Artistic Director & Conductor: Mark Shapiro
Crabtree: The Valley of Delight
Emily Klonowski: Soprano
Beecher: The New Amorous World
Michael Lombardi: Horn
Marion Ravot: Harp
Kyle Wilbert: Horn
One of the main reasons the unstoppable Cantori New York choir has kept its prominent place on New York's crowded choral music scene is its admirably implemented mission of keeping on performing new and neglected works in each concert, which in turn allows their grateful audience to become acquainted with pieces they had probably never heard before.
Therefore, I was more than a little surprised when I heard that the first concert of their 2015-2016 season last Saturday night would feature not just one, but two compositions they had performed in the previous years. But when I realized that they would be Siegfried Thiele's splendidly apocalyptic Prophezeiungen and Lembit Beecher's clever cantata The New Amorous World, I quickly agreed that the two works were rich enough in form and content to stand a second listening. As for the unknown item on the program, it was Paul Crabtree's The Valley of Delight, an intriguing foray into the American Shaker community.
As it were, after too many hours glued to my computer obsessively checking the increasingly distressing news from Paris, I was only too happy to head for the Village and the Church of St. Luke in the Fields to join a few friends and have something – anything – else to focus on.
Notwithstanding its deceptively light-hearted title, Paul Crabtree's The Valley of Delight turned out to be a serious composition about Quaker-turned-Shaker immigrant Ann Lee's utopian community, which itself was apparently dead serious about doubtful concepts like the power of ecstatic dancing and shouting for the body to rid itself of sin (?!). On the other hand, one can of course only applaud the promotion of equal treatment of men and women. And while Ann Lee's and Lynn Emmanuel's texts often sound like poetry dreamed up by unhinged idealists, the music offers a vast tapestry of melodies and harmonies that are viscerally stunning in their directness and gorgeousness. Fact is, utopia has rarely sounded as good as the soaring performance by Cantori on Saturday night.
Composed during the Cold War, inspired by writings from Leonardo da Vinci's notebook and using a rather macabre German folk song, Siegfried Thiele's Prophezeiungen had totally taken me by surprise last season with the blatant force of its uncompromising sounds and visions, and I was more than eager for a repeat. And sure enough, the ominous "Prophecies" did not bother taking any prisoners as they barreled down their destructive path with all their might again as Cantori confidently delivered another blazing account of the end of the world.
Things calmed down after intermission with The New Amorous World, a composition that puts the bizarre – An Archibras? – and not so bizarre – Equal rights for all – ideas conjured up by French philosopher Charles Fournier at the turn of the 18th century to contemporary music. Accordingly, after firmly establishing the core principles of "The Calculus of Harmony" for starter, the choir and instrumentalists went on to explain the importance of free love in all its manias and manifestations, the system to navigate them, the attractive aspect of work, the usefulness of the Archibras and the mission of the blind savants. Featuring two horns and a harp, spoken words and infectious singing, The New Amorous World spiritedly provided Fourier's often endearingly naive vision with a decidedly engaging musical platform and eventually left it up to the audience to decide how far along we've come over the last couple of centuries. From the current look of things, it unfortunately looks like the world still has an awfully long way to go before reaching the ever-elusive Harmony.