Ars Nova: Waiting for the Barbarians
Waiting for the barbarians is the English title of a famous poem by the Greek poet Cavafy. The people are expecting the barbarians to arrive today or tomorrow. Eventually by nightfall they have not arrived, and some people say they don’t exist any longer. “And now,” a voice asks, “what will become of us without the barbarians? They were a kind of solution.” The South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee borrowed this same title for one of his finest novels, in which the threat of invasion or simply being overwhelmed by foreigners provides the excuse for fascistic measures to be imposed on a population.
'As I crossed a bridge of dreams' is the title of an 11th century book which originally had no title, written by a lady whose real name remains unknown. It contains the reminiscences of a lady on the fringes of court society who, in her loneliness, experiences powerful dream visions of the Buddha. Australian composer Anne Boyd based this composition on Japanese gagaku music. The voices gradually form the phonemes of various Buddha names and eventually the name of Amida, the Buddha who promises to return and fetch her soon.
The medieval music in this program is chosen not for its texts, but for the musical techniques employed. These I feel offer both a contrast in sound and lend a sympathetic ear to the contemporary music here presented. In the Dufay the trumpet parts have been texted so that they can be sung. Ave miles is a motet in honour of Edmund, King and Martyr, in which phrases are exchanged between the two top voices, and between the two lower voices. In Alleluia Hockets four short compositions (all based on the same cantus firmus which is presented each time in a different meter), are combined into one single piece: each section is sung to one syllable from the word Alleluia. The term hocket refers to the exchange of single pitches between two voices to create a more or less continuous melodic line. Julia Wolfe is one of the New York Bang On A Can triumvirate of composers. Her title is taken from the daily Hebrew service and paraphrases part of Psalm 34: “Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceit.”
Universe Birds is an early piece by Hans Abrahamsen, in three short sections: Blue / Universe Birds / Air. To summarize: /An egg swells like a bubble in the flesh, a word let out into the air. / White birds like songs over the earth. / The stewardess gave me a blanket, I slept and suddenly we were in the air…
Jennifer Walshe’s White Noisery is – the composer writes – “about the tension between urgency and meaning. It is a piece about the subway prophet who grabs you by the lapels to shout a strange truth into your face; the cult who spent 40 years digging an underground cavern dedicated to destroying rock music; fragments of text found on obscure internet discussion boards lovingly transcribed in an empty office building in an abandoned Manhattan. It explores utterances at the edge of sense, from a vast array of human vocal and gestural languages through the voices of dolphins learning to speak and the chord by chord analysis of barbershop quartets. The choir function virtuosically – singing, chanting, speaking, whispering, playing recorders and other gadgets, acting out silent”.