Classical Music is Dead*

Post-Disaster Beauty: “Katrina Ballads”

Posted in concert, music, review by The Nouveau Classical Project on 08/26/2010

Ted Hearne‘s “Katrina Ballads” documents Hurricane Katrina with texts taken from newscasts and quotes, accompanied by video. We were lucky enough to experience this at (where else?) a super-packed LPR, where we stood for all 80 minutes of the show.

So much to love about this music. It was emotional without being sentimental. It was honest–text was quoted verbatim–however, the specific choices of quotes, and more importantly, the music, clearly expressed a point of view. (If you want to know what that is, you can pick up the record here.) The “Katrina Ballads” engages the listener in the turmoil that transpired as a result of Katrina, telling a story with so many nuanced emotions. Sadness and disappointment are expressed, as in ‘Ashley Nelson,’ performed by the sensual Rene Marie. Sarcastic moments include ‘Brownie, You’re Doing a Heck of a Job,’ sung by Hearne in bad-ass James Brown style, and Barbara’s Bush’s quote about everyone coming to Houston is sung in a saccharine-toned swinging, folksy tune. A series of video projections, created by Bill Morrison, was composed of Katrina footage and complimented the music exceptionally well. When a quote by a famous person was being sung, the actual footage of it being said would be projected, which was very effective in providing clarity.

The ensemble was excellent, handling the rhythmic complexity like a well-rehearsed band (this is a good thing: they felt the rhythm and truly knew the music, they weren’t just a tight shouldered ensemble following a score). All the singers gave beautiful performances, notably Isaiah Robinson in his solo of the ballad based on Kanye West stating that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people.’ That boy can hit high notes like none other!

There are great performances to be seen everywhere…hell, we are in New York after all. But this wasn’t just good music or a good performance, it was moving. In his Times review, Kozinn wrote that ‘The contrast between the disc and the live performance was extraordinary: the fastidiously produced recording, though it delivered some of the work’s punch, left me cold. But the concert reading had a tough edge and a wildness of spirit that suited the music, and the subject.’ We have yet to hear the work outside the concert, but our opinion will probably remain the same, that the “Katrina Ballads” is the first meaningful piece of new music we’ve heard in a while and its honesty shines through. And it sounds really awesome.

Ted Hearne’s “Katrina Ballads” can be purchased on New Amsterdam’s website:


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