IN: Reviews

unPlugged Pilgrimage


In an already highly competitive musical scene in Boston, one wonders how yet another ensemble such as this one, made up of eight local professional female singers, can make it. Founded in 2007, Lorelei Ensemble is dedicated to the performance of new and early music. From here and now, a word-driven piece by Schankler and a sound-driven one by Yamada, both commissions for Lorelei, attempted to cover new ground. From then and there, Du Fay and Hildegard rang out, albeit sharply in Marsh Chapel.

From the early side, “PILGRIMAGE a project of Lorelei Ensemble, unplugged,featured responsories from Hildegard von Bingen’s Scivias, which alternated with several of Guillaume Du Fay’s motets. All voices sang with exalted purpose in Du Fay’s Rite majorem Jacobum canamus (According to custom, let us sing to St. James the Greater). A trio delivered Flos florum (Flower of flowers). “…bring them a reward in the peace of the righteous” from the anonymous text might well describe the wondrous wafting weave the three fashioned, though at times, tuning and conviction would momentarily become concerns.

A quintet of voices in Vos flores rosarum (Blessed are you roses) of Hildegard made the song “fragrant with delight” yet, curiously, with tinges of aggressiveness. Peacefulness in the Hildegard performances was, generally, elusive. Higher notes and Marsh Chapel’s acoustic often put a sharp edge to the otherwise well-planned and well-prepared interpretations of the Lorelei Ensemble. The interval of the perfect fifth (do-sol), as sung by the full ensemble appearing in O tu suavissima (Oh you sweetest branch), resonated as much as for its pure sonic beauty as it did for its divine meaning “For the mystical mystery of God the virgin’s mind was illumined.” O nobilissima viriditas (O most noble greenness) of Hildegard von Bingen was also included in the opening set given over to early music.

After just over a half hour of music nearly a millennium old, music still viable, sustainable in today’s speak, we sat for nearly three-quarters of an hour waiting to hear the two new commissions. This, I was told, was due to a technical glitch, something to do with internet issues. Finally, the chapel gave way to darkness and the world premiere of a multimedia work with words of Amaranth , images from Christopher O’Leary and music by Isaac Schankler was underway. The silver screen being smallish, the images even more so, restricted our immersion and our absorption. I could not make out the words of Borsuk either through sight (too dark to read the text) or sound (a number of factors, including the chapel’s acoustic). Figuring out what this music meant was another matter. At times, welcome lushness surfaced. But since the composition took a narrative bent, overall sameness in rhythm prevailed. Shankler’s “The Familiar Spirit” (2013) did not appear to elicit much expression of appreciation or understanding from the small, courteous turnout.

A Field Guide to Pilgrim Tracks” (2013) by Reiko Yamada that set images by Sibylle Irma to vocal and electronic sounds prompted a similar reaction. More abstraction, both on the screen and from the vocal ensemble, unfolded in a kind of timelessness.  Spooky utterances broke any spell that might have been induced. The ongoing “hum-like” texture of the work was pleasant enough, yet remained a mystery to me. The séance began with candles lighted at an altar table then extinguished in a ritual-like manner after the piece ended. As with the preceding commission this, too, caused me to wonder about purpose. Obvious effort and dedication from Lorelei’s singer’s under the direction of founder and artistic director Beth Willer certainly should bring a great deal of satisfaction to both of the young composers.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.


4 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. As an experienced professional musician and enthusiastic member of Friday night’s audience, I am troubled by Mr. Patterson’s characterization of the Lorelei Ensemble. The reviewer may have attended the concert, but certainly did not listen.

    In several experiences with the Lorelei Ensemble, their unapologetic programming of rarely-heard early music alongside new music has always been revelatory for me. Mr. Patterson’s suggestion that this is just “yet another ensemble” forgets that there is no other professional ensemble such as this in Boston.

    This group of very experienced professional singers are particularly adept in their interpretations of early music. I was shocked to read such an un-informed and inaccurate take on their rapturous performances of Du Fay and Hildegard. In particular, the music of Hildegard von Bingen, with its virtuosic two-and-one-half octave span, should never be expected to remain “peaceful” to begin with. Rather, the music is gutsy and gripping, wholly unlike any music of its time, and ours! Mr. Patterson failed to trust the research and preparation that must have inspired the ensemble’s interpretive decisions. All in all, the early music segment of this concert was expertly presented and, to my musically-trained ear, lacked the intonation problems so unfairly highlighted by the reviewer. Was he even there?!?

    Yes, there were technical issues that hampered the second half of the program. However, contrary to the reviewer’s round-up, these issues neither phased the ensemble, nor did they ruin the experience for the very enthusiastic crowd at Marsh Chapel. Based on his apparent bewilderment by the new music, it is clear that the reviewer failed to even read the program notes (when I first read this review there were even mis-attributed credits, that have since been corrected). This bespeaks a disappointing and irresponsible lack of respect for the music being performed.

    After being so appalled by this mean-spirited, inaccurate, and unbalanced review of a highly talented young ensemble, I took a look at Mr. Patterson’s past reviews. Many of his reviews are similarly dismissive of the redeeming qualities of the musicians and ensembles and often in stunningly derisive, unproductive ways. The voluminous comments below these reviews luckily set the record straight, I hope that other members of this audience do the same.

    Comment by JFK1 — May 12, 2013 at 9:27 am

  2. In an already highly competitive writing scene in Boston, let alone the blasted lifeless wasteland of writers on the Internet, one wonders how another blog can obtusely and summarily obfuscate Friday night’s performance and “make it.”

    This wholly dismissive review, and according to some other comments, factually inaccurate, of what in reality was a brilliant and moving performance should also be similarly dismissed. Disregard the tepid and bland majority of the above review, as The Lorelei Ensemble is transcendent. It touches upon something primal and solemn, a thing, a feeling, a place inside and outside of ourselves that exists beyond time and space, a Holy Mountain; it truly speaks to something greater than us. Lorelei at Marsh Chapel will make you believe that we’re going to make it, and everything is going to be all right in the end.

    Witnessing a performance at this historic building, the audience gets a package deal. Beautiful architecture, divine music, and a sense that the two are working together, building a sonic temple where audiences feel something magical is happening.

    The natural acoustics of the chapel are bathed with ringing vocal beauty, as the audience is awash in sound that is summoned and rises to fill the hall from an archaic and secret place, yet strangely familiar. A temple is built with the voices of Lorelei, music alchemy practiced to elevate the gross to fine and utilize Marsh as it was intended, as a spiritual vehicle.

    Although I agree that the intermission was troubled with technical issues, which deflated the mystery and tone of the first half, “one swallow does not a summer make”, Mr. Patterson, although a trend of disdainful sour grape reviews certainly points towards something. If the a cappella ensemble decides to move forward with multimedia presentations (which they should), the same amount of dedication to the music must also be given to this part of the performance. Brighter projection, a clearer image, and usage of a whole screen, unwrinkled, with proper aspect ratios are vital. Of course a 45-minute intermission is detrimental, but let us be prudent though, in not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    “Many of us today rue the general decline in musical culture and literacy,” indeed. One would not have to look far to see that the proof is in the pudding. Picking up a knife does not make the wielder a surgeon; the same should be said of the pen.

    Comment by Seamuson Antoinette O'Reilly — May 12, 2013 at 11:22 am

  3. Regarding the comments on David Patterson’s supposedly consistent negative bias, I challenge readers to find such a pattern within his 198 BMInt reviews. (edited)

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — May 12, 2013 at 6:28 pm

  4. Well, okay, since you challenged readers: I propose Mr. Patterson’s October 3, 2010 review of Dinosaur Annex at Brandeis. A couple of composer friends had pieces on that concert—and they are gifted composers. Unable to get to Boston for the concert, I went to the BMInt site subsequently to read the review. I commented on the review at that time… well, you can read the comment, and then your response and my later response.
    Cheers, Harold Meltzer

    Comment by Harold Meltzer — May 15, 2013 at 3:23 pm

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