Los Angeles Times
Friday, October 13, 2000
Chamber Music With Voices: Arias to Cabaret Absurdity
By JOSEF WOODARD, Special to The Times
Chamber music of the new music persuasion has found a home on
select Wednesday nights at CalArts, courtesy of Chamber Music Wednesdays.
The idea is logical: to tap into the in-house talents of the faculty, as
well as advanced students.
On Wednesday, the subject was the human voice, as heard in the
flexible arena of contemporary music. But this wasn't an evening about
intellectually arid or "difficult" listening, even lapsing into
art-cabaret absurdity by the end.
The fine tenor John Duykers performed arias from two as-yet staged
operas, as diverse as a lamenting reflection on Pontius Pilate's suicide
from Erling Wold's opera "Sub Pontio Pilate" to the aura of a clandestine
love affair in World War II Japan in Kathrynn Lyle's"Letter's Home." Both
were tonal and emotionally engaging pieces, with heart more or less on
sleeve. For his solo on the program, bass baritone Paul Berkolds
beautifully realized the meditative strains of Arnolds Sturms' "Kaskazu
For Mark Bobak's "bell thrush whisper," soprano Jacqueline Bobak
stretched vocal parameters, dismantling language and blending traditional
singing with extended vocal gestures. The mixed-bag approach suited a
piece based on texts by e.e. cummings, and with a taped part built up
from samples from nature and a whispered poem rendered abstract.
Decorum and sobriety, as such, slipped out and into something more
comfortable for the concert's second half, given over to Art Jarvinen's
rollicking art-about-art opus, "Little Humiliations." The point of
departure, and posthumous collaborator, is the rebellious French composer
Erik Satie, whose songs, life and writings provide a backdrop for
Pianist Lisa Sylvester, who played dutifully well with the singers in
the concert's first half, opened with post-modern cabaret shtick. She
quickly established her role as a combination mock-pedant--discussing
aspects of Satie's self-defined milieu--and gamely playing the role of
art song accompanist-cum-lounge pianist. The title, we learn, is a
translation of the title of the Satie piece "Vexations," 840 variations
of which make up the 24-hour-long version of Jarvinen's longer piece,
As Sylvester played the introduction, the three vocalist swaggered to
the stage, drinking, smoking and camping it up, while also delivering
some plainly lustrous performances. Bobak, especially, shone on Satie's
"Je te veux" and "Tendrement," before our senses were disarmed by the
musical question "Which do you prefer, music or ham?"
All in all, a well-rounded, occasionally tipsy evening in the chamber
of the Roy O. Disney Hall.