Where flames a word, July 2010

For the last Month of Moderns concert, Donald Nally included Where flames a word with works by Paul Fowler, Lansing McLoskey, Frank Havrøy, and David Shapiro. I loved the premiere performances of Where flames last year; this year was even better. Donald seemed to move the piece along in places without speeding up the tempo—an Einstein thought-experiment, that. At least that’s how it sounded to me. But it became so much more conversational, while losing none of the intensity and quality of sound The Crossing is known for.

One thing surprised me that I hadn’t noticed before. In the concert and at the recording sessions the following week this occurred to me: these 22 singers can get loud. Not wild, wobbly, shouty loud, but serious wheelhouse power, controlled. When Donald calls for it, and just when you think they can’t possibly give any more, they slip into a fifth gear and leave you shaking your head and smiling. This happened a few times, in my piece and others. It may seem like a silly observation—that they can sing really loud—but when you hear it live, silly it’s not.

Yes, yes, they can sing soft, too!

In the July 19 Philadelphia Inquirer, David Patrick Stearns wrote:

Frank Havroy’s Psalm, David Shapiro’s The Years From You to Me, and Kile Smith’s Where Flames a Word (all Celan-based pieces heard Saturday) were mercurial in manner and form, and they shared a harmonic sense in which innovation was born of intense expressive necessity. At times, the fusion of words and music was staggering.

Shapiro’s fine piece (which was a premiere) was full of dreamy motivic echoes. Smith’s peaked emotionally with a soprano-section outburst on the words, “I understand, I do…” suggesting a profound union of souls. Performances were particularly savvy with a clarity of diction that revealed the singular progression of each piece, thanks to conductor Donald Nally.

The recording sessions went very well. The CD, of all Paul Celan-based works, mostly from last year’s Month of Moderns, will be released on Navona. The Crossing will turn heads with this.

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