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November 5, 2013

The Pulitzer Prize Was Nice and All, but a Work Is Finally Fully Heard

New York Times:

You might assume that any music piece that wins the Pulitzer Prize would already have had its premiere. Not necessarily, as indicated by the inspiring story of Caroline Shaw’s “Partita for Eight Voices,” an exhilarating, sensual and playful work.

Ms. Shaw, a violinist and singer who humbly describes herself as a musician, not a composer, wrote “Partita” for Roomful of Teeth, the eight-voice ensemble of which she is a member. Founded in 2009, the group has studied a wide range of vocal techniques — yodeling, belting, Inuit throat singing and more — to explore the expressive potential of the voice.

Allemande begins like a fugue for spoken voices, with the singers uttering fragments and phrases (“to the side,” “and around,” “though the middle”) in overlapping, rhythmically precise patterns. Soon the voices break into euphonious harmony, like some joyous yet jerky chorale. As the movement evolves, the singers draw upon the diverse techniques they have mastered, especially the nasal styles of throat singing that push the voice into a realm of controlled shouting.

The other movements are comparably compelling. The singers perform rising figures on “hmmm ah” sounds, episodes of spoken prattle, stretches of haunting multipart harmonies, delicate vocalizations and even expressive grunts. For all the technical craft and expressive control on display in the score, here is a composer giving free rein to her instinctive sensibilities. I hear hints of Russian Orthodox choirs, Delta blues, Gregorian chant and much more.

The only issue with “Partita” is that it is hard to imagine a vocal ensemble other than Roomful of Teeth performing it. These skilled vocalists can sing with rich-toned, full-bodied beauty and power. But the range of unconventional sounds they produce, from unearthly lows to falsetto highs, from eerie harmonics to slinky whistles, is amazing.

Read more.

Posted by acapnews at November 5, 2013 12:00 AM