Saturday, March 21, 2009

Chanticleer: Composers Our Age

Chanticleer: Composers Our Age
20 March, 2009 8:00PM
San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Tarik O’Regan: No Matter
Shawn Crouch: The Garden of Paradise
Mason Bates: Sirens

For this concert of new music, Chanticleer commissioned compositions by composers who are all the same age as the ensemble itself, which turned 30 last year. All 3 pieces are tonal, accessible & audience-friendly. Tarik O’Regan's No Matter takes its text from Samuel Beckett's nihilistic Worstward Ho. It's development is slow-moving & gradual. I couldn't discern the sung words, as Chanticleer's singing is so incredibly clean, pure & instrumental. Their pitch is so centered that I could hear the beating of some intervals. The group truly sounds like one instrument. The soprano Michael McNeil manages to sing an excruciatingly high line quite reliably.

Shawn Crouch was present & introduced his song cycle based on the poetry of Rumi & Brian Turner, an Iraq War veteran. The piece has a personal meaning for Mr. Crouch, since his own brother has served in the Marines in Iraq. It's a serious, almost religious-sounding work & is immediately affecting on 1st hearing, particularly the tender Lullaby.

Mason Bates was also in attendance & gave us an overview of his song cycle on the theme of sirens. The disparate texts are in Homeric Greek, German, Italian, Quechua & English. The Quechua number was the most fun. It's a jazzy dance number during which the singers pull egg shakers out of their pockets & provide their own percussion section. An excerpt from the Book of Matthew provides an urgent climax to the cycle. In context it provocatively implies that Jesus was a sort of siren too.

All the works were meticulously well-prepared. Chanticleer has a perfectly scrubbed sound that is almost prissy. After the performance, music director Matthew Oltman led a discussion with the composers, who were both much at ease talking about their work. Mr. Oltman praised Mr. Mason's idiomatic writing for German & Italian, & Mr. Mason revealed that he has indeed lived in both Berlin & Italy. Mr. Mason talked about the influence of electronica on the opening & closing movements of his piece. Chanticleer reprised the Quechua number for us as well.

Mr. Crouch explained how his piece is modeled after Bach's Motet Jesu meine Freunde. Mr. Oltman then deconstructed the piece -- a chant plus 2 different accompanying lines -- & showed how all the lines come together in the final movement, with the chant line now ascending instead of descending. I am sometimes impatient when there are educational components to performances, but this was informative & much of the audience stayed for it.

After the show, I discretely entered Davies Hall to check out the After Hours event. The 2nd tier lobby was turned into a nightclub, with the help of a few couches, colored lights, drink stations & a performance on amplified cello. Everything & everyone was crammed into one end of the lobby, so I couldn't get anywhere near enough to see the actual performer, though I did glimpse the redoubtable Opera Tattler, who I assume will have a better account of the event. But clearly a success for the Symphony.


Civic Center said...

"Chanticleer has a perfectly scrubbed sound that is almost prissy." That's a funny remark which I've occasionally used myself except that I didn't use the word "almost."

Sorry to miss you once again at the Davies Hall after-party. It was way too claustrophobic so I split immediately.

Civic Center said...

P.S. I think your date is wrong in your header. It was the 20th.

Axel Feldheim said...

sfmike: Thanks for the date correction. The date has been rectified.

I'm already wondering if I'm going to regret using the word "prissy". Their sound is very refined, though.

It was easy decision not to stay at the After Hours event, but at least I got to see what the scene was about. Perhaps next time they will spread it out so that everyone doesn't get all crowded into one end.

Anonymous said...

It was really striking that Shawn Crouch could so easily combine the poetry of a young American veteran who returned from Iraq with the poetry of a 13th century mystic poet Rumi. It's also really exciting that Shawn was able to collaborate with one of the leading Rumi scholars, Professor Majid Naini, who selected and translated all the Rumi poetry. Shawn should really be commended for such a wonderful fuse of civilizations for this piece.

Axel Feldheim said...

Anonymous: I agree that it was a nice idea to combine the 2 texts. It allows the work to rise above the specifics of the current political situation & get at something more universal. I was impressed in general by how all 3 composers wrote music that genuinely tries to communicate with an audience.

Gregory said...

Glad you enjoyed the show! It was incredibly rewarding to sing.

Axel Feldheim said...

Gregory: Thanks for reading & for such well-prepared performances. I wish there were more programs of new music like this.