Dr. Mia Vassilev has played the piano since she was a young girl. It was never an option to do anything else in her mind. From conservatory school to college to her first career move with The New World Symphony, a fateful choice that would bring her to South Florida, she has never stopped speaking the language of music.
Vassilev has been a student, performer, teacher and non-profit pioneer of The Miami Piano Circle. She is the one woman show behind this musical labor of love.
“I wanted to do the projects I think are interesting,” she says furrowing her light eyes. “There’s so much being done that I think is the same.”
She’s not wrong. Her latest concert GALT, at The New World Center on May 13th, will be a stunning musical representation of the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.
There has never been a musical piece produced around the controversial and complex teachings of Atlas Shrugged. When pianos come to mind, I like most people, think of ballets or operas, like The Nutcracker or The Phantom of the Opera. They are straight forward stories told deliberately and with the facilitation of language. To wrap our brains around objectivism, the philosophy espoused in all of Rand’s writings, is no easy feat reading–– to bring this to life without words, 10 grand pianos and a 5 screen setup of visual art is another triumph entirely.
Experimental performance is at the root of Vassilev’s distinct artistic choices. This performance will be no exception. With an original musical score developed by Peter J. Learn and accompany visuals displayed across panoramic videos produced by #Fordistas, GALT will be a an immersive experience in musical and visual storytelling.
“I’ve always had this book in the back of my mind because it’s one of my favorite pieces of literature,” she says. “I heard a politician mention it and I felt compelled to look into it.”
The heated political debate surrounding Rand’s philosophies were controversial in 1957, when she published the novel, and remain so today. A quick google search reveals the polarizing feelings surrounding the beliefs Rand conveyed over her lifetime’s body of work. Many consider it prophetic of our country’s present day political and ideological divide.
Rand’s philosophies are deeply rooted in individualism. Her most famous works, like Fountainhead, celebrate the person willing to stand to their own dreams and attributes, especially if it is not a popular choice. The late author was fiercely against collectivism. To gloss over Rand’s beliefs, however, can result in the quick dismissal of a radical capitalist. Though her ideas support a free market with little to no regulation, Rand is saying we must acknowledge and preserve our freedom of choice above all else–– even if that means nixing the altruistic credence of sacrificing for the greater good.
This is not to mean erasing charitable acts all together, as you have the freedom of choice to donate or give back. What she advocated for is the eradication of all mandates to do so. In other words, allowing us to decide how and when to be giving with our time, energy and resources. When we are forced to do anything, Rand argued, we go against the very nature and right of humanity. When we are robbed of choice, it will always result in resentment, laziness and the elimination of new ideas.
It’s a lot to convey in one musical score.
“I wanted to bring awareness to the material and bring it to a stage. It’s something people wouldn’t normally know about in a format that’s really unique. It’s interesting, fun and powerful,” says Vassilev. “We only recently added the 5 screens to this show about 2 years ago, which really gave it another dimension.”
GALT will have the most multiplex visually accompanying piece thus far. The #Fordistas produced screen art will synthesize the audience encounter with the deep nature of Atlas Shrugged.
“I chose Atlas Shrugged for two reasons. Individualism and being pure to what you do and your truth–– without letting anything influence you,” says Vassilev. “Secondly, it’s an unveiling of how the author had seen the United States during that time. She was paralleling what she was seeing here to what she was running away from, communist restrictions of Russia.”
Rand observed the social programs President Roosevelt set into motion during his presidency. Although the intention behind them was to help people and make our world a better place, in Rand’s eyes it mirrored the communism she escaped. Rand’s perspective: government enforced social programs force hardworking industrialists to carry the weight of the rest of the country. In her words, entrepreneurs at the time got “the short end of the stick,” citing they bore the responsibility of everyone in their effort to move the “motor of the earth” forward.
“A lot of people spin it that she was anti-philanthropic or against giving,” Vassilev says. “She was only saying people should have the choice to do this. It shouldn’t be built into the system.”
Another sharply divisive point in Rand’s novel is the notion that a society who doesn’t have criminals creates them; without criminals a government would otherwise have no role or situation in which to regulate. That’s a strong statement, admits Vassilev, but it’s at the core of Rand’s teachings; it’s about how government involvement has no right to insert itself in the very personal choices we have the right to make.
One thing can be said for sure, no ideology is one size fits all. With every belief comes a philosophy mired in questions. GALT is not a performance advocating for any specific viewpoint, it is an immersive journey exposing an interesting set of ideals.
For more information on Dr. Mia Vassilev, click here.
Words by: Cris Ramos, Miami native & word artist. Find her work @ The Emerald Journal.