When I first heard of Sufjan Stevens’ goal to write an album for every state –after his two records Michigan and Illinois- I laughed at the hubris, even as I fell more enthusiastically under each album’s sway. A few years later and now Sufjan Stevens has just premiered his orchestral and film work ‘The BQE’ at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) this week. Made up of a large orchestra, a rock group, five hula-hoopers (?) and a three channel film projected above the musicians, The BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway), is a worldless paean to the borough. Moving through Brooklyn like a caressing hand, Stevens’ film and score managed to turn the city into an object of such joy it felt like an honor to be from the place. He followed up the roughly 40-minute piece with a set of the hits, never losing the orchestra or the film and video accompaniment. The warmth and charming awkwardness he brought to the opera house bespoke an intimacy of such scale it was unsettling. That, and the first set’s original work, made me think of how big his vision really is. Maybe big enough to make 50 albums for 50 states that are worthy of vying for a place in the canon of Americana alongside Whitman or Sandburg.
* COMPOSED AND PERFORMED BY SUFJAN STEVENS
NOV 1—3 at the BAM HOWARD GILMAN OPERA HOUSE
Listen to a sampling of THE BQE on YouTube: