Chamber Chorus Haunts Kresge
Program of Monteverdi, Bach, Harbison Focuses on DeathBy Ruth Miller
MIT Chamber Chorus
William Cutter, conductor
Nov. 15, 8 p.m.
As my high school band director will eagerly tell you, I am not an expert on music, its performance, or any of the correct terminology used to describe these performances. Regardless, I still enjoy getting out of the dorm every now and then, and was invited by a friend to attend a concert given by the MIT Chamber Chorus this past Saturday at Kresge. With the program’s predominant theme of death, the evening had the potential to be a bit morbid. The flyers and program offered an even more gloomy feeling, featuring a mysterious, eye-catching, and indescribable image.
The first piece, Claudio Monteverdi’s Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’Amata (Tears of a lover at the tomb of the Beloved) was the most solemn piece of the evening. It was also the best executed. The clear intonation of the vocalists was haunting and enjoyably morose. The phrase “hurts so good” comes to mind to describe this piece.
After a pleasantly dismal first six movements, the chorus rearranged itself to welcome a string section, flutists, and vocal soloists. The soft, subtle chaos produced by the string section as it warmed up reminded me of the opening scene of Requiem for a Dream, and I braced myself for the worst.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Komm, du sÜÂe Todestunde (Come, sweet hour of death) followed; the composer was perhaps more familiar to me even if the piece was not. It was more varied than the first selection, if for no other reason than the variety in available soloists. Anne E. Hall G, mezzo-soprano, offered a softer, strained feeling to her contributions. Ahmed E. Ismail G, baritone, resonated deep into the auditorium and was a brilliant contrast to the softer voice of the preceding soloist. David Powell, tenor, of the Boston Conservatory of Music, offered a similar contribution Ismail’s, but his voice was so haunting and soulful it was more than welcome to round off the selection.
The final selection, Concerning them which are asleep, was a somewhat arbitrary choice to round out the program. Granted, it fit the scheme of morbidity, but was written hundreds of years after the two previous pieces and in English. The work, composed by Institute Professor John H. Harbison, was well-written and performed, but made it clear that a key element to any morose, choral piece is that the audience not understand the language. The subconscious struggle between the mind’s interpretation of the lyrics and the soul’s response to the melody is difficult to overcome, leading conductor William Cutter to choose to perform the piece again at the end of the performance.
Though the event was billed as a choral event, the strings and flutes were welcome additions. Few instruments can produce such haunting sounds, and they offered a perfect compliment along with organist Karen Harvey.
I expected to leave the auditorium with a sinking feeling similar to the one I felt after getting my first chemistry test back. Either I’ve developed a tolerance for the upsetting, or the pieces were so haunting and intriguing that I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. Even if choral events aren’t your standard for Saturday nights, the MIT Chamber Chorus is well worth an hour of your time and will pleasantly surprise you.
I still wish I knew what the image on the poster was, though.