May 5, 2014
collected stories: spirit is one of a six-part series curated by David Lang at Carnegie Hall. For this particular concert, Lang is pairing two widely different musical styles, Tuvan throat singing and Passio by Arvo Pårt. The common element of these is indicated by the title – both musical styles explore the spiritual, albeit in widely disparate ways.
The first half of the concert features the group Huun-Huur-Tu, four native Tuvan men playing instruments and singing khoomei (Tuvan throat singing). It’s a remarkable style of singing that is truly wondrous to experience. In throat singing, a single performer sings multiple notes, often singing melody and accompaniment simultaneously. Some performers can sing up to four notes at once. The songs performed by Huun-Huur-Tu are traditional songs from their little Siberian country. Many of them celebrate the land they grew up in and their relationship with the nature around them. The music itself evokes a rough and beautiful landscape, with a pulsing energy throughout. There is a rawness and simplicity to the style that is enrapturing.
In contrast, the second half of the evening, Passio by Arvo Pårt, is a study in structure. A musical recital of the Passion of Christ from the book of John, the piece is sung in Latin, and features two soloists, a featured ensemble, a choir and musical accompaniment of organ, oboe, bassoon, and violin. It’s a sparse piece, with the passion coming from the vocals only. Pårt’s music is haunting and evocative, making it one of the primary choices for choreographers everywhere. The performance of this piece, however, leaves much to be desired.
Pauses between musical phrases seemed too long, making the music feel unconnected and slow. While the singers were top notch, they weren’t helped by the general acoustics of the space. Zankel Hall is a great concert space, but Pårt’s work really wants to be in a cathedral or other cavernous space. The resonance of the music helps the music flow, something sorely lacking in this performance. And coming on the heels of Huun-Huur-Tu’s primal vibrancy, it felt stiff and formal.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY --- Kelly Johnston