Deer Tick at Webster Hall
R.I.P. Paul Motian

Composers Concordance at St. Augustine's

Lrg_Composers_ConcordanceEdit: Another guest post, this one from my next-door-neighbor, Don, who also happens to be an accomplished composer and musician. Don takes us to a new music show by Composers Concordance, right here in the Slope.

On Friday night, Composers Concordance presented “Pipes vs. Pipes,” its third annual “Contrasts” concert at St. Augustine’s Church in Park Slope, Brooklyn. As the name suggests, the organ was pitted against voices in a widely varied selection of pieces.  It was nowhere near as contentious as “Shark vs. Train,” however, but rather displayed once again the beauty of this combination.

The program began with Ostensible/Invisible, an invocation of sorts for solo voice by Dan Cooper, ably sung by baritone Charles Coleman.  Set to a text by Theodore Roosevelt, it was a timely reminder that, in the minds of some, the Occupy Wall Street movement stands for government for the people, not special interests.  The other vocal selections ranged from the three diatonic songs of Gene Pritsker, Wish+Faith=Kisses, which showed a firm madrigalian backbone, to Milica Paranosic’s droning, contemplative Postcard #4, a memorial to the Jewish-Hungarian poet and concentration camp victim Miklos Radnoti.  14 Variations on 14 Words by Patrick Grant is a setting of a phrase by John Cage, 14 words long, with permutations of those words by Scottish poet Edwin Morgan.  The sound of claves keeping time and Grant’s snappy rhythms in the voices suggested a Reichian hue in this piece.

The organ, skillfully played by Carson Cooman, predictably held its own.  As in the vocal selections, the organ works were quite varied, from the modal polyphony of Peteris Vasks’ Te Deum, a dedication to the liberation of Latvia, to the playful, Impressionistic diatonicism of Mr. Cooman’s own Prelude and Fugue.  Paula Diehl’s Sidelights was composed using her “separation system,” which is a “gradual decrease of interlock (or overlap) of fourths.”  It creates a decidedly more dissonant sound than some of the other works, and also seemed to help Ms. Diehl achieve more freedom of form and texture.  Ms. Diehl obviously does not tire of the possibilities of her system; her repetition of chords and motives made for an attractively static overall rhythm.  Sonorities IX by Patrick Kordish displayed the organ at its fullest.  Cluster chords splashed about puddle-wonderful, subsequently accompanied by a mysterious walking bass in the pedals, and gave way to a solid wall of sound, which made one wonder if it would cause the organ loft to collapse.  Robert Moran’s Elegy for a Young King made a softer impression.  Written to commemorate Ludwig II of Bavaria, patron of Bayreuth who died at the age of 40 in 1886, this post-modern Wagnerian hymn-cum-clusters seemed to bring Ludwig back to life in the here and now.

A piece for voices and organ, David Soldier’s The War Prayer, a rock-inflected theatrical scena based on a story by Mark Twain, concluded the program.  The part of the homeless man was so well played by baritone Christopher Klaich that one thought a real homeless man had truly imposed himself and started to sing and clap along with the singers.  Dan Barrett conducted with clarity and precision.

A church is a logical choice to present an organ and voice program, and St. Augustine’s Church is just as fitting for that purpose as any other.  However, whereas the organ had no real problems in its presentation, the cavernous quality of the church posed some problems for the voices.  Since they were placed dead center their sound was pretty much swallowed up, and clarity was lost.  One wonders why their placement was not reconsidered; it wasn’t until the end of the program that the problem was solved when the singers moved to a spot near the organ loft, where a wall provided a much needed reflector of sound.