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Music for Voice: Metropolis Ensemble at (le) Poisson Rouge

by Craig Brinker

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Photo Credit: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Andrew Cyr, founder and conductor of the Metropolis Ensemble, brought together a well-rounded set of composers to share three new vocal works this past weekend at (le) Poisson Rouge, including a dynamic reimagining of Berlioz's Romantic song cycle,  Le Nuits d'Ete, by six diffrerent composers.

First on the program was Mohammed Foirouz's Audenesque, a setting that mixed texts of W.H. Auden's "In Memory of of W.B. Yeats" and Seamus Heaney's poetic memorial to Joseph Brodsky, "Audenesque." The strong performance was led by the talented mezzo Kate Lindsey, who calmly navigated the virtousic vocal part with quick dynamic and registerial changes. Foirouz wove many different moods and styles throughout the work, choosing his orchestral colors with care and always making sure the text remained the primary focus.  

The evening's centerpiece, a modernization of Berlioz's song cycle Le Nuits d'Ete, showcased the work of six new composers and a passionate performance by soprano Kiera Duffy. In his remarks before the performance, Andrew Cyr cited the parameters given to the composers: Berlioz's melodies must stay intact, but that the accompaniment could be recomposed without restriction. The results, however, were a mixed bag.

The second song, "La Spectre de la Rose," began with a lush, slow moving accompaniment in the strings that was instantly enthralling. Composer Ryan Francis continued to widen his orchestral palette throughout the duration of the song, placing each element distinctly and carefully. The piece felt fresh and whole, less a reimaniging and more a new and fully formed composition.

"Morbidly Tender" had a lot of fascinating compositional ideas, beginning with the recording of Winston Churchill's radio broadcast after France's surrender during World War II—an overlay both ominious and effective.  However, the piece's seams started to fray as the tempo of pre-recorded material separated from the live ensemble, and while Cyr quickly brought the orchestra in time with the recording, the damage was done. 

The program's final selection was a set of songs by French singer-songwriter David Babin, taken from his work-in-progress opera, Why Birds. Babin's band, BabX, joined Metropolis ensemble on stage to play the piece. 

The first song was built around a simple, childlike melody that repeated throughout the movement, with recordings of Babin's voice layered canonically over his live performance as the music became increasingly dissonant and cacophonous. The third movement sublimely floated along, eventually adding the recording of Babin's voice heard in the first movement as a pronounced, cyclical gesture. Each of the movements provided a satisfying fusion of pop hooks and avant-garde sensibilities. 

The evening proved to be another successful outing for Andrew Cyr and Metropolis Ensemble, mixing exceptional soloists and a diligent orchestra gently nuanced by Cyr's unswerving baton.

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