Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Voice of the People: A Discovery


Not long ago, violinist Shem Guibbory introduced me to a recording which he produced through his project, Innovative Music Programs, Inc. Guibbory's intent is to bring attention to that which becomes hazy and under-recognized. Founder of the IMP in 2002, Guibbory used his organization to create a vehicle for music programming and to develop a network of venues and artists. "This network now [in 2007] empowers the Company in two ways: 1) to offer broad, powerful capacities to serve communities and organizations around the world, and 2) to help members more fully develop and express their own artistic and creative potential."

Consistent with the mission of IMP, Voice of The People, carries with it a theme common to members of every branch of the creative world such that deeply-rooted traditional culture can be revivified and translated into many forms in order to be appreciated within a present time context. That contemporary creative languages are easily accessible in a world that changes so rapidly embraces and supports the very idea that ancient cultures can be lost until someone stops for a moment and realizes how the pace of life is overtaking the maintenance of the human spirit.

The recording was released in the summer of 2010. Subtitled "Chamber Music for Violin, Soprano and Piano," it transcends the idea of casual entertainment. Underlying every piece is a subtext that concerns the oppression of originality and vital human forces. This music resuscitates the value of culture, its irreplaceable value, in the global context.

Represented on this album are two composers, the young and vibrant Gabriela Lena Frank (b.1972) and Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975).

Frank's heritage is multi-faceted. Her mother comes from Peruvian and Chinese descent and her father, Lithuanian-Jewish. Already established within her approach to her art is an inherent recognition of the significance of the integrity of culture, whether or not her work reflects her own history. Latin American culture has been the source of inspiration for her music. She has crafted her knowledge of its folklore, poetry, music, mythology and history into a signature Western classical musical language.

On Voice of the People, are two of Frank's works. The first is based on a series of photographs by Peruvian photographer Martin Chambi (1891-1973). Written for piano and violin, "Sueňos de Chambi" (trans. "Dreams of Chambi") are precise and specific.

If the musical notes could be translated into words, they would describe accurately the motion, the human characteristics, the sobriety, and the joy in the photos which enliven her senses. Guibbory's adamant and certain strokes of his bow sometimes lead the piano played by Sonia Rubinsky into spaces which often allude to out of the ordinary rhythmic constructs for classical form.The violin and piano might diverge and connect as if two partners were going their separate ways in the same direction.

In "Sueňos," Guibbory's expressivity reaches those intimate places that exude strength and tenderness simultaneously. Similarly, Rubinsky's solo piano in "Adoraçion para Angelitos" does not shy away from allowing a minor key mood to shape the phrasing into a lullabye-like melody, evoking the photographic scene of the decorated pyre on which dead child lies in repose, ensconced in white and surrounded by floral wreaths and talismans.

In another piece, Guibbory's violin also calls from afar through the interaction of downbows coupled with pizzicatos. A bow action that rips through the high register or tends to a exuberant rhythmic tremolo conjoins with the piano as it was meant to, as the piano's partner and friend, perhaps in a lively traditional dance that has been practiced repeatedly, no doubt, for centuries.

That Chambi's photos have been translated to a new medium fulfills not only the composer's intentions but also allows the tension between pictures and words to be alleviated for a few moments and felt in ways that allow the listener's imagination to let go and move into a visual field. The seven photos, corresponding to the seven recorded works, as well as an explanation of the composer’s choice are viewable at the IMP website.

The second of Frank's compositions, “Cuatros Canciones Andinas” (1999) For Soprano and Piano, finds its roots in the poetry of Quechan Indian José Maria Arguedas (1911-1969). Words from the composer about her perceptions of the poet are also found at the IMP website. With the piano accompaniment of Craig Ketter, soprano Susanna Eyton-Jones conveys the bleakness of Arguedas view of the "civil" beast that inflicted itself on native Peruvian culture to modernize it.

Eyton-Jones’ inflections in her Spanish tongue add a dramatic component to the music that would not exist if she were not singing. This is evident in “I Am Nursing A Fly,” a song which talks about the paradox of feeding of a fly, which also is a purveyor of death. Her rendering of the text of “Yunca,” a lost Peruvian language dating to the 1600’s, is gripping to the core, the piano tolling intermittently like a bell behind her penetrating soprano tonality or being pounded with bass chords to emphasize her spoken words. Frank’s music speaks sensitively of the tortured existence of the poet, whose desire to remain pure in his Andean lifestyle did not succeed.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is well-known for his obstinacy in committing to his music, despite the unyielding barriers he struggled against during the Stalinist regime. According Laurel E. Fey, as told in the introduction to her book, Shostakovich: A Life, "...To an extent unique among his artistic peers, Shostakovich managed to survive successive Stalinist cultural purges to rise again to unparalleled heights of national and international acclaim...To many of his contemporaries his music extended a vital cultural lifeline, a latent 'chronicle' in sounds of the harsh emotional realities of their times." “Sonata for Violin and Piano” (1968, Op. 134) , written originally for David Oistrakh (1908-1974), is performed on this record by Guibbory and pianist Elizaveta Kopelman. “Sonata for Violin and Piano” is the only piece of its kind by the composer.

This duo’s phrasing of the piece emphasizes the music’s exquisite tempos, not unlike how words might be spoken or descriptive of how the meaning of words might be felt. There are breaths in between words. The inflections, accentuations and punctuation change as the bow travels over the strings, not so much ornamentally, but as a result of Guibbory’s technical facility; he is exacting when it comes to dissonance and double stops; he hints at melodic structure or melts into it as if he were one with it; he marches through or caresses pizzicatos without a hitch. The piano holds the ground for the violin to act freely. Its lower tone, even when played in the treble clef, lifts the violin’s lines into a plane of its own. The piano and violin blend in their differences rather the similarities of what they do in the same measures. The Largo and Andante of the last movement of the Sonata clears the way for an ultimate expression of both instruments, its close at once poignant and hopeful, the violin at its highest peak, the piano at its lowest and then the two together in a questioning mode at a mysterious end.


The voices in this recording are not only the voices of the composers, of the instrumentalists, and of the soprano, but also the voices of the silent ones. Those owned by the people in Chambi’s photographs; of the poet, who committed suicide, having spent his life making metaphors of cultural eradications; of the 20th century Russian composer, who echoed the personal pain of being silenced. Those are the voices that have laid the groundwork for what can be said now and the way in which it can be said. Those are the voices that no longer can be silent.

copyright 2010 Lyn Horton