Melodia offers "Incantations"
by Teri Duerr for Vocal Area Network
Posted November 15, 2019

Melodia: IncantationsThe allure of the supernatural, the mystery of mysticism, the seduction of the spiritual. Our human desire to connect to something beyond what can be known, to extend belief in something larger, to explain the unfathomable is as old as human time. This autumn season, as the days darken, Melodia Women’s Choir of NYC, under the direction of Conductor Cynthia Powell, brings audiences "Incantations," a program that Melodia says, “contemplates life, death and the realm of the spirit.”

Incantations features two mystical-tinged U.S. premieres, Days and Moments — Autumn and Winter from English composer Robin Milford (1903-1959) based on the poetry of Walter de la Mare (1873-1956), and Fairy Day: Three Idylls for Female Chorus by Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924).

“I have always had a special fascination with the arcane and the inexplicable, and I love English choral music,” said Artistic Director Cynthia Powell. “When Melodia found the suite by Robin Milford, who was a student of Vaughan Williams, and the cantata by Charles V. Stanford describing the world of fairies and nature spirits, I knew they would be featured in a Melodia concert someday. That we are performing them for American audiences for the first time is an added thrill!”

Top billing for the season, however, goes to the world premiere commission Ekō, composed by longtime Melodia collaborator Allison Sniffin, whose impressive list of accomplishments include acting Music Director of the Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble. Ekō is to also include an element of Butoh, the often-eerie, post-WWII Japanese dance form sometimes called “the dance of darkness.”

Ekō sprung from an earlier collaboration between Sniffin and teaching artist/ dancer Stéphanie Larrière (also a member of Melodia since 2015). “The video of Stéphanie dancing in Butoh style and me improvising voice and violin over an electronic sound track impressed Jenny [Clarke, Exective Director] and Cynthia [Powell], who then asked us to create a piece for Melodia,” said Sniffin. “Ekō is a soundscape,” continued Sniffin, which moves from static hovering to radiant communication across the space.” Melodia is joined by an impressive all-female string quintet for a full and resonant sound. “To me,” added Larrière, “Ekō is a call for light, an echo of beauty and harmony and a manifestation of light’s power… The center of light, we as a group will converge in the light at the heart of the church where performances will be held—a formal and literal evocation. This work manifests distant voices, memories of the living and nonliving, and all of our interconnectivity.”

Rounding out the contemplative evening will be two pieces based on Shakespearean texts Cymbeline and The Tempest by Sir David Willcocks (1919-2015), the work Echo from Minnesota composer Jeffrey Van (1941-) based on the poetry of Victorian poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), plus some arrangements of ancient melodies from the song book of the popular all-female British vocal ensemble the Mediaeval Baebes (which one Melodia fan posted a preview rave about on YouTube.)

No need to be a believer in the supernatural, however, to enjoy Melodia’s magical season. One only needs to a believer in the power of women making stunning music together. Melodia’s Incantations promises to be a rarified, magical and moving excursion into the spirit world for choral audiences this November.

"Incantations" will be performed at the Church of the Holy Apostles, 296 Ninth Avenue (at 28th Street), on Saturday, November 23 at 7:30 PM and at West End Collegiate, 245 West 77th Street (at West End Avenue), on Sunday, November 24 at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $25 ($20 in advance); students / seniors $15. Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/5998. For more information, call 212-757-2945 or visit www.melodiawomenschoir.org.

Performers: Melodia Women's Choir of NYC, Cynthia Powell, conductor. Taisiya Pushkar, piano; Katie Hyun, violin; Amelia Dietrich, violin; Gizem Yucel, viola; Claire Marie Solomon, cello; Ha Young Jung, bass; and Stéphanie Larrière, Butoh dance.

Teri Duerr is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, New York.