As part of our 2017-2018 season we’re continuing to give each of our core singers a turn at the helm of the blog. The below post below comes from our baritone and director, Jeffrey Gavett.
The composers for our concert of October 7th have all notated their scores in a somewhat traditional sense. We have sheets of paper with words, notes, lines, and symbols on them, that communicate to us what we are supposed to do to realize the music. One thing that differs between the pieces is the level of control that the composer decides to exert over the performance – below are a few examples selected from the concert’s repertoire.
James Weeks’s Primo Libro exerts a level of specific control of the performance in many ways. The octave is divided into 31 equal parts, demanding a specificity of intonation from the singers, who are also following a rhythmic flow that moves on a prescribed grid, but without traditional meter. Cassandra Miller’s Guide also asks the singers to perform a difficult and specific task in memorizing, slowing down, and transposing the details of an audio recorded performance. However, the ensemble is split up into three groups, each of which must coordinate internally, but which move independently from one another. Thus the performances are rigidly controlled at the level of the individual, and small group, but the larger work is more open.
Liza Lim’s Three Angels contains a range of notational styles and levels of control. The soprano’s music is extraordinarily specific, with difficult rhythms and quarter tone inflections of melody throughout. The baritone’s solo is traditionally notated, but also includes instructions for improvisatory looping and shifting of materials. The mezzo soprano performs with a small ‘wacky whistle’ on her palate, and her music is written totally graphically. The coordination of the solos is also left slightly open, similar to how Miller’s work is more open in a larger formal sense.
Ben Johnston’s Rose, like James Weeks’s Primo Libro, is extremely specific in its pitch demands. Written in a 7-limit just intonation system, the work avoids the traditional triads of a 5-limit system and creates a new harmonic grammar for its tuning. Its rhythm and formal language however are musically very traditional, and depend on phrasing and shaping by the singers for expressive purposes.