Modulus Festival – Closing Night With Stellaria

It may be a courtesy to hold a door open for people but it’s subjectively fuzzy whether or not the common good is served by courtesy.  A cyclist under a bus probably doesn’t think much of the driver who’s door he’s collided with; even though it may have been courteously held open for them. The driver of the car and the cyclist are both focused on what they see as a common good.  Perhaps the driver is on their way to perform open heart surgery; perhaps not.  Perhaps they didn’t see the cyclist; perhaps they envision polite society as one with cyclists under buses instead of some fanciful alternative.

It does seems reasonable that the common good is best served by us holding doors open for one another. In cases where we feel a desire to hide in our cars, waiting for people to cycle by and kicking our driver’s side doors open to send them careening under the nearest public transportation vehicle, we might decide to exercise a modicum of restraint.

Despite the mostly negative real world implications of murder and chaos, it can often pay off to expunge this good behavior from our coat pockets into the nearest flushing commode.  Case in point would be the 60-ish bar of Verdelot’s Ultima mei sospiri that we all heard at Heritage Hall tonight.  It’s likely that during Stellaria’s rehearsal they had the polite discussion on polyphonic courtesy that sopranos always sleep through but I’m much more tickled and entertained by the idea of Fabi just flat out deciding to kick the tenors under the bus with what was my take-home ear-hook of the night.

The other big musics on the program, and the real reason I showed up, was to hear the Passacaglia from Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer winning Partita. Often, we can stumble upon amazing things when we take ideas and concepts to their logical and horrendous extremes and I think that’s this piece is setting out to do.  The meaning of the word Passacaglia has become a little fuzzy with age but it’s correct to say that it’s a set of variations over a repeating base line. If you’re talking to someone and they try and correct you by saying, “No, actually that’s a Chaconne.” then you should do the right thing for polite society and lend them your bicycle.  In Caroline’s piece, she’s exploring the idea of color over what sounds like a repeating chord progression. At it’s simplest it was play with the shape of the vowel but got much more interesting when the choir broke down into a bed of chatter and sporadically popped up notes that hinted at the chord progression that opened the piece.

Caroline’s other piece on the program was similar in flavor as it was a setting for solo cello of the sound of a Tallis’s In Manus Tuas as if heard, in her words, from the choir loft. To me, it goes much farther than that.  My ears heard it as something coming through a kind of temporal or spacial displacement.  The cellist, Ariel Barnes, would slide his bow sideways across the strings before a down bow in an attempt to get the sound of open fourths and fifths phasing in and out of the very narrow sound spectrum that our ears allow us access too. I get the impression that the sound world comes from the idea of skipping across the upper partials of sonic droplets like a stone on a pond.

It is with some pain and regret that I mention that this was the festival’s closing night and that I was too self-involved to get a pass and attend more of the concerts as perusing the program brought much forehead slapping and gnashing of teeth on tabletop. Here’s hoping that David Pay is able to keep it going.

Great concert, where were you?



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