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I attended Experiments in Opera‘s inaugural festival at le Poisson Rouge on January 16. Of particular interest to me was Matthew Welch‘s Borges and the Other excerpts, which I’d heard performed once before a couple years ago; you can see my review of that event on my other blog, kleineKultur. You can see a full video of the excerpts from the LPR show (Scenes 1 and 3 from Act I) above.

A little background: this piece is the second in a series of short operas by Matthew that center around Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. The first opera (premiered in 2007) featured two mezzo-sopranos portraying an older and younger Borges meeting in a dream space. This second opera finds a 70-year-old Borges (Jeffrey Gavett) and a 19-year-old Borges (James Rogers) meeting “in a circumstance of fantasy,” as Matthew puts it. 1969 Cambridge on a bench beside the Charles river for the former, 1918 Geneva on a bench a few steps from the Rhone for the latter.

The adagio tempo and undulating motion of the ensemble in Scene 1, combined with the quivering notes from the vibraphone, paint a picture both of water and an hypnotic, fantasy state. As they discuss the strangeness of their encounter, the older Borges counsels the younger that “our obligation is to accept the dream,” while the younger replies “but what if the dream should last?”

Scene 3 features a faster, more agitated tempo, and younger and older Borges singing sinuous lines in harmony, discussing each other’s work in an equally critical manner. This scene, as with Scene 1, ends with a sort of jig in 3/4 time, which serves to abruptly jerk one out of the fantasy.

Check out a full production of Borges and the Other at EiO’s spring festival May 10-11 at Roulette.

Performing “the newest music for the oldest instrument,” Ekmeles (ancient Greek music theory term for “disallowed tones”) is a new vocal group that performs solely contemporary music. I caught up with the founder and director of Ekmeles, Jeffrey Gavett, to ask him a few questions about the group:

I know you formed Ekmeles with the thought in mind that new vocal music needs an advocate in NYC. Who are some contemporary composers of vocal music that you feel people should know about?

“There are many established composers whose vocal works still go unperformed in this country. Salvatore Sciarrino‘s work with the voice informs every aspect of his instrumental music, yet excepting a few rare opera performances, his vocal music is not heard in the US. The fantastic Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart and Hilliard Ensemble are two groups that have commissioned countless works by great contemporary composers, few of which are ever performed in the US. I hope Ekmeles can bring these great works to New York, and inspire the imagination of local composers and concertgoers.”

How did you choose the other singers in the group? Are there plans to expand the personnel to perform larger choir pieces?

“I chose the other singers in the group from my colleagues in both New Music and choral singing circles. The group is conceived as flexible, allowing for a range of the number and kind of voices needed for a performance. Our first few shows are small, duos and trios, but upcoming performances involve four and five singers. Eventually, the core of the group will be six or seven singers, covering the range from coloratura soprano to basso. There is also a great repertoire of pieces for 12 and 16 voices, like Lachenmanns Consolation I and II, the Ferneyhough Mass, and Xenakis‘s Nuits, all of which I’d like to perform some day.”

You compose as well as sing — do you have any plans to write for Ekmeles?

“I don’t have anything in the works yet for Ekmeles, mostly because there’s already so much great repertoire that I want to perform with the group! Maybe if I find a program that has a place for me to fit into I’ll write a piece for the occasion, but right now I’ve got a spreadsheet open with 210 pieces for a cappella voices in it, and it’ll take a while to get through it.”

Here’s a clip from the first movement of Kaija Saariaho’s 1988 From the Grammar of Dreams, performed by Ekmeles’ own soprano Christie Finn and mezzo soprano Rachel Calloway.

Ekmeles’ next performance will take place on November 8th, 7pm, at The Tank.