There is a new musical group in town, whose mission is “to engage and expose innovative performers, musicians, and composers, and to explore innovative programming.” Its name, Dirty Paloma, might seem odd at first, but it is clever; you won’t forget it. It’s all the brainchild of soprano and actor Aliana de la Guardia, and the inaugural concert on November 19 certainly lived up to the mission. Ranging from Handel, Brahms, to Barber and Berg, the program included three world premieres from composers who were in the audience.
Baritone Jonathan Nussman began with four Brahms songs, sung from memory. Demonstrating a sturdy tone and good German diction, he collaborated well with pianist Hisako Hirasuka. Then came the first world premiere, Masaki Hasebi’s Mi-da-re-ga-mi for soprano and piano. Drawn from a set of Tanka poems with uniform syllabification by Akiko Yosano, loosely translated as “Tangled Hair.” Sung from memory by De la Guardia, this allowed this adventurous singer full access to her acting ability.
Marti Epstein’s Lenz, for baritone and piano, is based on three poems by the painter Wassily Kandinsky, sung without pause with extended piano interludes. (Interested readers should know that the Museum of Fine Arts currently has a relevant show called “Seeing Songs.” Check it out at here. De la Guardia then returned to give a fine rendition of Alban Berg’s Seven Early Songs. Composed before he was immersed in serial technique, the songs are about night, reeds, dreams, autumn, summer and love. Throughout De la Guardia demonstrated her understanding of German and musical sensibility.
After intermission, Nussman returned with a stunning Handel opera aria, Sibilar gli angui d’Aletto from Rinaldo. Navigating the baroque treacheries with aplomb, he varied the da capo repeat while underlining the affect of “hissing serpents.” Then De la Guardia took the stage with violinist Gabriela Diaz to give us another world premiere, Rudolph Rojahn’s Dodo as Avian Christ, based on five historical eyewitness accounts of the slaughter of the Dodo. Here the soprano could let loose her full technical arsenal, whistling, swooping, microtones, parlando, and scat singing. The second Didus Ineptus, beautifully played by violin and gentle soprano whistling, was particularly beguiling.
Nussman returned with Barber’s Mélodies Passagères, five songs in French by Rainer Maria Rilke. Here the baritone proved his expertise in French and musical taste, especially at the end of the fourth song, “The Bell Tower Sings.” These songs are the only time the composer expressed his music in a foreign language; “Setting French to music is ticklish,” he said. “The French are very, very particular about it.”
The last work was also a world premiere, John Murphee’s setting of Emily Dickinson’s Her Final Summer, — like so many of her poems, a lament. It was brilliantly scored for two singers and percussionist Nicholas Tolle, playing three aluminum gongs and bowing aluminum chimes of the composer’s invention. Tuned-in pitches foreign to European and American music, they create an eerie sound particularly apt for the poem, especially since for this performance the gongs were prerecorded. Initially the two singers alternated verses, singing faster than the slow mistuned gongs and chimes, eventually joining in the third verse. By the fourth verse the singers tune to the gongs, conveying a sense of serenity.
Aliana de la Guardia is be commended for inventing Dirty Paloma and for presenting such a stunning first performance.