Theatre of Voices at Carnegie Hall
Arvo Part and David Lang Featured
By: Susan Hall - Mar 21, 2019
Theatre of Voices
New York, New York
March 20, 2019
Else Torp, Soprano
Iris Oja, Mezzo-Soprano
Paul Bentley-Angell, Tenor
Jakob Bloch Jespersen, Bass
Paul Hillier, Conductor
Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, Organ and Piano
James Taylor, Director
Theatre of Voices returned to Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall to perform the music of Arvo Pärt alongside the New York premiere of visual poems by Phie Ambo. No Mickey Mousing was intended. Instead the pictures were suggested by changing seasons and a farm in Denmark. Pärt in words and notes repeats "Farewell, my heart" as a new phrase starts. "Abide" is a beautiful long "i."
Else Torp soprano began with the folk song "My Heart's in the Highlands"which has over a million and a half hits on YouTube. It was a treat to hear live accompanied on the organ by Christopher Bowers-Broadbent.
Pärt moved to what he called, perhaps after Edgar Allen Poe, tintinnabulation. He used overtones created when a bell is struck to create song. Most composers rely on overtone series to create their music. Many performers do not listen to these echoing tones so we as listeners can’t hear them as composers intended. Theatre of Voices is a clear exception. Listening to the pure line of one soprano’s tones reverberate throughout Zankel, you could hear the bells resounding and resounding.
Paul Hillier, Theatre of Voices' artistic director, had conducted the world premiere of David Lang’s the little match girl passion (Pulitzer Prize 2008). The group returns for the world premiere of Lang's cycle the writings. Lang has added a Purim poem, so this is the world premiere of the entire cycle. Lang can muster big forces with small forces, here voices only. He noted that this premiere was on Purim, and his new song based on the story of Esther.
The Lang songs were based on Biblical passages, the last one celebrating Purim. This evening was the beginning of that Jewish day of celebration, when Esther had freed the Jews from extinction by Haman. Esther was chosen for her beauty, yet she acted like a brave modern woman to save her people. Rougher moments allow the singers to show different textures in their voices.
Pärt moved to what he called, perhaps after Edgar Allen Poe, tintinnabulation. He used overtones created when a bell is struck to create song. Most composers rely on overtone series to create their music. Many performed do not listen to these echoing tones so we as listeners can’t hear them as composers intended. Theatre of Voices is a clear exception. Listening to the pure line of one soprano’s tones reverberate throughout Zankel, you could hear the bells resounding and resounding., Lang and Pärt have both expressed interest in the Notre Dame choirs. Lang would like to sing with the 13th century monks in their scratchy wool robes as they added patterns to music and imitation. How did they come up with notions he uses today, he wonders.
Lang builds repetition into his text selections. From ecclesiastes he sets: "I forgot it all before. I will forget it all again." Over and over. A lovely sense of "everything" is followed by "Have, am, know, feel." Multiple phrases beginning with "like" are sung solo and in a group repeatedly, the long "i" released out into the hall. "Go" is repeated for the long "o." Lang's sense that repeats and imitation are religious rituals to merge yourself into is internalized through the audiences' ear. The long walk of forty days and forty nights is captured in solitary.
The simplicity of Lang’s melodies enhances their beauty as Theatre for Voices performs the cycle. The importance of text is clear. In Ecclesiastes Lang finds meaning. He expresses ritual and repetition with a religious overtones.
The program had the feel of a meditation. This was created by the beauty of the voices, in solo, duet and group. This is a good way to spend time during Purim and Lent too.
(Editor's note. the little match girl passion and his other titles are written as the composer writes them.)