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23 January 2017

Review: conductor sets poets' words to music

by Peter Jacobi (Herald Times)

Conductor turns composer

Dominick DiOrio is listed as teacher and practitioner of choral conducting in the IU Jacobs School of Music, and as significant part of his responsibilities, he directs NOTUS, the IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. Several times, however, while carrying out those conducting duties, he’s introduced a work of his own for his singers to negotiate. And on those occasions, he’s proved an interesting creator of music; each item heard had something to say and an enterprising way of saying it.

Well, last Wednesday evening in Auer Hall, the printed program announced the following: “Faculty Recital, Dominick DiOrio, Composer.” The music sung, all of it, three substantial bodies of it, was his: to be performed by two sopranos of his choosing, a baritone, a pianist, violist and cellist.

I was intrigued by this particular written thought from DiOrio in his program notes: “Where a great author can, in a few smartly chosen adjectives and adverbs, etch the complexity of human thought, so too is it the responsibility of the composer to choose the sounds that will give the poet’s words dimension and substance.”

From what I’ve now heard of his compositions, I believe DiOrio has mastered that obligation. I heard an evening of music influenced, sometimes inspired, by the words he’d chosen to set.

He also chooses good poetry, worth setting. One song cycle, “A Ghost Through the Winding Years,” takes on poetry of Sara Teasdale that expresses an unhappy man’s feelings. The second, “The Captured Goddess,” gives voice to an Amy Lowell poem that waxes moodily, gloomily, over desecration of the planet and the female body. The third, “And the barriers had vanished,” involves the difficulties of love as perceived by various poets.

Most successful in performance was that for the Teasdale poems, superbly sung by baritone Connor Lidell, with Nikolay Verevkin at the piano. The key here was partly because of Lidell’s quality of singing; even more it was because he is a baritone. Every word sung was distinct, clear, with message conveyed.

The other compositions were written for soprano, excellent ones (Monica Dewey for the Lowell and Rachel Mikol for the third item). And there lay the problem. Whenever the score called for the voice to reach high, which was much of the time, the words became indistinct, lost to the ears. So, as one listened and followed the text DiOrio supplied the audience, one began to wonder why the words shouldn’t have conveyed meaning directly. Maybe a mezzo would have been better for the music, even though perhaps less dramatic.

The sopranos did their best and sang impressively, but the English was often lost, a composer’s problem. For the record, pianist Verevkin and violist Leonardo Vasquez partnered Monica Dewey, and cellist Graham Cullen did so for Rachel Mikol.