Monday, December 15, 2014

concert review: International Orange Chorale

I'm really glad I went to the effort of attending this succinct choral concert at an acoustically excellent church in the City.

Though they're called the International Orange Chorale, they wear black on stage. (Sorry, Orange Mike.) The program says it's a volunteer group, but the voices are impressively professional in quality.

Ten pieces, all unaccompanied, none longer than about 8 minutes, 9 of them written in the past 5 years for this ensemble and the other about 15 years old. All ten of the composers (8 men, 2 women; at least four involved with the choir and 2 others local and present) are now aged between 28 and 44; the chorus members all looked within that age range as well, and so did most of the audience.

One of the two composers I'd previously heard of was Caroline Shaw, and I certainly welcomed my first live encounter with her eerie post-minimalist music. I found that I liked the pieces pretty much to the extent that they departed from straightforward text settings. That made Shaw's Fly Away I, which uses phased buildups from rhythmic monotones into rich consonant harmony to set chopped-up phrases from a hymn tune; Paanyaya 3 by Robin Estrada, which builds up cross-rhythms over percussive use of the phonemes in the Tagalog text; and Nico Muhly's Lord Heare My Prayer Instantly, a really imaginative setting of a couple of Psalm verses, the best pieces on the program.

But even the more straight-through text settings, many of them of renowned poets, were often attractive, varying mostly in the amount of dissonance they provided. Most consonant was Chorale director Zane Fiala's Cosmos, setting a chunk of Carl Sagan's narration with some VW-like harmonies here and there. Most dissonant was Chorale member Elizabeth Kimble's setting of Whitman's The Unknown Region. Kimble says in the program notes that what this poem evokes about the unknown for her is the fear of it, that it's "huge and terrifying." And then she conveys this through high, screechy, intense dissonance. Ouch.

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