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 kainu rudens."
     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 Jarvinen's concoction.
     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, "Serious Immobilities."
     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.