Philadelphia classical music events, discussion, and directory
I still have much to learn about contemporary choral music so I always feel like much of it goes over my head, but The Crossing choir is so immensely talented that even when I don't "get it", I still enjoy the challenge and privilege of attending their concerts. Saturday's concert included two works by composer, Ted Hearne, who was present in the audience. The first, "Ripple" was one statement from the Iraq War Logs that was repeated in a variety of ways. Like a cubist painting, the fairly short statement was portrayed from different perspectives revealing the possible consequences of actions that occurred after the stated log entry. Those unstated actions and their ripple effect in the lives of those affected by the event were left to the imagination audience members. Hearne somehow managed to clearly express the blinding sun, the oppressive heat, and the unbearable tension that the marine experienced through words and music.
Music director, Donald Nally, next presented an introduction to John Cage's "Hymns and Variations". Though I had read his extensive program notes prior to the concert, I could not find a sample of the hymns upon which Cage based his work. Cage subtracted much of the musical content from those hymns and modified the remaining notes according to a complex algorithm based on a series of questions. Nally's brief demonstration of this progression from original hymn to Cage's variation was much appreciated. I know I'm not alone in thinking that the demonstration was more interesting than the 25 minute work that followed, but it did give me a chance to ponder how his work influenced contemporary classical music. I was also surprised to learn from one of my musician friends that Mozart dabbled in chance music, himself. Of course he did not go as far as Cage in abandoning the standard parameters that define western music, but it's fun to explore his version. For a demonstration of Mozart's dice game, go here. You'll need a midi music player to hear the results.
David Lang's "Statement to the Court", which followed intermission, was a completely opposite experience. Set to the text of a speech by Eugene Debs protesting America's participation in World War I, its rapid fire words and primary tune were repeated by the piano and punctuated by a loud drum beat marking each sentence. Here is a video describing The Crossing that also includes some of this piece in the background:
The final piece of the evening, another composition by Hearne, "Privilege" included texts from various sources, that according to the program notes, provide "little snapshots of a contemporary privileged life". I was somewhat baffled by the first three, but the final "snapshot" provided the most deeply emotional movement of the concert. The passage was taken from a South African anti-apartheid song which was presented though a child's eyes. The sweet and innocent sounding tune seemed out of place with the heavy emotion of the text until I realized how well it matched a child's perspective. This haunting movement left the crowd in a respectful pause of silence to end the evening.
Here is another blog I wrote about a recent Crossing Choir workshop, in case you'd like to read more. The heart of the Crossing's season is in June, where they present the "Month of Moderns". Mark your calendars for a truly unique experience.
Disclaimer: This article is an observation from the viewpoint of a "regular member" of the audience, not a critical review.