VOX, the premiere recording of the Heare Ensemble, celebrates the 90th birthday of iconic American composer George Crumb with a scintillating rendition of VOX BALAENAE [Voice of the Whale] for Three Masked Players: Electric Flute, Electric Cello, and Electric Piano (1971).
The Heare Ensemble (Jennie Oh Brown, flutes; Jennifer Blyth, piano; and Kurt Fowler, cello) first performed Vox Balaenae as graduate students at the Eastman School of Music. Since then, the ensemble has performed this powerful, environmentally-conscious piece more than 25 times. It was written after Crumb heard hydrophone recordings of Humpback whale song that opened up a whole new/ancient sonic world; timeless, reverberant, atmospheric.
Additional works on the album were programmed for their thematic relevance to Crumb’s ideas. Having grown up and lived for many years in Virginia, the ambient sound of the Appalachian Mountains infused much of Crumb’s writing. Stacy Garrop’s Silver Dagger is based on an Appalachian folk song. The lyrics contain many variants on the Romeo and Juliet theme, one of which is a boy asks a girl for her parents’ consent to marry, the parents won’t give approval, so the girl and boy each end their lives with a silver dagger.
In the spirit of Crumb’s expansion of the Western musical pallette, the ensemble chose a work by Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen. The title references the Thai porcelain, Bencharong, typically created using three to eight colors and often given on special occasions, such as weddings. The process of creating Bencharong pottery takes several steps of firing, as the artisan carefully lays the colors onto the pottery in repetitive designs. Each step must yield a perfect result or the vessel will be destroyed. Prangcharoen illustrates the colors of Bencharong pottery in each dynamic movement.
Carter Pann’s Melodies for Robert was written as a loving homage to the late Robert Vincent Jones, an American war hero, respected physician, and cherished father. In contrast to Crumb’s de-personalization of the masked performers on stage, in Pann’s piece, the openness of humanity is celebrated. Heartfelt sentimentality fills Pann’s score with lush harmonies and interwoven, beautiful melodies. It is an intricate and masterfully crafted chamber work that elegantly embodies love, optimism, and freedom. Melodies for Robert was commissioned by SDG Music Foundation and premiered by the Heare Ensemble in 2017.
Together these works of voice and song help us hear our living world in a new light – and where ninety years is a drop in the ocean.