Very belatedly, I’m here to tell you about two amazing performances I saw on March 25 at Wil Smith‘s Music at First series in Brooklyn (you can watch video clips from both sets above).

First up was soprano Mellissa Hughes, starting off with “i carry your heart” by Ted Hearne, a dark and angular piece based on a text by e. e. cummings. This was  followed by Eric Shanfield‘s buoyant Off the Deep End, (text by Matthea Harvey) in which Mellissa’s voice leapt in sweet high notes over the rocky accompaniment. Gabriel Kahane‘s Craigslist Lieder evoked quite a few laughs from the audience as Mellissa sang unintentionally humorous craigslist posts set to ironic music (check out stellar pianist Timo Andres singing backup in “Two years ago, my sister and I…”). For the next two pieces Mellissa sang along to a track, first in the ethereal, electronica-vibed Silver Threads by Jacob Cooper, and then in the beautifully pathos-laden Last Words from Texas by Corey Dargel (stream Corey singing this piece on his NYT profile), based on the last words spoken by executed offenders in Texas. The speeding up and slowing down of the track in “Date of execution May 13 2010”  seemed to evoke the offender’s terrified heartbeat, while the track in “Date of execution May 4 2006” was tragically serene.  “Date of execution February 11 2004” found Mellissa singing the last words (“Jesus is Lord”) in an ascending stratospheric line. For the last piece, I [XX] by Matt Marks, with texts by Royce Vavrek, Mellissa was joined by the Brooklyn Brass Quintet. The brass tones seamlessly backed the vocal line, as Mellissa sang suggestively humorous lyrics (the titles of the movements were “I Didn’t,” “I Tasted,” and “I Pretended”) that made me blush (no really).  Overall, the set was an excellent mix of dark and light, and showcased Mellissa’s captivating versatility both as singer and performer.

In a complete mood shift, Lorna Dune (aka Lorna Krier) performed her set, Selected Saccharine Songs without Words, surrounded by synthesizers up in the organ loft with the lights out, the only illumination coming from projected images on the ceiling (provided by video artist Jon Williams).  Seated in the balconies, the audience could dimly make out the shape of Lorna as she hovered over an array of technology to create sweeping sounds that seemed to fill the entire sanctuary.  The music was (as the title suggests) sweet, but in a genuine way, optimistic melodies and robust atmospheres ballooning out and gently carrying the audience off into its fantasy. Lorna was joined for the last piece by two members of Dream Massage (Stephen Griesgraber and Peter Pearson) and Eleonore Oppenheim on bass.

Be sure to check out the next Music at First show, on May 20th, featuring Margaret Lancaster and Eric km Clark’s Deprivation Choir!