IN: Reviews

CpM and BoSoma No Match for Les Noces


Stravinsky 1910
Stravinsky 1910

Les Noces is something else for those, such as me, rediscovering it after a good amount of time. Unfortunately, Chorus pro Musica and a BoSoma Dance Company could not turn the trick on this very tricky piece. In CpM’s hour-long program, shorter American works were executed well, but for the most part, left little emotional imprint.

Under the direction of Music Director, Jaime Kirsch, CpM dove into Daniel Pinkham’s “Awake, O North Wind.” The huge chorus of four rows, each extending from one side of Jordan Hall’s stage to the other, projected a stoutness of sound summoning the wind to awake and “Blow upon my garden, that the spices may flow out.”

In Eric Whitacre’s setting of a 13th-century text of Rumi, “This Marriage,” a refrain of harmonies that only this highly popular composer can carve out, sang out fetchingly. CpM took to heart the apt word painting Whitacre brought to the moving text, first through their extraordinary enunciation, and second through alert vocalizations. CpM’s sound burst with surprise and exhilaration on “May this marriage be full of laughter.” The big chorus’ gently smoothened oohs concluded the text, which closes, “I am out of words to describe/how spirit mingles in this marriage.” It is to compliment these many singers on their otherwise singleness of voice, to point out only the faintest lateness of some on the word “May” that begins each couplet of Rumi’s poem.

Bob Chilcot’s version of three of Aesop’s Fables suggested an “over-the-counter” type of Americana that at times echoed New Age, among other contemporary genres. Yet out of nowhere in the fable, whose moral is “Persuasion is better than Force,” came visionary music for “The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth.” This the CpM delivered thrillingly.

Joesph Greggorio’s take on “Frog went a-courtin’” kept pretty much on the same path: a kind of contrapuntal two-part-sparring of woman and men with hummed refrains over 24 verses. Again, it was only the joyful, unnervingly synchronized singing itself of the enormous CpM that held any real interest.

Nearly 100 years old, Les Noces (The Wedding) has to be a different experience for listeners who have since encountered the world of minimalism through such notables as Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, and Terry Riley. Igor Stravinsky described his 1923 score, often dubbed a “dance cantata,” as “perfectly homogeneous, perfectly impersonal, and perfectly mechanical.”

Disappointing as was the performance to me, it must have disheartened all those involved in what is no easy piece to pull off. Stravinsky’s rhythms, probably known best through the forerunner of Les Noces, The Rite of Spring, are notoriously difficult. Then there was the Russian text to learn. Hours upon hours must have gone into preparing the near-half-hour work.

Soprano Lynn Eustis, mezzo-soprano Emily Marvosh, tenor Jonas Budris, and bass-baritone Andrew Garland, were superb in their soloing roles, when they could be heard. Musica ran too often into the same trouble. From the very first note, the overbearing cymbal crash would set the tone for a percussion accented performance in which there was no letup. The four pianos played by Thomas Stumpf, John McDonald, Hisako Hiratsuka, and Natsuki Hiratsuka, through no fault of the excellent keyboardists, blurred into a thicket; the Russian words were largely obscured. I would guess this imbalance would come to rest upon the conductor, whose main attention appeared to be keeping everybody in time.  

BoSoma Dance Company, limited to a fairly narrow space, allowed itself but four dancers—three female and one male. The four scenes, bride, bridegroom, their departure, and the wedding itself, meshed together, making it hard to discern which was which. Most puzzling was the choreography of Katherine Hooper and Irada Djelassi. Ignoring the folk and Russian aspects of the story may be dismissed as interpretation. The dancing itself could not be. Traditional ballet fluidity was the wrong visual language for the edgy modernisms of the music. In fact, the dancers’ movements did nothing to represent Stravinsky’s trademark shifting meters.

A surprisingly small turnout offered rounds of unbridled approval.

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. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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  1. With all due respect to Mr. Patterson, my friends and I had a completely different experience with Stravinsky’s Les Noces Saturday night. Mr. Patterson believes that the performance of the piece must have been disheartening for all those involved, primarily because he thought the emphasis on the percussion instruments often overwhelmed the efforts of the soloists and chorus, blurred the four pianos, and largely obscured the Russian text. The reviewer is obviously entitled to his opinion, de gustabus, etc., and of course the musical literature abounds with discussion of the problem of balancing four pianos, percussion, chorus and solo voices for any ensemble that attempts this piece.
    However, contrary to Mr. Patterson, what we heard was an exhilarating Les Noces, a performance that was always rhythmically alive and combined an earthy physicality with a wonderful theatrical presence. The soloists didn’t seem to relax for a second. The balance between soloists, chorus and instrumental ensemble was fine with few exceptions, while much of the necessary edgy Russian-ness was in evidence and the Russian syllables flew by rapidly. We would guess that a number of chorus members are fluent in Russian.
    We don’t see any way that any of the performers could have been disheartened by this performance.

    Comment by Jere Page — June 5, 2015 at 4:25 pm

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