Fulcrum Point marks September 11 with a diverse meditation on loss

September 12, 2011
By Gerald Fisher

September 11 has become the most fraught anniversary of our time and ceremonies of remembrance everywhere vie to put into words the meaning of the events that shook us to our foundations.

It was refreshing on the tenth anniversary of that tragic event to be present at a memorial that mostly did away with words and simply let music try to express the inexpressible. Fulcrum Point’s concert Sunday afternoon at Chicago’s Harris Theater thankfully omitted commentary and even applause between the works of their moving program. The audience was quietly caught up in the unfolding display of a richly varied multicultural experience.

Not to say that words weren‘t part of the musical fabric of many of the pieces. Perhaps the most affecting composition of the afternoon was Buddha Girl by Chicagoan Marita Bolles. This is a recorded commentary by the mother of a victim of Flight 93 which is accompanied by a live piano performance by Kathleen Supove and a fully realized computer-generated sound design which serves to underline and enrich the context of the often unbearably tragic personal experience.

The performance also illustrated the pitfalls of trying to mesh a live artist with pre-recorded electronics as it broke down during the fourth section which had to be started over.  The problem fixed, the gripping narrative resumed its hold on the audience.

Aaron J. Kernis’s Musica Celestis is a deeply conservative work inspired as much by Vaughan Williams as by medieval models. It is one of the composer’s most frequently played, and like the Barber Adagio it is a transcribed movement from a string quartet. It is also a masterpiece of string composition and fitting for the day with its otherworldly transcendence.

Of a similar quality and also performed with superb string playing was Arvo Pärt’s Fratres I, in the version for string ensemble and percussion. The piece is a prime example of the composer’s mixture of the mathematical and the spiritual bell-like tones he termed tintinnabulation. Some performances of this piece can be cool and uninvolved yet Fulcrum Point’s was warm and emotional.

The expansive Lamentation on the Disasters of War by Canadian-American composer Karim al-Zand in a world premiere was the largest string composition of the afternoon. A transcription of a movement from a string sextet, its keening harmonics and romantic swirls of sound were emotively transmitted by the ensemble under artistic director Stephen Burns who was the tactful and thoughtful coordinator of the entire program.

Chicago-area composer and conductor Lee Kesselman conducted his choral work Sensoo on Japanese and Latin texts voiced with clarity by the impressive New Classic Singers. In short but deeply felt segments several musicians performed music in idiomatically contrasting styles. A traditional Tibetan Buddhist chant voiced by Drupon Rinchen Dorjee Rinpoche and Norbu Samphell was pitted against the Gospel-inflected Lord Give Me Hope, performed effectively by Saalik Ahmad Ziyad.

The beautiful voice of Zeshan Bagewadi, accompanied by guitar and double bass, gave meaning to the Arabic text of  a moving lament concluding with the words “So much is lost, and so little is gained.” The young Chicago native is a talent to watch.

The great Chicago cantor Alberto Mizrahi performed Three Yiddish Songs in quasi-operatic orchestrations by Pittsburgh-based composer-conductor David Stock. The program concluded with a performance of the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning, with Mizrahi joined by all of the evening’s soloists.

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