The Chambered Nautilus with Khorikos

KhorikosOrtusMy great thanks to Khorikos for performing The Chambered Nautilus Saturday night on their 2nd Annual International New Music Competition! For the 2nd year we went up to St. Anthony of Padua in SoHo, since a piece of mine, Where Flames a Word, was also chosen last year. This somewhat floors me, since artistic director Jesse Mark Peckham says they’ve received more than 600 entries each time out.

So Jackie and I made a weekend of it, leaving me a regretted oh-for-the-month for The Crossing’s Month of Modern concerts, where I missed fantastic things in Philadelphia each of the last three weekends.

But there were fantastic things on the Khorikos concert, including two works by composers I was glad to have met there. Kala Pierson‘s Sky Sight, on her own poem, is shot full with emotion and brave stabs of color. It was thrilling. On four Ashkenazi Jewish songs, strung together without break, was Shirei Shira (“song of songs”) by Karen Siegel. It bubbled excitedly with the mixed twos and threes of chant.

Khorikos sang two of the Four Lullabies of the English Graham Lack, solid and sweeping at the same time with deft harmonic wisps that came at me sideways. Everything on the program charmed in individual ways, but I was entrapped by the strong, almost violent heart-rending of The Language by Khorikos singer and assistant conductor Alec Galambos, on a Robert Creely poem. He did what a composer must do but too often shies from: He left himself nowhere to hide. I loved it.

Peckham whittles down the entries to about two dozen finalists, then gives those to the choir. The 30 singers then choose the winners which are performed in concert. He allows his two assistant conductors, Galambos and Justin Ballard, to pick which they’d like to conduct. When Peckham, a fine tenor, isn’t conducting, he slips into the choir. Ballard, who otherwise seems to be a sensible fellow, has asked to conduct mine each year, and so I was delighted to hear his interpretation of The Chambered Nautilus.

I was touched by it. Soft and lilting, and saving big moments without grandstanding, he delivered a Nautilus that was nuanced and powerful. On the famous (or once-famous) poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., it is described here, along with text and a live recording of the premiere.

So, in the show two years in a row, and, yes, two years in a row I didn’t win the grand prize. Khorikos has online voting during and until about 5 minutes after the concert. Frank La Rocca’s haunting Miserere won last year, and this year the winner was the last piece on the concert, a beautiful setting of Sara Teasdale’s I Would Live In Your Love by Nathan Jones.

Go here for short videos about each of the pieces.

Peckham was magnificent, with brisk pacing but a fineness of detail. Actually, you don’t realize until later how elegant and impressive his conducting is, I think because he prepares the choir so well and because he doesn’t call attention to himself. He’s a force. His is a tremendous undertaking, this competition, on top of everything else he’s done with Khorikos in its 10-year existence.

Thank you, Jesse, Justin, composers, and the athletically gorgeous singing of Khorikos.

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