While the New York Phil premiered le Grand Macabre last night, we had to get out and experience the one-night-only (!) double premiere at Merkin Hall, where Signal gave two on point performances. First up was Nico Muhly’s Stabat Mater, a piece based on a Roman Catholic chant of the same name that describes the Virgin Mary weeping during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This composition may not give anyone a definite answer to Sequenza21′s ‘rude’ question from a couple weeks ago, but no matter…the performance was convincing and Muhly created some really great effects, especially in the string writing. Towards the end was a startling climax where the music let loose, with the ensemble improvising dynamics and the vocalists singing with frantic intensity. Stabat Mater was overall clear and simple, a mini-oratorio type of deal with a Nico Muhly touch, and it’s pretty cool to see how one would approach this subject matter in modern times. Definitely more about the sound than the savior…but hasn’t it always been?
The second half of the program provided the audience with a nice contrast, with more drama and excitement from Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s The Corridor. The Corridor recounts the myth of Orpheus looking back at Eurydice, causing her to stay in the underworld forever. Right from the start of we know we’re not in a safe place: the ensemble hits a loud dissonant chord, like what we’d hear if a movie character was at the edge of a cliff. And that is sort of where we begin: with Eurydice at the point between life and death. The story is told with much expressiveness from Signal; enough intensity was created to imagine the scene visually. The music itself created such a strong backdrop for every mood and character. Both soprano Rachel Calloway and tenor Jeffrey Gavett were great actors and played their roles with conviction…In Calloway’s case, two roles: that of Eurydice and that of commentator. The Corridor did what a good story does: excite and entertain.
We love how cohesive the program was altogether. Muhly had good taste in writing ‘something to go along with a bit of Birtwistle.’* Stabat Mater may have been a little harder to pull off; after all, it is based on the Bible, and if you’re not religious, it will most likely not move you. The story isn’t as enticing as a Greek myth, but it was nevertheless pleasant and had some great moments. And with a fierce ensemble like Signal, it is hard to go wrong.
More photos here.
*Before last night we weren’t thoroughly familiar…ok, not really familiar, with Birtwistle’s music…don’t judge us! But we definitely want to hear more now. If you do too, here’s his discography.