Review: A Wink Toward Tradition in a Modern Evening
The New York Times | By Steve Smith
Successful entrepreneurs know that there’s an art to naming a new venture. You need to get your point across quickly, clearly and with nuance. Beth Morrison and Paola Prestini, the impresarios behind 21c Liederabend, nailed this straightaway when they started the biennial performance series in 2009: “21c” proclaims modernity. “Liederabend,” a 19th-century German term meaning “song night,” labels the package neatly, while hinting at Romantic notions of intimacy and literary depth.
Despite a growth trajectory that has seen each successive 21c Liederabend housed in a larger space with more elaborate production elements, Ms. Morrison and Ms. Prestini preserved the sensation of a family affair with their third installment, called “Op. 3.” Presented as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, the two-night event opened on Friday at the Harvey Theater.
If you had attended either of the previous incarnations — or almost any notable indie-classical event during the last decade or so — you saw familiar faces onstage and still more in the audience, composers and admirers alike. Like its predecessors, this event offered a conspicuous assemblage of talent, representing a broad span of contemporary styles, dramaturgical persuasions and staging concepts.
That variety kept what might have been a very long evening upbeat and enthralling. Scheduled to last two hours without intermission, the first night ran 30 minutes over, yet the surplus did not feel onerous. (A few audience members who trickled toward the exits at the 90-minute mark might have disagreed.)
Friday’s concert started with a wink toward tradition. A recording of Schubert’s ominous “Erlkönig” set the stage for well-wrought songs by Ms. Prestini and Tom Cipullo, handsomely sung by Chris Burchett and David Adam Moore, with the pianist Stephen Gosling, in a manner that Schubert would have recognized.
Amplification gave Daisy Press’s voice an eerie resonance in David Handler’s “Liadan’s Lament,” with Orlando Alonso on harpsichord. Min Xiao-Fen accompanied herself on pipa (a Chinese lute) in Huang Ruo’s “Drama Theater: No. 3” (“Written on the Wind”). Stretched generously, song-recital convention accommodated both.
But from there, audacious hybrids proliferated. In selections from “Bhutto,” an opera by Mohammed Fairouz and Olivia Giovetti, you could imagine Kurt Weill anticipating “Evita,” reimagined in Pakistan. “I Must Survive,” by Du Yun and Matthew Maguire, tasked Solange Merdinian with projecting Cleopatra’s alien allure and indomitable will — Sally Bowles with a Mongolian croak.
Marie Incontrera deftly wove jazz and gospel elements into her beguiling “Albert, Bound or Unbound,” with sly text from Royce Vavrek and bluesy contributions by the clarinetist Eileen Mack and the trumpeter Hugo Moreno. Further selections from operas and dramatic works by Aleksandra Vrebalov, Missy Mazzoli, Tod Machover and David T. Little telegraphed a flourishing present and auspicious future for the lyric stage. Ted Hearne, conducting the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the instrumental ensemble Novus NY, provided alert accompaniment for most of the larger works, and was a charismatic tenor soloist in portions from a new piece of his own, “The Source.”
Vocalists, instrumentalists, video technicians and sound engineers maintained a high level of quality throughout the event, a minor miracle in a presentation so extensive and varied. And at evening’s end, a brief set by the buoyant Zimbabwean Afro-pop band Netsayi and Black Pressure suggested a succinct definition of just what song is: a personal utterance with global reach and universal impact.
A version of this review appears in print on November 26, 2013, on Page C2 of the New York edition with the headline: A Wink Toward Tradition in a Modern Evening and is available online here.