Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rotunda of Sound

I've seen a fair number of concerts at the Guggenheim Museum over the years, mostly Vox Vocal Ensemble Holiday Concerts, where George Steel has masterfully used the space to breathe new life into medieval and renaissance nativity music.

The "East Coast premiere" -- I cringe a bit at the term: do we really need more subcategories besides World/U.S./New York City? -- of Henry Brant's Orbits occurred there on Sunday night, as Anthony Tommasini described in the New York Times.

The piece is scored for 80 trombones, one soprano and one organ. Holy wall of sound, Batman!

This primordial, organic piece, by turns brutal and celestial, unfolds in thickly layered clusters and a maze of individual trombone lines. Brant’s vision was to have the players surround the audience.

That vision was excitingly realized at the Guggenheim. The trombonists were lined up on the walkways that encircle the rotunda, facing in, so that they could see down to Mr. Bruce, who conducted from the path leading up to the lower ring. An enormous rented organ with a row of loudspeakers was placed in a corner of the floor. The soprano Phyllis Bruce sang from on high.

Wow! What an amazing set-up! And what a blast of music it must have been.

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