Dallas — Voces Intimae’s mission statement tells us that they are “dedicated to the revitalization and promotion of art song.” They will be celebrating their 10th anniversary next season. However, they drew a surprisingly small crowd for their last program of the season, “Texas Round Up.” It’s a pity, because this program showcased five composers currently living and working in Texas. This kind of program is, regrettably, a rarity, perhaps because “new music” is a tough sell for many concertgoers, and perhaps because we expect composers to hail from more exotic locales, such as the Isle of Man, or Brooklyn. But the reality is that composers are writing fine music in our own neighborhoods, and perhaps we need to do more to support them.
The April 10 performance at Zion Lutheran Church was a start in that direction.
Three of the five composers on the program currently have academic appointments in Texas, while the other two are independent composers.
The program began, rather oddly, with a reading by Ella Beth Bando, who also supplied chapters from her book after the performance. The rest of the program was a better fit.
David Davies, music faculty at Texas A&M Commerce, started off the musical offerings with his Songs of Supplication, settings of two hymns. These were pretty, listenable songs. Like all five composers, Davies trafficked in tonality. Jennifer Glidden provided a big soprano with somewhat muddy diction in Zion Lutheran’s acoustics, while Carrie Davies was a capable collaborative pianist even in the thornier sections of Davies’ accompaniment writing.
Paul T. Sánchez, who is on the music faculty at Baylor University, provided the afternoon’s most delightful offering. His six songs set to the poetry of Sappho, collectively titled The Journey, were performed by Sánchez himself on piano and his wife Kayleen Sánchez, soprano. These songs were a wedding gift from Mr. Sánchez to his wife. Ms. Sánchez’s voice is like a ball of silvery light, her upper register ethereal and flutelike. The phrasing of the songs embraces rather than struggles with the fragmentary nature of Sappho’s poetry—none of her poems have survived in their entirety. This represents an ideal fusing of the ancient poems with postmodern fragmentation to create, in the end, a unified and indeed beautiful whole.
Peter Fischer of Texas Tech University provided two pieces using quite different tonalities—the song “On the Edges of Moonlight,” an exercise in fifths, and four songs from his song cycle Barcarole. The latter uses percussive effects in the piano that surprisingly, under Jason Smith’s capable hands, never overwhelmed the singer, Shannon Talley. Talley sung from memory, an impressive feat considering the complexity of these songs.
William Mac Davis, the only composer on the program who was not present—he had two performances of his work that afternoon, and attended the other—was represented by soprano Lynda Poston-Smith and her husband, pianist Robert Smith. They ably performed Davis’s Five Elizabethan Lyrics. These songs were composed in the mid-1980s, and were indeed distinctly different than the newer works on the program. The quirky, surprising intervals and deliberately amelodic writing was a marked contrast to the neoromanticism that featured in many of the other songs on the program.
Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, who (full disclosure) is the Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for TheaterJones, wrapped up the afternoon’s offerings with his Three Dramatic Psalms and “A Simple Song.” Soprano Jacqueline Lengfelder performed his songs capably, with her big, vibrato-y voice well suited to the acoustics of Zion Lutheran. Jason Smith again collaborated on piano, producing big dramatics when called upon, but knowing when to get out of the way of the singer. “A Simple Song,” in particular, is a tonal, romantic, listenable and pretty song. The musical language is influenced by modernism and postmodernism, inevitably, but has no vestiges of the thorny atonality that some concertgoers consider to be a hallmark of “new music.”
Indeed, new music in the 21st century, if the work of these composers is any indication, is making a return to tonalities that are more palatable and less intimidating to listeners than were the “new” sounds of fifty or sixty years ago.
The concert concluded with a surprise: Dallas Symphony Senior Principal Associate Concertmaster Gary Levinson arrived just in time to perform a song by Isaacs for soprano, piano, and violin, “Without Love.” Isaacs wrote the song for Levinson and Levinson’s wife Baya Kakouberi for their wedding. The performance was conceived as an anniversary gift from Levinson to Kakouberi; unfortunately, she was delayed (ah, our busy modern lives, alas). This song, though, again exemplified the trend toward listenability in contemporary art music. Not many people dream of walking down the aisle to Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, but this is wedding music for a new age.
The idea of bringing together several Texas composers for a concert is an inspired one. I would have loved to have seen more diverse representation, including some women composers—I know you’re out there! It’s also a shame that the audience was so small. But it’s a start.