Tag Archives: Alan Pierson

Donnacha Dennehy and Alarm Will Sound leave us Hunger-ing for more

AWSgroup2007

Alarm Will Sound (Photo by Justin Bernhaut)

Famine isn’t a cheery topic. And when we’re talking about the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852, it could seem like musty and old as well as unpleasant.

And, let’s face it, the Great Famine is not a happy subject.

Luckily, when the fantastic Irish composer and Crash Ensemble bandleader Donnacha Dennehy takes on the monumental subject, it assumes a magical, transcendent quality.

Dennehy and the awesome 20-member New Music ensemble Alarm Will Sound gave New York its first taste of The Hunger, a still in-progress theater piece that combines the ensemble with live singing by an Irish  sean nós singer and a mezzo-soprano, at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall on Saturday night, April 6.

We were mesmerized for all 45 minutes of urgent playing coupled with recordings of Irish sean nós singing and the keening of a mother for her dead child, along with and live singing by the extraordinary Rachel Calloway.

Calloway sang lyrics based on the first-hand accounts of the famine by the American nonconformist Asenath Nicholson, who spent two years in Ireland working with those dying of starvation. Her words in song are gripping, terrifying and urgent.

The piece is destined to be a full evening of performance by Alarm Will Sound, sean nós singer Iarla  Ó Lionáird and one of our very favorite mezzos, Dawn Upshaw. While Upshaw will likely put the finished work into an even higher category, we were mightily impressed with Calloway’s work on Saturday.

This taste leaves us starving to hear more.

While The Hunger was the marquee event of Saturday’s program, Alarm Will Sound got plenty of opportunity to show off its New Music chops in the first half, as well. The evening was intended to draw attention to the fact that the 12-year-old group, led by Alan Pierson (who also helms the Brooklyn Philharmonic), has amassed quite a bit of music written specifically for it.

One of its oldest commissions, David Lang‘s increase, composed in 2002, was the highlight of the first half. But the world premiere of the noisy, energetic Fly By Wire, by the suddenly ubiquitous Tyondai Braxton and New York premiere of Charles Wuorinen‘s Big Spinoff, were plenty of fun. Journeyman, composed by Alarm Will Sound’s pianist, John Orfe, also had its New York premiere Saturday.

Advertisements

David T. Little’s ‘Dog Days’ will blow you away

John Kelly as Prince and Lauren Worsham as Lisa in the world premiere performance of "Dog Days." (Photo: James Matthew Daniel)

John Kelly as Prince and Lauren Worsham as Lisa in the world premiere performance of “Dog Days.” (Photo: James Matthew Daniel)

Be prepared to hold onto your seat if — as you really should — go to see “Dog Days,” the new opera from composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek now in its world premiere run at the Alexander Kasser Theater in Montclair, N.J.

Composer David T. Little (Photo by Merri Cyr)

Composer David T. Little (Photo: Merri Cyr)

While the extremely dark, comedic piece is clearly a team effort (Jim Findlay‘s scenery, live video and video design lend the piece extra oomph), it’s Little’s powerfully dramatic music that makes the tale so compelling. The emotional score, with spiky, jarring moments, never loses its lyrical bearings. “Dog Days” signals Little as one of the great compositional voices of his generation.

(Click here for a video preview.)

Focusing on one American family that has, so far, survived a vaguely described apocalypse, the opera grapples with questions of human relationships, their limits and even what it means to be human.

The opera is based on a short story of the same title by Judy Budnitz. While the opera makes the story arc understandable, I regret not reading the story before seeing the sold-out first performance at the Kasser, a jewel of a theater on the campus of Montclair State University.

Continue reading