White Light Festival: Latvian National Choir
White Light Festival: Paul Jacobs and the Clarion Choir

White Light Festival: Credo

DSC03292It's hard to be believe that it's been nearly three years since since the debut of the Wordless Music Orchestra, in an epic concert at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle that included the U.S. premiere of Jonny Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver. In many ways, the concert was the signal event of Ronen's ongoing Wordless Music Series, marking an evolution from quiet, chamber-sized groups to forces capable of big, earth-shaking sounds.

Ronen and the Wordless Music Orchestra returned to a sold-out St. Paul the Apostle last night under the auspices of Lincoln Center's White Light Festival, in an event accurately described by one nearby listener as a "happening." Starting things off in a quiet, contemplative mood, The Hilliard Ensemble performed Antoine Busnoy's 15th century motet In Hydraulis, followed immediately (and imperceptibly) by the world premiere of Kjartan Sviensson's Cage a Swallow Can't You but You Cant Swallow a Cage, employing sonnets by Anne Carson. (For those who may not be familiar with the latter composer, Sviensson is best known as the keyboardist/arranger for Icelandic band Sigur Ros.)

Then, the Wordless Music Orchestra and the Latvian National Choir performed the world premiere of Sviensson's Credo: an expansive, tonal work that vacillated between high-pitched string and deep, groaning bass that echoed around the soaring space. Singers and orchestra players used LED lamps to see their music in the near-pitch darkness.

After intermission, the orchestra and choir were joined by Sigur Ros' Jonsi and his musical (and life) partner, Alex Somers, who performed selections from their 2009 studio release, Riceboy Sleeps. Standing in the center of the orchestra wearing white shirts and guitars, they looked like the angels situated high above the altar, lit up in blue and green. David Handler's live arrangement of the mostly-electronic album was both quiet and engaging, gentle and arresting. And, while some listeners expecting an ur-Sigur Ros show may have been disappointed, those who accepted this generous and genuine gift on its own terms were richly rewarded.

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