Friday, May 15, 2009

Chanticleer / Composers | Our Age

I'm finally getting around to writing about this Chanticleer concert March 20, 2009 at the San Francisco Conservatory. I have been quite busy composing Halloween in the Castro and other projects, so I'm going to rely on notes sketched in my program.

This concert featured new work from young emerging composers. All chose mature, literary selections of text for their work.

Tarik O'Regan didn't attend the concert. My notes on his "No Matter" indicate it made use of pyramids, which I think is interesting for vocal music. My notes also indicate "sustained high male falsetto will lead to much throat clearing." Chanticleer are a truly virtuoso group, and if you can force too much throat clearing from them, the problem is with you, pal, not the singers. Don't get carried away with groups who can "do anything." It's not an abusive proving ground for poor ideas. Now that my harsh critique is out of the way, my notes also say there was a moment of Ligeti Bagatelle like artifical overtones. That sounds very cool. Ligeti did that with woodwinds. I didn't expect to hear it in voices. The effect is when two high pitched tones rub or beat against each other, a third artifical overtone can be created, with the right combination. Way cool.

Shawn Crouch spoke a bit about his "The Garden of Paradise." This commission was made possible by a Chorus America Award through the Dale Warland Singers Fund; Dale was in the audience himself. Thanks Dale. Shawn said the text, a mash up of poems by Brian Turner and 13th century Persian Rumi, was inspired by his brother Kyle, who served as a Marine in Iraq, and the dilemma of "how to go before God knowing you've killed on the battlefield." There was a memorable chirping bit on the words "I am the bird from the Garden of Paradise." Of course, many composers have imitated bird sounds in their choral pieces. My notes on the program also indicate an "active refrain" on the words "It should make you shake and sweat."

Mason Bates, pictured above at the concert, discussed his piece "Sirens" and his interest in "electronica." I use quotes around "electronica" because I have my suspicions the word may grow dated, and may in fact trivialize the type of music it so succinctly describes. Moreover, "electronica" seems to both apply to a very narrow slice of electronic music and to be used as an overbroad brush stroke to pigeonhole a large body of music. At any rate, Mason said there were two aspects of "electronica" that he is particularly drawn to and which inform his classical work as well. First, there is a rhythmic aspect. Second, there is strong use of sonorities and textures.

Mason said that the movements of "Sirens" are "indebted to language" for their music; the movements are in Greek, German, Italian, Quechua, and English. I found the movements to be related but severable. Movement II, Die Lorelei, my notes describe as "grandiose, jazzy, tonal, chorale." Movement III featured a "twinkly Maj7." Movement IV, in Quechua, had spoken, rhythmic, whispering which reminded me of Mylène Farmer's "Alice"; it also had shakers and a catchy little rock refrain which I notated above. Movement V, my notes call "stunning. real music." Movement VI, my notes indicate "ends Sailor Moon." That is, if I heard it correctly. That's a mM7 chord used to end a piece, this is also used a lot in James Bond soundtracks. Mason's piece went really well, and shows he can write very strong choral as well as instrumental music.

I conclude this post by stating the obvious, how wonderful it is that a group as talented and respected as Chanticleer would have the enthusiasm, courage, and vision to program new works by emerging composers. I expect them to continue to do so. I hope they will program lots of new music into regular concerts as well. That's the best way for new work to penetrate public consciousness.

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