The New, in Context, for Ear, Heart and Brain
Dolce Suono Ensemble and Lucy Shelton at Roulette
By CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM ~~~Published: December 10, 2013
From ancient Greece to the moon by way of Monteverdi, Mahler and Puccini: Wednesday evening’s concert by the Dolce Suono Ensemble at Roulette in Brooklyn drew a wide arc. Dolce Suono, which appeared there as part of the inventive Ear Heart Music series, is a Philadelphia-based chamber ensemble founded by the flutist Mimi Stillman that eloquently advocates for new music while placing it in a historical context.
Ms. Stillman, who founded the group, is not only a consummate and charismatic performer, but also a scholar. Her programs tend to activate ear, heart — and brain. Wednesday evening’s program of new chamber cantatas by Jeremy Gill and Shulamit Ran, alongside instrumental works by Roussel, Messiaen and Daniel Catán, was both sonically seductive and thought-provoking as it explored the fluid border between the lyric and the dramatic.
Both qualities are concentrated in the soprano Lucy Shelton, a trailblazer in new vocal music for more than five decades. In Roussel’s “Deux poèmes de Ronsard” for soprano and flute, the vibrant warmth of her voice contrasted alluringly with the zippy brilliance of Ms. Stillman’s flute. In Messiaen’s “Le merle noir,” Ms. Stillman was joined by Mr. Gill, a fine pianist. In Catán’s “Encantamiento” for two flutes, the director of Ear Heart Music, Amelia Lukas, performed with her in an exploration of texture and color.
In Mr. Gill’s “Ode: A Dramatic Cantata,” Ms. Shelton drew on expressive modes from dramatic spoken recitation to ringing fortes and softly floated high notes. The piece sets Greek texts by Pindar and Mesomedes, as well as English ones by Keats and Wordsworth, to a vividly colored instrumental score for piano, cello and flute. It weaves in fragmented and subtly distorted echoes of Monteverdi’s “Orfeo,” Puccini’s “Tosca” and Mahler’s “Rückert Lieder.” There was a close connection between music and text — the latter projected onto a screen — even in the instrumental passages, where Gabriel Cabezas’s cello underwent a number of sonic transformations.
Ms. Ran’s entrancing “Moon Songs: A Song Cycle in Four Acts” was commissioned by Dolce Suono in 2011 as a dual tribute to Mahler and Schoenberg and written for Ms. Shelton. The work draws on texts about the moon in biblical and modern Hebrew, as well as English, and includes translations of Li Bai, the eighth-century Chinese poet who also inspired Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde.”
Through the use of gestures, sound-painting, expressive melodies, spoken word and percussive effects, the three instrumentalists and Ms. Shelton revealed the ritualistic origins of poetry.