By Edward Kliszus
Tonight, the New York Choral Society presented Angel of Many Signs at the Gerald Lynch Theater. This production was billed as “a multi-media and multi-disciplinary concert bridging centuries of feminine imagination and power.”
Mysterious Sonic Musings
It was a full house in the beautiful, comfortable Gerald W. Lynch theater. On stage was seating for the chorus and string quartet, one full-sized projection screen set above the center rear stage, and two large screens set in the forefront on stage left and right. With the audience set in darkness, the concert opened with mysterious, sonic musings performed by Raquel Acevedo Klein.
Klein deftly controlled her audio offerings through a MIDI controller keyboard patched through her MacBook as she sang a mysterious syllabic roulade of melismatic passages. The large screens portrayed visual compositions crafted by artist Saya Woolfalk, reacting to the ever-evolving sonic creations. The result was continuous, ethereal, and coruscating sonic and visual colors in a kaleidoscope of an artistic mélange— it was a collaboration spanning centuries from Hildegard to the Shaker women of Watervliet, to the music and sounds of the 21st century.
Tonight’s richly realized spiritual musings made sense. Much inspiration was drawn from 12th-century composer Hildegard von Bingen, whose spiritual prophetic and apocalyptic visions were verified by theologians of the day. Her music was rooted in Gregorian chant, the primary form of sacred music in medieval times. Hildegard’s use of soaring melodies and elaborate ornamentation reflected the transcendental nature of her divine inspiration; her music was seen as a form of direct communication with God.
Through tonight’s series of Hildegard’s works, powerfully linked to Kevin Siegfried’s cantata Angel of Light, the mystique of Hildegard’s music was portrayed in the context of her role as a spiritual leader, visionary, and healer. Siegfried’s fine work shall undoubtedly take its place among the choral canon.
In Angel of Many Signs, we experienced a vivid world of inspiration, angels, and divine encounters portrayed through sonic and visual experiences extending from an otherworldly realm. Hildegard’s spiritual fervor and Siegfried’s unique artistic visions were portrayed as “ecstatic visions of the divine.”
Dissonant Sonic Variations
Tonight was a superb digital, instrumental, choral, and visual art synthesis. The string quartet offerings conferred with the music’s tonal and modal configurations, performing tonic chords and accompanying drone structures used with the monody of the Middle Ages. In addition, they effectively used harmonics and modified bowing techniques to create modernistic, dissonant sonic variations: struggle, hardship, suffering, and beauty.
David Hayes led the choir with expressive, precise, and well-stated gestures. The SATB choir exhibited fine pitch, meticulous entrances, crisp articulation, refined blend, sensitive dynamics, and the pathos required to express Hildegard and Kevin Siegfried’s broad communicative gestures.
Soprano Chantel Freeman beautifully captured and conveyed the expressive meaning of the musical texts. Her voice soared with a clear, bright, and powerful voice that easily filled the theater. She confidently delivered crystal-clear notes from her upper register to lower warm notes that blended with the other vocal parts.
Freeman demonstrated her mastery of breath control to achieve long sustained notes and intonation to ensure harmony with accompanying parts. With exceptional musicianship, she conquered technical demands and performed her part with phrasing and expression that complemented the production’s overall sound and consciousness.
Angel of Many Signs
The New York Choral Society
For information on the current season and tickets, go to https://nychoral.org/performances-events/
Angel of Light cantata by Kevin Siegfried
David Hayes, Conductor
Chantal Freeman, Soprano
Raquel Acevedo Klein, Electronica
Violinists Ledah Finck and Sarah Thomas
Violist Amy Huimei Tan
Cellist Irène Han
Angel of Many Signs runs through November 18 at 2:00 p.m. Runtime is about 75 minutes without intermission.
Gerald W. Lynch Theater
524 W 59th Street
New York, NY 10019
Tickets are available at https://nychoral.org/event/angel-of-many-signs/
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of Exodus: Jewish Composers in Exile, Oratorio Society of New York with Bach’s Magnificat and Mozart’s Requiem, The Orchestra Now presents Sight and Sound, The Orchestra Now presents the Lost Generation, Master Your Mindset: The Master’s Way, and The American Classical Orchestra presents Remember.