Conductor: Nicholas DeMaison
Ligeti: Gossiping Women
Ligeti: Wedding Song
Ligeti: From a High Mountain Rock
Ligeti: Songs from Inaktelke
Ligeti: Like a Stream Gently Flowing
Ligeti: Oh, Youth!
Pärt: Berliner Messe
Górecki: Amen – Organist: Walter Hilse
Jane V. Hsu – Difficult Mountain
Although I am not an aficionada of choral singing, I am usually up for new musical adventures. So when my colleague Dawn mentioned that her chamber choir had a concert coming up right in my neighborhood and featuring Ligeti, my interest was definitely picked and I planned accordingly. That’s how I ended up at the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church on 100th Street and Amsterdam yesterday evening, ready to expand my cultural horizon with a program including three Eastern European composers who did not let oppressive regimes prevent their creative juices from flowing.
I was very much looking forward to hearing the Ligeti pieces because, well, he is the only composer I was familiar with on the program. His choral works were unknown to me, but I thoroughly enjoy the polyphonic quality of his arrangements of the traditional Hungarian folk songs we got to hear. The multi-layered textures coming from the medium-sized choir resonated attractively in the pleasant setting of the church and kept the mood light and engaged. As it is often the case with folk songs, the texts were down-to-earth and occasionally silly, but since they were sung in their native Hungarian, except for one, it was very easy to just concentrate on the beautiful sound of music and not read the translation. From the short, fun little things like Gossiping Women and the Wedding Song to the elaborate Hortobágy, dedicated to Hungary’s largest national park, Ligeti came through as both refreshingly direct and delightfully intricate.
After intermission came Arvo Pärt’s Berliner Messe, which, unlike the previous works, was going to be sung with the choir surrounding the organ behind us while a film was being projected on a makeshift screen. The best way to describe the piece may be “a sort of extended Gregorian chant” the unison singing giving it its force and serenity. The film, Difficult Mountain, focused mostly on natural phenomena such as snow-covered landscapes and erupting volcanoes among some science-fictionish images. Some distracting daylight and the partly crumpled screen were not very conducive to a good viewing of it, and ultimately it was fine, but not necessary.. But the singing was uniformly powerful, and that was the main thing.
The last, very short work of the evening was Górecki’s Amen. It consisted of some variations of the word Amen, from tranquillissimo to fortissimo, and ended the concert on an appropriately inspiring note.