Friday, May 16, 2014

Rehearsing Ted Hearne's Corporate Personhood Cantata

Volti, the Bay Area a capella choral group dedicated to new music, held an open rehearsal Wednesday evening at the Center for New Music in the Tenderloin. Though the neighborhood seems grittier every time I visit, the Center itself is going gangbusters with performances almost every evening. Check out the best-designed arts website around by clicking here to see what's going on.

The 32-year-old, Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based composer Ted Hearne above has been given a commission by Volti and a Philadelphia counterpart, The Crossing, and the result is a 35-minute cantata for chamber chorus, two electric guitars and percussion. The composer writes: "Sound From the Bench is a reaction to Jena Osman’s incredible book Corporate Relations, a collection of poems that follows the historical trajectory of corporate personhood in the United States. The five movements combine language taken from landmark Supreme Court Cases with words from ventriloquism textbooks."

The contrast between the sound of (left to right above) Brooklyn drummer Ron Wiltrout and guitarists Taylor Levin and James Moore with the more ethereal noise of the chorus was thrilling, complex and shot through with direct hits of percussive energy.

Hearne was an exacting taskmaster at the rehearsal, having music director Robert Geary below repeat sections over and over until they sounded right, which often required either the chorus to be quicker in their tempos or for Hearne to say, "forget it, that effect doesn't work, let's drop it," and change the score's markings on the fly.

It was a fascinating 90 minutes of exploration, and though we only heard two out of the five movements, I was entranced. This is fiendishly difficult but accessible, exciting music. I still have a few earworms from the rehearsal two days later, unusual for new music. Hearne has just been named a "New Voices Composer" for next season at the San Francisco Symphony, and it should be fun getting to know his music.

After a break, the chorus started rehearsing The Oath of Allegiance by the Australian-born, recently naturalized American, Melissa Dunphy above.

We didn't stay much longer because it was getting late and the gentle piece was overshadowed by the memory of the wild Sound from the Bench. You can hear both works this Saturday at St. Marks Lutheran Church at 8PM or Sunday at The Marsh in Berkeley at 4PM. Recommended.

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