Conductor: Jason Wirth
Shawn Crouch: Sleepless
Libby Larsen: Alaska Spring
After the momentous Beethoven marathon last week, this week started very quietly to suddenly speed up with two concerts on Wednesday, the first one by Cantori New York at high noon and the second one by the New York Philharmonic and Christian Tetzlaff in the evening. That was a lot of excitement for one day up and down Broadway, and since nobody has ever had to twist my arm to take a day off, that's just what I did.
On Wednesday, the good news was that the predicted snow failed to materialize. It actually did last night in the form of Nemo, the Northeastern corridor's new bête noire. I don't overly mind some snow in winter, but what I really wish is that 1) it did not always happen on the weekend, 2) it had not caused the cancellation of two concerts I was planning to attend, 3) the well-meaning soul shoveling in my street had not started doing it at 3:00 AM this morning and 4) if he must do it, that he cleared MY sidewalk too, and not just the one across the street!
Back to Wednesday, I dutifully sat in the welcoming modern chapel of the Morningside Heights Interchurch Center at 12:00 PM, where a reduced but still commanding Cantori was going to perform two pieces, one of which - "Alaska Spring" - ranks sky-high in my favorite choral work list.
To anybody who has ever suffered from sleep deprivation, Shawn Crouch's "Sleepless" will accurately evoke the inner desperation of a restless mind looking for a break and the grating outside noises that are keeping it from reaching that blessed state. On Wednesday, the performance was both appealing and unsettling. The successful combination of the piano's insistent rhythms and the voices' gripping harmonies sneakily connected the unsuspecting audience with the frustrated victim of the Insomnia. This unfortunate situation eventually improved, however, when the soothing Lullaby rose and calmed everybody's spirits.
Inordinately appropriate as an object of desire during those lingering winter days, Libby Larsen's "Alaska Spring" is mesmerizing at all times of the year, especially to long-time city dwellers yearning for fresh air and unspoiled green spaces. In this specific corner of Alaska, nature's progressive rebirth oozes through every note of the score, which brillantly creates vivid images of the eagerly awaited renewal. The highly complex yet organically gorgeous composition may be a challenge for the singers, but its fundamentally lyrical nature impeccably came through in all its glory, even in this pared down version of it. Through Cantori's confidently multi-layered voices, the persistent snow melted, a warm wind blew, the first blade of grass appeared, some happy birds chirped again, among many other subtle details that spring had indeed arrived and all was well in the woods again. All was well in the Interchurch Center' chapel too.