"Often, when people hear new classical music for the first time, they react by saying: 'Oh, that was interesting.' But, when it comes to vocal music, people react very viscerally. There is something about the human voice which is immediately present and powerful." Osvaldo Golijov
Seven months ago, composer Osvaldo Golijov
and soprano Dawn Upshaw
gathered a group of young composers, instrumentalists, and singers at Bard College, where Upshaw teaches. The idea was to foster an exchange of ideas, after which the composers would go away and write their pieces with particular voices in mind - much as Golijov has done for Upshaw on numerous occasions.
The fruits of this collaboration were on display Saturday night at Zankel Hall
for the first of two Young Artists Concerts, sponsored by Carnegie's Weill Music Institute
. None of the composers were over 33, and each had their own distinctive voice.
Ljova's Nina Dance used mariachi trumpets and his own famiola (a six-stringed viola) to portray the unsolved murders of women in Juarez, Mexico. The evocative, often erotic text was sung by Sofia Rei Koutsovitis, whose impressive voice ranged from dark tremolo to electronically-altered growl. Paola Prestini's Oceanic Verses used field recordings, a battery of percussion, and a trio of singers (Leona Carney, Kasia Sadej, Rie Miyake) to create a tribal, earth-mother atmosphere. David T. Little's Dog Days was in familiar territory, converting a Judy Budnitz fable about America's haunting social injustice into a mini-opera for five singers (Megan Taylor, Mary Bonhag, Tania Rodriguez, Patrick Cook, Sung Eung Lee.)
Most memorable for me, however, was Matti Kovler's three-part song cycle Here Comes Messiah! In remarks before the performance, Kovler said he completely changed his conception of the work after hearing the remarkable soprano Tehila Goldstein, who is at least as much an actor as she is a singer. Sure enough, Goldstein whistled, keened and grunted through the poetic and religious texts, while Kovler looked on from the piano. His music bore a close resemblance to Bernstein's, filled with all the same joy and wonder:
"Where can I escape from Your spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend up to heaven You are there, if I descend into the netherworld, You are there. Such knowledge is too wondrous; I cannot attain it."
How these performers (who were led by Alarm Will Sound's Alan Pierson) pulled off such warm, technically sound performances of brand new works with less than a week's rehearsal time is a mystery, if not a miracle. Almost as much as the songs themselves. (More pics below.)
Pictured: Osvaldo Golijov, Dawn Upshaw, Ljova
Sofia Rei Koutsovitis, Ljova
Golijov, Paola Prestini, Upshaw
Leona Carney, Kasia Sadej, Rie Miyake, Alan Pierson
Matti Kovler (piano), Tehila Goldstein
Golijov, David T. Little, Upshaw
Megan Taylor, Mary Bonhag, Tania Rodriguez, Patrick Cook, Sung Eung Lee