Saint Rose Camerata Gives Nod to George Crumb with “Vox Balaenae”

whale-painting-whale-illustration7:30 pm • Saturday, October 21st 2017
Massry Center for the Arts at The College of Saint Rose • Albany NY

This weekend seems to be a bit of a pivot as we inch ourselves closer to the winter months ahead, despite what the beautiful warm days predicted. The Leaf Peepers series is coming to a close (have the leaves actually fully turned colors yet?), and there are a number of season openers including Close Encounters with Music and Saint Rose Camerata on Saturday and Burnt Hills Oratorio Society and Schenectady Symphony Orchestra on Sunday afternoon.

While we respect the composers who have provided our musical foundation for us, the preference here is to highlight the work of living composers and American composers. This weekend’s recommendation, the Saint Rose Camerata’s performance on Saturday night, features the work of living, American composers including one who has adopted the Capital Region as home.

The Saint Rose Camerata, the faculty chamber ensemble in residence at The College of Saint Rose, opens its 15th season with works by American composers George Crumb, Libby Larsen, and Andrew McKenna Lee. The program also welcomes soprano Suna Gunther in her debut performance of Saints Without Tears by Libby Larsen.

The concert’s centerpiece is a performance of Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) for three masked players, which is being performed in honor of George Crumb’s 88th birthday on October 24th. Primarily a composer of chamber music, Crumb did receive the Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for one of his only three orchestral works, Echoes of Time and the River. He is, perhaps, best known for his sonic experimentations and inventive approach to sound. Vox Balaenae is a prime example of this.

If you are not familiar with the work, Crumb composed the work after hearing a tape recording of humpback whale songs in 1969. Completed in 1971, the work is scored for flute, cello, and piano, all of which are electronically amplified. It is now considered one of the classics of 20th-century music. The composer instructs the stage be washed in deep-blue lighting and that the three players don black half-masks, explaining the “masks, by effacing the sense of human projections, are intended to represent, symbolically, the powerful impersonal forces of nature.” Crumb manipulates the haunting sounds and evokes the mysteriousness of the deep through virtuosic performances and special effects. The extended techniques used to create these special effects include asking the flutist to play as well as vocalize into the instrument, using the cello to imitate the haunting cries of a seagull with various small instruments, and instructing the pianist to pluck strings, stroke the strings with a chisel (or shot glass or ruler) and generate harmonics (by stopping the movement of the strings) through the piano’s open lid.

Saturday evening’s full program is to include:

  • Libby LarsenSaints without Tears for soprano, flute, and bassoon
  • Andrew McKenna Lee — “Fantasy: Perpetuum Mobile” & “Toccata” from 5 Refractions of a Prelude by Bach for solo guitar
  • George CrumbVox Balaenae for three masked players (electric flute, electric cello, and electric piano)

And here we give our nod to Andrew McKenna Lee, now a Capital Region “native” as he fulfills his role as professor at Saint Rose. If you like J.S. Bach, you will find his work intriguing.

The performers for this Saint Rose Camerata concert are:

  • Suna Gunther, soprano
  • Yvonne Chavez Hansbrough, flute
  • Susan Loegering Daves, bassoon
  • David Bebe, ‘cello
  • Young Kim, piano
  • Andrew McKenna Lee, guitar

If you do not get to attend Saint Rose Camerata’s concert, grab a snack and your favorite beverage and take a listen and look to the video below. It’s a performance of Vox Balaenae by the International Contemporary Ensemble in Chicago followed by a conversation with the performers about working with George Crumb and this work. The work is fascinating and discussion about the extended techniques that follows is very interesting. But, hopefully, you’ll be able to take in the work in person on Saturday night at the Massry Center for the Arts. There is nothing like live performance.

Happy Musicking this weekend!

Upcoming Events

  • UAlbany Music: Max Lifchitz, piano | Bach, Beethoven, Konye, Terzián, Perschetti, and more.
  • University at Albany Performing Arts Center, Albany, NY
    Monday, October 23rd 2017 at 7:00 pm

  • Saratoga Chamber Players: Ferdinand The Bull & Other Tales | Bailen, Prokofiev, Glière
  • Caffè Lena, Saratoga Springs, NY
    Saturday, October 28th 2017 at 3:00 pm

  • Crescendo Vocal Ensemble: “”Through Truth We Triumph — From Martin Luther to J.S. Bach” | Bach, Luther, Schutz, Praetorius, and more
  • Saint James Place, Great Barrington, MA
    Saturday, October 28th 2017 at 6:00 pm

  • Albany Pro Musica Artist Series: APM with American String Quartet and Ola Gjeilo, piano | Gjeilo, Beethoven
  • Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, NY
    Sunday, October 29th 2017 at 3:00 pm

  • Saratoga Chamber Players: “Fall Celebration” | Hersant, Beethoven, Weinberg,Dvořák
  • Filene Hall, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs
    Sunday, October 29th 2017 at 3:00 pm

  • Union College Concerts: Benjamin Grosvenor, piano | Brahms, Dean, Debussy, Berg, and more
  • Union College Memorial Chapel, Schenectady, NY
    Sunday, November 5th 2017 at 3:00 pm

  • Glens Falls Symphony with pianist Andrew Li | Mozart, Sibelius
  • Glens Falls High School, Glens Falls, NY
    Sunday, November 5th 2017 at 4:00 pm