David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe's Hard-Rocking Oratorio, 'Shelter'

Q2 Music Album of the Week for April 1, 2013

Monday, April 01, 2013

Individually, David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe are three of New York's most important composers; together, under the name Bang on a Can, they're an institution and a supergroup. Bang on a Can's festivals, commissions and Cantaloupe record label make it a pillar of new music in New York, and every once in a while, the three composers join forces to create a single piece of music, with successive movements in their audibly distinct but closely related styles, as in their opera The Carbon Copy Building or the oratorio Lost Objects.

Their new Cantaloupe release, Shelter, reunites the trio with Lost Objects librettist Deborah Artman, for a new oratorio that examines what it means to be at home. Shelter is a universal need, and so Artman and the collective explore it in ways that tease out both the universality of that need and the disparity of the means by which it's addressed.

"Before I Enter," the first movement, is a ritual of rituals, a litany of homecoming routines: "Before I enter my house," intones a trio of vocalists, "I pat my pockets for my keys," or "I punch in a code on a keypad," or "I lift up the flap of sheepskin."  

On this disc, that trio happens to be performed by three people—Martha Cluver, Mellissa Hughes, and Caroline Shaw—with a way of singing that manages, miraculously, to seem at once utterly unaffected and drop-dead stylish. Their siren-like wailing on "Is the Wind" is just stunning, and Brad Lubman's chamber orchestra Signal, itself a supergroup of sorts, brings both the noise and the precision that this hard-rocking, dissonant repertoire needs, whether in the magisterial brass writing of "American Home" or that movement's hair-metal guitar flourishes.

The often severe writing allows for moments of surprisingly subtle emotion, as in the movement "I Want to Live." "I want to live where you live," goes the only line of text; is it a statement of admiration? Of envy? Or is it an oddly poetic declaration of love? The quasi-medieval musical setting seems to explore every possible meaning of the phrase and the urgent—even, yes, universal—sense of yearning behind each of them.


David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe: 'Shelter'
Cantaloupe | Buy


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Comments [3]

Agreed, dlopezde, we are happy to identify the Bang on a Can folks as the "home team!" As to your point, Eduardo, you're right it doesn't matter as regards a strictly musical appreciation of the album, but it was worth it to our writer to mention to provide some background as to the featured composers.

This being said, we would love to hear more about Nevada's best kept secrets... and then transmit those secrets to the world!

Apr. 03 2013 10:50 AM

In response to your comment, Eduardo, I think the staff at WQXR simply found an opportunity to "root for their home team", since this radio station is based in New York. By the way, I think it would be just as interesting to hear music from Nevada's best kept secret ;)

Apr. 02 2013 08:09 PM
Eduardo Cervantes from Virginia

Love the album but I don't see why it matters that they are "three of New York's most important composers."

Would the music be diminished if they were one of Nevada's best kept secrets?

Apr. 01 2013 10:59 AM

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About Q2 Music Album of the Week

Q2 Music's Album of the Week is our weekly review of the newest and most dynamic contemporary classical releases. It focuses on musical discovery, world premiere recordings and fresh perspectives on today's classical landscape. Read our review and stream the album on-demand for one week only at www.wqxr.org/q2music/


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