Monday, June 28, 2010

The Crossing

Attended the first of three scheduled concerts in the Crossing's Month of Moderns series yesterday. The Crossing is a 20-odd person contemporary music chorus, founded and conducted by Donald Nally. Programs usually take place at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, whose air conditioned sanctuary was a great draw for me yesterday. usually, the choir sings a capella or with the church organ. Yesterday, however, they were accompanied by a 12-piece string orchestra.

Program as follows:

Arvo Part: Wahlfahrtslied, 1984/2001
Benjamin CS Boyle, Cantata: To One in Paradise, 2005
Bo Holton: Tallis Variations, 1976
David Lang, Statement to the Court, 2010 (World premiere, Crossing commission)
John Tavener, The Bridegroom, 1999

Won't give a detailed review (see June 25 post about my deficiencies in that area), but I will say that I have never heard the chorus sound richer or more full. I counted 23 singers, but I thought was more than I have seen before, though I was assured afterward it was about the usual number.

Still, the concert was something a letdown. Despite my best efforts, my mind wanders during anything by Tavener or Part, which deletes two-fifths of the program from my memory right off the bat. The minimalist vocal writing in Statement to the Court line sounded like a rehash of Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Little Match Girl, which the Crossing performed last year (and which I liked), but with an insistent, regular, one-thump beat of a bass drum that raised it nearly to the level of torture. I was afraid I would be hearing that drum in my sleep. Fortunately, I haven’t. (At the post-concert reception, one of the performers suggested that perhaps the Crossing should forego singing any more of Lang’s music until he works through his current obsessions.)

Boyle's cantata, on one of Poe's lesser poems, and the Holton were more successful. I particularly liked the contrast in the Tallis Variations between the Renaissance-inspired vocalizing and the angular, modernist-sounding business in the strings. It might sound like pastiche, but the parts came together well. The string writing reminded me at different times of Ives's Tone Roads No. 1, or the climax of Carter's Variations, or William Schuman’s Third Symphony. I'd welcome hearing the piece again.

Next performances are July 9 and 17, and I plan to attend both. The programs sound more promising. There will be premieres of settings of the poetry of Philip Levine by Lansing McLoskey and Paul Fowler, and a reprise of Kile Smith’s Where Flames a Word, on poems of Paul Celan.

No comments: