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Inventive Cantori program showcases incidental music for the stage
by Ann Stedman for Vocal Area Network
Posted October 24, 2006

Mark ShapiroNow in its 23rd season, the noted chamber chorus Cantori New York is feeling a heightened zest for the imaginative programming and thorough musical preparation that have won the group two ASCAP awards, critical acclaim, and recognition in choral and musical circles. "In a cultural climate where too much is superficial and deceptive, we find a joyful affirmation in making fresh commitments to our truth and our music," says Artistic Director Mark Shapiro. "We're renewing our vows!"

Cantori New York is also finding new energy in the group's longstanding practice of working with exceptional artistic partners. A concert to be presented on Saturday, November 4 at 8 PM at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, West 64th Street and Central Park West, offers delightful evidence of these trends.

The program is an inventive one that showcases incidental music by American composers that was originally written for stage productions of theatrical plays. The Tony-award winning actress Maryann Plunkett will be on hand to recite synopses and dialogue. During a recent rehearsal, Plunkett expressed enthusiasm for the unusual concept. "It's as though I'll be doing incidental acting," she commented, gesturing with a dog-eared script of Lillian Hellman's translation of Jean Anouilh's The Lark. "My contribution will be to support the music, when usually it's the music that accents the drama."

Plunkett will have no shortage of material. The evening teems with strong characters, several of whom Plunkett has previously portrayed on stage. Among these is Joan of Arc, the heroine of Jean Anouilh's hit play, for which Leonard Bernstein wrote a set of choruses when Hellman's translation was produced on Broadway, in a production that starred Julie Harris and featured Christopher Plummer and Boris Karloff. Bernstein's music cleverly fuses sonorities from early music and jazz to create choral music that is toe-tappingly evocative. A trio of French choruses portrays the countryside of Joan's youth, her visit to the royal court, and (in an irresistible whistling chorus) the soldiers she led and befriended; a Latin series movingly traces the story of her trial and execution.

Bernstein's work will feature the talents of mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, a recent Juilliard graduate who is now a Young Artist at the Metropolitan Opera. Cooke is an avid recitalist on New York stages, where her appearances have included the New York Festival of Song. This project marks Cooke's third collaboration with Shapiro; their last outing together was Stravinsky's Les Noces.

Other works on the program include Robert Sirota's Songs and Spells in its New York premiere. Sirota recently arrived in New York to take the helm of the Manhattan School of Music, where he is the new president after a successful term running the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Cantori is pleased to be "wheeling out the welcome wagon" with this performance of Sirota's witty and touching musical confection. The cycle infuses intoxicating poetry from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream with both choral and instrumental music, notably a just-try-not-to-smile satirical tango.

Cantori is known for revivals of worthy rarities. This program's contribution is Fighting the Waves, a seldom heard cantata by the self-described musical "bad boy" George Antheil, a New Jersey native who decamped to Paris and rocked the cultural world with his "Ballet mécanique." Antheil's surprising extra-musical achievements include a patent he secured with the actress Hedy Lamarr, for a "secret communications system." But his musical treatment of this haunting text by Yeats will be above board, sung by the tenor Matthew Garrett, a fast-rising Juilliard graduate associated with Glimmerglass opera and many others.

Cantori will also sing the Medea Choruses by Virgil Thomson, another American in Paris. Euripides's translator for these settings is the brilliant Harlem Renaissance classicist Countee Cullen. Thomson's music, known for its simplicity and directness of expression, serves Cullen's mellifluous poetry sensitively. Eerie choruses to Schiller's Mary Stuart by Bang on a Can co-founder David Lang complete the program. Cantori's next collaboration will be with the marvelous saxophone quartet PRISM, recently heard in New York at the Whitney Museum in a program celebrating the 70th birthday of Steve Reich. For more information, visit www.cantorinewyork.com.

Ann Stedman is the General Manager of Cantori New York.

Content Contact: Ann Stedman.
Revision Date: October 24, 2006.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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