Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Although the traditional and the contemporary are often at odds in today's classical music world, Robert Spano will offer a compromise when he brings his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to Carnegie Hall on Saturday evening: a tradition of presenting the contemporary.
The work in question is the New York premiere of the Here and Now by Christopher Theofanidis.
Mr. Theofanidis teaches at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore and was recently composer of the year for the Pittsburgh Symphony.
Commissioned by Mr. Spano himself, the Here and Now is a song cycle for chorus and orchestra based on the poetry of the 13th-century Sufi sage Jelaluddin Rumi.
While the work is an unusual composition, it is not surprising that the Atlanta Symphony is its vehicle; the symphony has been a leader in the introduction of contemporary works.
As for Mr. Theofanidis, the composer has said that this music reminds him of "Walt Whitman in the now." It does indeed reflect the Sufi sense of time, what cosmological scholar Dr. Arife Ellen Hammerle explains as "the intersection between the universe and the human being in a timeless dimension of space."
The 13 inventive songs range from a cappella chorus at the cycle's opening, to chorus and orchestra, to an epigrammatic soloist, and finally to one Technicolor duet.
In the fourth song, "All day and night, music," the chorus erupts into a multifaceted pealing of campanilian voices, individual bells tolling in the rarefied air.
Throughout the choral writing, there is clarity of line that allows for complex constructions to sound layered but not soupy. Mr. Theofanidis is especially adept at separating voices intelligently.
Song no. 7, "The one who pours is wilder than we," is a jazzy interlude. No. 9, "Drumsound rises," is reminiscent of ancient music — or, at least, reflects modern man's fantasy of how music must have sounded in the days of Christ.
The soloist is a baritone, and, for this concert, Mr. Spano has enlisted the services of one of the fastest rising stars in the operatic firmament, Nathan Gunn. Mr. Gunn's numbers serve as philosophical signposts for an otherwise decidedly non-euclidian journey.
Mr. Theofanidis resists the temptation to go Middle Eastern until the penultimate song, "The urgency of love," for soprano, tenor, chorus, and orchestra.
For this New York premiere, Mr. Spano will employ Hila Plitmann and Richard Clement, both of whom appear on his CD of the work.
[Picture: Whirling Dervish. Ebru Art by Dr. Mehmet Refii Kileci, http://www.kileci.net/. Photo: Sufi News].