Daniel Stephen Johnson was born in the desert and learned to play the violin. After studying viola and English at the University of Southern California, he wrote fiction at Columbia University. Then he moved to Connecticut, where he worked at a record shop and wrote about music, literature and comedy for the New Haven Advocate and the Believer. Now he lives in Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and works as a sheet music salesman in Queens. Follow Daniel on Twitter at @linernotesdanny.
Angélica Negrón: Infusing Magic into the Delicate and Remote
The Pop Vocalist and Alternative Instrumentalist Introduces Her Music
Thursday, February 09, 2012
Angélica Negrón's music is a whisper. A young composer, she has crafted a small oeuvre of concert works, each suffused with a kind of compassion, as if regarding something very small and delicate, but without condescension. She samples tiny noises, seemingly trivial sounds, and turns them into music.
But also, literally, her music is often a whisper. In addition to the music she writes for classical performers, she sings for Balún, a pop band, in a voice not far from whisper-squiet. Then there's Arturo en el Barco, her more abstract, but no less delicate project, to which she also contributes vocals, as well as making music with violin, toys, and instruments so often looked down on that they might as well be toys—the accordion and the "omnichord," a synthesized autoharp.
Even pieces as uncharacteristic as Negrón's effusive orchestral movement What Keeps Me Awake (2008) seem closely intimate; even The Flying Trapeze (2008), her extroverted wind quintet, seems suffused with a quiet affection and nostalgia. But her strongest works may be those like Drawings for Meyoko (2009), for the chamber trio known as janus, that integrate a softly crackling electronic accompaniment straight out of her work with Arturo.
With ethnomusicologist Noraliz Ruiz, Negrón also teaches music in ¡Acopladitos!, a Spanish language immersion program for young children. It's not entirely clear, in fact, that there is any boundary between this aspect of her music-making and her careers as composer and performer. Not only are her melodies for Balún childlike in their sweetness and simplicity, Negrón is willing to treat a toy instrument with the dignity of a concert Steinway, and she happily draws the trivial sounds of everyday life into her music. It seems only natural that the converse should be true—that she should treat musical instruments as toys, and reach out with music into the everyday lives of mothers and their children. In fact, her commission for the 2011 MATA Festival, Fono, sets a Spanish phonetics primer for chorus and electronics, elevating pedantic childhood materials into a lush concert work.
We don't hear enough about Angélica Negrón—suggesting, perhaps, that New York's classical institutions haven't yet figured out what to make of her. This is likely to change radically, and soon, as audiences hear more of her strange, soft music. In the meantime, the volume of the buzz around her is, like the volume of a whisper, inversely proportional to the urgency of the message it communicates.