Norman, Hearne. A Far Cry at the Gardner Museum, April 6.
Musical borrowings honor the past. Re-construct, de-construct and destroy the past as well. When inspired, they invigorate the past.
A Far Cry built a compelling program from borrowings Thursday evening, attracting a robust audience to Calderwood Hall at the Gardner Museum. The Criers paired two dramatic works, Andrew Norman’s “Companion Guide to Rome,” and Ted Hearne’s “Law of Mosaics.”
Norman’s “Companion Guide” grew out of a fellowship year at the American Academy, where he spent time visiting churches and then composing on the experience. The resulting score—in nine movements, each named for a church—may have something to do with architecture, but it certainly has a lot to do with creating musical textures and a distinct language.
The Criers set themselves around the hall. Three identical trios—cello, viola, violin—faced each other on the floor. Other string players situated themselves upstairs on various levels and joined in antiphonally—there are four floors in the square hall.
Norman’s music is tonal, harmonically laden, rich in counterpoint. But not traditional at all. It gets delivered in episodes surrounded by dramatic silences, minimalistic gestures and the occasional massive crescendo. There are many moments of almost inaudible playing, to great effect.
Each of the nine sections brings its own ideas to life. A violin solo (hard to identify some of the players individually) does explore sense-stretching ppp (movement 3, Susanna). Birdsongs resonate from the balconies in movement 6 (Clemente).
The theatrical highlight came in movement 8 (Cecelia), when violinist Robyn Bollinger entered the hall, and worked her way around the room (barefoot), playing a rapturous lyric line, truly ecstatic, with a triad investigated over and over, surrounded by silence, as an outro.
The finale (Sabina), equally dramatic, featured a gorgeous violin line, slowly emerging from noisy accompaniment.
It might be a stretch to call Norman’s “Guide” a borrowing, but it certainly isn’t when describing Ted Hearne’s fascinating “Law of Mosaics.” The composer would probably prefer the term sampling; he takes literal figures from multiple works, including Norman’s “Guide” (the two were Yale classmates), Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” and multiple other sources.
What he does to them makes them new. The “Adagio” and “Four Seasons” get the most extended treatment. In the third movement (of five), Hearne slows down the famous melodic lines of both—turning the sentimentality comic, almost grotesque.
Some of the dissonances—talking about the “Adagio” here—that have become so familiar are painfully prolonged. In the case of “Four Seasons,” while the melodic lines are slowed, they get articulated with frenetically sped up bowing—creating a disconnect between what the brain wants to hear and what the ears are receiving—all of it over a hunker-down walking bass line.
The effect is strikingly achieved. These are just a few of the borrowings and their subsequent iterations—the finale, an amalgam of them all, aches with mystery. The playing all evening was engaged and prepared with great detail. It was a pleasure to be in the room.
CADENCE: This Criers performance was part of the Gardner’s Thursday evening Stir series. The next program features a Beth Morrison Project, with Nico Muhly and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, June 1. The Criers team up with Roomful of Teeth next Thursday at Sanders Theater (Celebrity Series). That program has more music from Ted Hearne—this “Mosaics,” as well as his “Coloring Book,” and pieces by Caroline Shaw—both originals and some of her sturdy arrangements as well.