Ecstatic Music Festival: Bang on a Can People's Commissioning Fund Concert
Chris Bergson at Jazz Standard

Shara Worden and ACO present Sins and Songs

by Robert Leeper

ACO, Sarah Worden, Hudson Shad
Photo Credit: Pete Checchia

Shara Worden, perhaps best known as the lead singer of the band My Brightest Diamond, shared Carnegie's Zankel Hall stage Friday evening with the American Composers Orchestra in a program that rested in the gray area between the “art-music” and vernacular traditions, in the same vein as the Ecstatic Music Festival happening uptown. The performance reflected the current contemporary music landscape: pop music of Worden’s creation, Broadway, chamber song, jazz.

Playing on their own, the ACO—appearing as a chamber orchestra—performed a pair of works guided by programmatic elements. Daniel Schnyder’s draKOOL was inspired by a cartoon film he saw with his children about Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. The jazzy work moves from a frenetic first movement, “Monster Party,” full of sharp rhythmic interplay between the snare and woodblock, to Dracula’s mournful lament, to a frenetic battle between Dracula and Mehmet, his nemesis and leader of the Ottoman Empire.

Carman Moore’s cello concerto Madiba, inspired by the extraordinary life of Nelson Mandela, was both sobering and triumphant, anchored by a truly special performance by cellist Khari Joyner. The two works, though different in intent, actually shared a similar sound palette, marked by rhythmic vitality and moments of delicacy fighting against the overwhelming force of the brass and wind instruments.

The orchestra then backed Ms. Worden for arrangements of her songs “We Added It Up” and the more dramatic “Looking at the Sun” and “Whoever you Are,” as well as two songs from Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Unremembered. The orchestrations evoked the feeling of art song infused with the light breeze of pop melody.

Ms. Worden and the orchestra also performed Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins. Beginning and ending with an arresting, jazz-infused motif, the politically charged work - one of Weill’s many such works - is a colorful volume on misbehavior. The central character, Anna, is split in two. Anna I, who sings, is essentially Anna's conscience, although she is more practical than angelic. Anna II, who dances and speaks, is the more instinctive side. As Anna II travels through America looking to earn a living to send back to her family, she gets caught up in the work's namesake sins—Pride in Memphis, Covetousness in Baltimore, Envy in San Francisco—and Anna I leads her out of them. Her family, a marvelously comic role sung by male vocal quartet Hudson Shad, occasionally comments on Anna's progress while notably making none of their own.

The vocal writing is far from demanding, but Worden gave a vivid performance as both Anna I and Anna II. Like the program as a whole, there was an air of ambiguity in Worden’s approach: she brings a welcome wit that makes Anna seem both vulnerable and impudent, never quite the victim and never quite the victimizer.