Singer finds the charm in Ligeti with New World Percussion Consort

By Lawrence Budmen

Mezzo-soprano Katalin Károlyi was the soloist in Ligeti’s song-cycle With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles, performed with the New World Percussion Consort Friday night.

“Charm” is hardly the term one would normally use to describe the music of György Ligeti (1923-2006). His song cycle With Pipes, Drums, Fiddles however, is nothing short of an utter delight. Hungarian mezzo-soprano Katalin Károlyi performed the score (which was written for her in 2000) on Friday night with the New World Symphony Percussion Consort at the New World Center.

Set to texts by Hungarian poet Sandor Weores, the work fuses the composer’s early folk-based aesthetic with his later avant-garde modernism. The daunting vocal line ranges from screams to the most delicate lyrical textures. In a mere 15 minutes, Ligeti conjures up a portrait of fantasy, childhood imagery, communal festivities and fear in the seven-part work.

It would be difficult to imagine a better vocalist than Károlyi to sing this strikingly original creation to life. Wearing a striking green outfit, she seemed to embody the composer’s musically contrarian ethos.

In the opening song “Fabola” (Fables), she imitated the howls of a wolf. The dance rhythms of “Táncdal” (Dance Song) had Károlyi articulating a multitude of notes at a fierce speed. In “Kinai templom” (Chinese Temple) , her silvery high register took flight. 

Károlyi’s shriek at the conclusion of “Kuli” (Coolie) resounded with frightening force, indeed perfect for Halloween. Her creamy middle register beautifully embellished the lyrical lines of “Alma alma” (Dreams), accompanied by four mouth organs. An African percussive beat pervades “Keserédes” (Bittersweet) and “Szajkó” (Parakeet) is a fast ditty that danced off the stage.

Károlyi’s extended range and vocal dexterity were matched by the theatricality of her hand gestures and facial expressions. At times, she even conducted the four percussionists. Playing both melodic and hard percussive instruments, Caleb Breidenbaugh, Ben Cornavaca, Joe Desotelle and Jennifer Marasti were totally engaged in the alternate harshness and subtlety of Ligeti’s musical language, playing with darting energy and nuanced musicality. One could hardly imagine a better tribute to the centenary of the composer’s birth than this superb traversal of his final vocal score.

While the Ligeti piece was the program’s high point, the other three works performed were hardly negligible. 

More Halloween vibrations pulsated in John Cage’s First Construction (In Metal). An American original, Cage and Henry Cowell founded the first percussion ensemble in the U.S.. To the sounds of anvils, gongs and string piano, repetitive figures emerge, almost like a pre-echo of minimalism. The loud pounding of the metal sheets resounded like a stormy night on the accompanying soundtrack of a horror flick and the clanging piano chords were equally eerie. Joined by percussionist Shih-Man Weng and pianist Noah Sonderling, the players made a splendid racket under Michael Linville’s direction.

Flutist-composer Allison Loggins-Hull straddles the classical, jazz and pop realms. Loggins-Hull’s Hammers juxtaposes a jazzy flute tune against percussive blasts, inspired by the sounds of construction in New York City. The lovely tone and agility up to the instrument’s highest reaches distinguished New World fellow Alexandra Hoffman’s vital iteration of this appealing five-minute vignette.

Liquid Borders, a 2016 score by Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz, obliquely addresses the timely issue of immigration across borders and its genesis. 

The second movement “Liquid Desert” describes Mexico’s “maquilas,” fabrication plants that exploit female workers with low wages, long hours and back breaking labor. Quiet wood blocks are disrupted when drums and metal are hit with visceral force. The bell like paths of the opening “Liquid City” coalesce into an off-kilter dance. 

Breidenbaugh, Cornavaca, Desotelle and Morasti all played  marimbas, sometimes in unison and occasionally going their own way; the players struck the instruments with their hands as well as mallets in the culminating “Liquid Jungle.” Linville kept the pulse bright, exact and irresistible. Like most of Ortiz’s scores, this 18- minute suite is solidly conceived and superbly crafted.

Jukka-Pekka Saraste conducts the New World Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, 7:30 p.m. November 4 and 2 p.m. November 5 at the New World Center in Miami Beach.


Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Sat Oct 28, 2023
at 1:35 pm
No Comments