About a year ago, vocal octet Roomful of Teeth offered the first complete NYC performance of Caroline Shaw's Pulitzer Prize-winning Partita for 8 Voices. Not long after, they performed it again during the Winter Jazzfest, right before they headed out to L.A., where they picked up the GRAMMY for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.
But, even though last night's appearance by Roomful of Teeth at Lincoln Center's White Light Festival was the third time we've heard Partita in less than a year, it took nothing away from the music's magic, or it's power to astonish. If anything, last night's performance exhibited far more energy and tightness: throughout, most of the singers hardly looked at their music stands as they belted, yodeled and growled their way through Caroline's half-hour long masterwork. For those who were hearing it live for the first time, it was probably somewhat of a surprise to see Caroline, still very young looking at 32, step forward for her charmingly awkward curtain call. (If you don't already have the recording, you can hear Partita streaming on Caroline's website.)
Prior to Partita, Roomful of Teeth performed a trio of works in quick succession. Rinde Eckert's I have stopped the clocks (2009) was only four minutes long but managed to set the tone with a strange, otherworldly softness. Brad Wells, who is also Teeth's founder and director, composed Render last summer, using vocalise to create lush, ethereal textures. In between, Teeth gave the NY Premiere of Sam Amidon's Appalachian-flavored Hiram Stamper, with Amidon himself appearing onstage to sing a 200-year old shape-note hymn in his twangy mountain voice:
Thence he arose, ascended high,
And showed our feet the way;
Up to the Lord our souls shall fly,
At the great rising day.
As an encore, Teeth performed Wells' Otherwise, which had more energy and directness than Render and offered baritone Dashon Burton the opportunity to show off his formidable bass-baritone, which almost overpowered the other singers in the miniscule Clark Studio, which could have been filled multiple times with the number of people who tried to get tickets last night. I felt fortunate to have been one of those lucky few in the room(ful).
More pics on the photo page.