Written by guest contributor, Danya Katok
Armed with tuning forks, the ladies of Resonant Bodies’ second night of concerts won over the audience with their wide array of 20th and 21st century vocal works. Performed to a backdrop of geometric abstract art and colorful lights in Brooklyn’s sprawling bar and live music venue ShapeShifter Lab, the evening began with vocal quartet Elizabeth-Caroline Unit (Sarah Dyson, Amirtha Kidambi, Jean Carla Rodea, and Kristin Slipp.) The Over-Soul Manual by saxophonist-composer Darius Jones was comprised of 12 solos, duets, trios, and quartets, all a cappella, set to “…the linguistic and sonic vocabulary of an alien birthing ritual.” Jones’ program notes continue: “Each female alien gives birth to some aspect of the genetic makeup that forms the child,” and this was clear in each singer’s unique character and purpose. Jean Carla Rodea had a primal sound, her solos reminiscent of indigenous Australian calls. Amirtha Kidambi’s expressive face and pinpoint-clear voice brought angst to her mother-character. Kristin Slipp was the practical one and Sarah Dyson’s rich operatic quality brought equal parts warmth and drama. The piece concluded with a film entitled I Wish I Had A Choice, set to Jones’ own jazz soundtrack, with intriguing illustrations by Randall Wilcox depicting a tribe’s journey through settlement and war.
The second set of the evening featured the versatile Jamie Jordan singing works by Henri Pousseur, Paul Coleman, Jacob Cooper, and Kaija Saariaho. The standout works were Coleman’s Mock Me and Cooper’s Unspun, both for voice and electronics, and both erring on the side of minimalism, providing variation from the mostly atonal music of the evening. Mock Me, likely named for its heavy use of delay in the microphone, began with Jordan chanting alone. She managed to produce a lovely speech-dominant sound in this opening, a sharp contrast from the pure brilliance she achieved on the high notes of the Pousseur. The haunting electronics, including gong-, triangle-, and chime-like sound effects, provided a strong foundation for the pop-inspired melodies of the vocal line. The next piece, Cooper’s Unspun from the song cycle Silver Threads, seamlessly fused the genres of “art song” and “pop.” Beginning with a pulsing electronic ostinato, the playful words of Dora Malech rang out against the synthesized texture. While Jordan’s singing was full of warmth, I wish she had chosen the more pop-influenced sound of Mock Me for this multifaceted piece.
The evening ended with a set by the virtuosic Megan Schubert. Her mastery of Babbitt’s Phonemena and Berio’s Sequenza III, pieces filled with extended techniques that could overwhelm the most experienced singer, were startlingly precise and, most impressively, expressive. “[Babbitt] can swing,” said the singer. This simple remark turned the composer’s atonal mutterings into spirited scat sessions that truly gripped the audience. For 1 Voice by Matt Fagen, a former mentor of Schubert’s at Bennington College, was an a cappella piece, which, she said, reminded her of “old building sounds.” She asked the audience to close their eyes as she roamed the room and played with the acoustics of the space. The night ended with Schubert singing and playing two original songs at the piano, including the sassy cabaret piece, “I’m No Third Wheel,” with charming lyrics like, “I’m a unicycle; I just have to pedal a little extra to get anywhere.” With her musical flexibility and commitment to contemporary vocal techniques, Megan Schubert is clearly a visionary in her field.
Danya Katok is a vibrant performer whose “crystalline soprano” (Boston Globe) and “appealing” stage presence (The New York Times) have led her to burst onto the contemporary classical music scene. In April 2011, she made her New York City Opera debut at Lincoln Center as Max in Oliver Knussen’s Where the Wild Things Are. Other operatic roles include Commère in Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts with Mark Morris Dance Group, “Soprano” in the world premiere of Christian McLeer’s short opera Sonata at Carnegie Hall, and Judy in Lee Hoiby’s This is the Rill Speaking with Chelsea Opera. In her short career, Danya has already performed ten world premieres and is constantly looking for new music on which to collaborate.
- Resonant Bodies Festival Reviewed (avantmusicnews.com)