By Joseph E. Morgan
Photography by Shelby Goldsmith
Intersection, Nashville’s contemporary music ensemble, closed their season on April 23 and 24th in an excellent collaborative concert with the choral groups Nashville in Harmony and One Voice Charlotte. Titled “Mapping Stars,” the concert and collaboration featured an innovative display of the most cutting edge music and technology blended with the choral society’s stated intention to “…build community and create social change.” The first half of the program featured the two choral societies mostly on their own and in great form. Of their five song set, Nashville in Harmony’s rendition John Leavitt’s setting of the traditional “Ose Shalom” was outstanding while One Voice Charlotte’s performance of the hymn “Unclouded Day,” was also quite moving. In the case of both choruses it was wonderful to see such talent coupled with a sheer joy for performing.
After a “mingle moment” (a.k.a. a brief intermission) Nashville native and electric violin virtuoso Tracy Silverman stepped onto the stage to perform Nico Muhly’s Seeing is Believing (2007). Muhly’s composition is post-minimalist in that, as he describes it, “The music begins and ends with the violin creating its own stellar landscape through a looping pedal, out of which instruments begin to articulate an unchanging series of eleven chords which governs the harmonic language of the piece.” In this, the otherworldly soundscapes created by Muhly’s instrumentation and realized by Intersection’s musicians were stunning. Special mention was earned in this by the violins (Naomi Culp and Alicia Enstrom) as well as the trombones (David Loucky and Nick Thomas) for their nuanced blending and exacting intonation. Silverman himself played with a great measure of virtuosity, not in technical flair so much as measured phrasing and intuitive musicality.
Finally, the choirs joined the musicians onstage for a performance of the evening’s highlight, James McCarthy’s oratorio Codebreaker, a through-composed secular narrative on the life of Alan Turing, the British Mathematician who is often credited with ending World War Two and creating the modern field of computer science only to be persecuted by the British government for homosexuality. The piece centers on the voices of three characters, Turing’s mother, his childhood friend (for whom he eventually fell deeply in love), and Turing himself. As such, the strength of the piece begins with libretto which, apart from quoting those characters, also sets magnificent poems by Sara Teasdale, Robert Burns and Wilfred Owen and others. Perhaps most powerfully, it even quotes the Queen from the fairy tale Snow White: “Dip the apple in the brew; let the sleeping death seep through.” (Turing is said to have committed suicide by poisoning himself with a cyanide-laced apple.)
Soprano Tracy Fishbein was in fine form and both choirs sang with a great, vibrant intimacy. Indeed, they had also premiered this work in North Carolina earlier in the month. The performance was well balanced and stirring, even as Maestre Corcoran (Intersection) and Don Schlosser (Nashville in Harmony) split their time at the podium. McCarthy’s score is accessible, tonal and rather conservative in an expressive way. It gives the sense that Turing’s experience was just another persecution in a seemingly endless history of intolerance and hate in the world’s most civilized societies. The heartbreaking ending then, in which Turing rejoins his boyhood friend in death, is happy for him, but not so much for us as the chorus sings: “We shall be happy, for the dead are free.”