George Crumb Project | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

George Crumb Project 

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The retrospective of composer George Crumb's music three years ago at the Museum of Contemporary Art was a highlight of the classical season. Now one of its organizers, soprano Barbara Ann Martin, is mounting a similar series at the Music Institute of Chicago, where she teaches. The 73-year-old Crumb is an heir of Berg and Bartok, but he also looks beyond them for inspiration--to the modernist use of electronics and vocal pyrotechnics (his singers also click, yell, and sigh) and back to the Renaissance art of the madrigal for melodic instrumental texture and clockwork rhythm. Many of his works have an almost ritualistic feel: in Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale), for example, an amplified instrumental trio wearing masks performs under a blue light; the musicians leave and reenter the stage, sometimes playing from the wings, and at times mimic the resonant primal moans of the humpback whale. Crumb also wrote with current events in mind: the 1969 song cycle Night of the Four Moons, based on poems by Federico Garcia Lorca (as many of his songs are) and scored for unconventional instruments (like banjo, bongos, Tibetan prayer stones, and African thumb piano), expressed his ambivalence toward the Apollo 11 mission. The songs were written for mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani, who championed Crumb's vocal pieces when few other singers had the courage--or technique--to tackle them. For a long time she was one of only a handful capable of performing his masterpiece "Ancient Voices of Children." Martin was another, and after singing it for a quarter century she's made it her own. The first of these concerts features a 2002 piano piece, "Eine kleine Mitternacht Musik (Ruminations on Monk's Theme)," as well as two popular oldies, Mundus Canis and Night of the Four Moons; Vox Balaenae, Eleven Echoes of Autumn, the song "Apparition," Five Pieces for Piano, and Three Early Songs make up the second program. Martin is supported by an expert cast that includes members of CUBE, pianist Abraham Stokman, and guitarist Thomas Clippert. There will also be a discussion between Crumb and fellow composers Shulamit Ran and Augusta Read Thomas on the morning of Thursday, May 29. (The new-music consortium ICE will present its own Crumb concert May 31.) Tuesday and Wednesday, May 27 and 28, 8 PM, Evanston campus, Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago, Evanston; 847-866-9161.

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