of the United States, the full significance of which would only emerge over the succeeding decades. Sean Wilentz contends that reconsidering these forgotten events could fundamentally alter prevailing views of the Constitution and the origins of antislavery politics.

Monday, May 18, 2015, 08:00 pm | Arts and Culture

Strategies for the New Dramatic Opera

The defining terms of the evolving, twenty-first century opera will be gesture, density, color, and velocity. In discussion with Pamela Rosenberg, Elliott Sharp will examine the notion of a new opera based not on traditional narratives but on the philosophical and the abstract. Such work will not forego drama or narrative arc and the libretto will retain its importance, but this will be an opera of ideas and speculation, a forum for transformative perception unmoored from tradition.

For decades, composer, performer, and multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp has been a cornerstone of the New York avant-garde scene. Sharp has released nearly 90 recordings, spanning the genres from jazz to rock, noise to techno, and is working on his sixth opera. His latest opera, Port Bou, examines the final moments of philosopher Walter Benjamin’s life as he flees Nazi-occupied France. Port Bou celebrates its German premiere at the Konzerthaus Berlin on April 25.

An expert in the field of New Music, Pamela Rosenberg is the former director of the Berlin Philharmoniker and former general manager of the San Francisco Opera. Before leaving for the United States, she served as co-director of the Stuttgarter Staatsoper and in leading artistic roles at the Nederlandse Opera Amsterdam, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg, and the Frankfurter Oper.

Tickets (€ 9): or +49 1805-7007 33

In cooperation with the Literaturhaus Stuttgart Generously supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, and the Berthold Leibinger Stiftung GmbH

Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 07:30 pm | Technology
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Online Education - Current Realities and Promise for the Future

C. L. Max Nikias considers the obligations and the opportunities created by the powerful new technologies reshaping the landscape of higher education and transforming the way we collaborate across countries and cultures. Since the very first academy in Athens, education has relied upon the model of the wise teacher who imparts knowledge to students in a classroom. But today, with the emergence of powerful of new technologies, a revolution is taking place, and it is reshaping the landscape of higher education and transforming the way we collaborate across countries and cultures. As the development of online technology accelerates, it is ever more important to consider the obligations and the opportunities these extraordinary tools provide to us. Online education may offer solutions to many longstanding educational challenges, but it has also created a series of new questions: What fields benefit most from online education? How do we increase access and simultaneously preserve academic integrity? Will the “virtual academy” ever be able to replace the traditional academy? This presentation ventures some answers to these questions, as well as asking how technologies that extend higher education’s global reach might also improve the global community.

C. L. Max Nikias became the University of Southern California’s eleventh president in August 2010. He holds the Robert C. Packard President’s Chair and the Malcolm R. Currie Chair in Technology and the Humanities, and chairs the USC Health System Board. Nikias has been at USC since 1991, first as a professor, then as director of national research centers, dean, and provost. He holds faculty appointments in both electrical engineering and the classics. He also leads a special freshman seminar each fall on ancient Athenian democracy and drama.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015, 07:30 pm | Social Sciences
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Sexuality and Empire: Female Chastity and Frontier Societies in Ming China (1368-1644)

Siyen Fei argues that, even as Chinese state rhetoric has, since ancient times, hailed the power of Chinese civilization in sustaining a homogeneous China, history proves otherwise. In fact, over the past seven centuries, the very idea of China has undergone several drastic and disruptive transformations. China has been, by turns, a Eurasian empire ruled by Mongols, an ethnically defined Han-Chinese Ming dynasty, and a multi-ethnic empire ruled by Manchus. In her lecture, Siyen Fei will focus on a moment in the sixteenth century when the idea of “the Chinese” became particularly problematic. Instead of expanding and sinicizing its barbaric neighbors, the Ming empire saw hundreds of thousands of its Chinese subjects leave the Middle Kingdom—either of their own volition or under compulsion—and become desinicized. Fei will look at how these border residents confronted their plight at a time when now familiar vocabularies of empire and identity were unavailable. The issue of female sexuality, claims Fei, became a venue to negotiate destabilized frontier identities and to re-imagine the Chinese world.

Siyen Fei is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. Focusing on political and cultural activism in the sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Ming dynasty, her work explores the interplay of social structure and individual agency. In her book Negotiating Urban Space: Nanjing and Late Ming Urbanization, Fei portrays urbanism in late imperial China as defined by the distinct vision of each dynastic empire, showing how Nanjing residents reinvented the place of cities by appropriating institutional and cultural resources designed for rural communities.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 07:30 pm | Arts and Culture
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Close Calls and Sold Souls

Tom Drury is the widely acclaimed author of five novels. His 2006 novel, The Driftless Area, was recently adapted by director Zachary Sluser. The film, staring Anton Yelchin, Zooey Deschanel, and John Hawkes, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in mid-April. At the Academy, Drury is working on a novel that draws its inspiration from various versions of the Faust legend, exploring the concept of the immoral mind as well as the communal struggle to resist its destructive force.

Thursday, May 28, 2015, 07:30 pm | Economics
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European Economy & Financial Future: An American View

Lawrence H. Summers will be addressing the US view of the economic and currency crisis that has hobbled the European Union in recent years. Summers was the 71st US Secretary of the Treasury, serving under President Bill Clinton, and is also a former chief economist of the World Bank. He is President Emeritus of Harvard University and currently holds the Charles Eliot University Professorship there.

The presentation will be moderated by Christine I. Wallich, Trustee-in-Residence at the American Academy in Berlin, and former Director at the World Bank.