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REVIEW: New IU conductor proves he is a real find


Peter Jacobi

The Herald Times


It was an auspicious debut for Dominick DiOrio on Tuesday evening as he led the IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble in its first concert of the new season.

The recently named new conductor of the group quickly proved his mettle. The ensemble sang a demanding program with absolute assurance and with a manifest conviction that could only have been instilled by its leader.

DiOrio gave the concert a title, “Vox Battuta, Voices, Percussion, and Combinations.” In program notes, he added that the music chosen was meant to “explore the interaction of breath and pulse.” He was addressing content and argued persuasively in behalf of his contention. For brevity’s sake, this reviewer’s response limits itself more simply to this: What one heard took a whole lot of breathing on the part of the singers, and a goodly share of the musical fare had pulse.

The program was shrewdly designed. It built in momentum as styles changed, as lengths differed, as musical and verbal substances changed.

“Vox Battuta” opened with “Expecting the Main Things from You,” written in 2005 by an increasingly talked-about composer, Nico Muhly, and written to selections from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” The piece proved to be more successful as music than as setting.

The instrumental element, to explain, offered all sorts of fascinating sound and rhythm combinations involving string quartet, marimba, other percussion, and organ. Musically, the singers enriched those instrumental combinations so that the ears might continually be teased.

Unfortunately, the vocal element of the score rarely served the meaning of the words; instead of enhancing content, it often fought what Whitman was telling us.

How different DiOrio’s own compositional contribution, “A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass” (2010), which closed the concert. Inspired by four poems of Amy Lowell, this work worked. The music temperamentally expressed in song the poet’s joy for existence and all its wonders, large and small. An extra benefit: Much of the time, save when sopranos were sent sky-high up the scale, Lowell’s words were discernible as well as meaningfully interpreted. DiOrio refers to this set of four pieces as a “cantata-concerto” because the singers are partnered by marimba, on this occasion brilliantly played by Sean Gill, a Jacobs School junior.

Also deserving praise was soprano Gyehyun Jung, soloist in one of the songs, “At Night.” In between the Muhly and the DiOrio, one heard John Cage’s “Five,” five minutes of meandering “Ahs” and “Ohs,” intoned by five ensemble members (soprano Angela Yoon, altos Ara Cho, Jaeeun Kim and Jihyun Kim, and tenor Malcolm Cooper). One heard the rousing “Varjele, Jumala, Soasta” (“God Protect Us from War”), a part speech-song, part chorale anthem by the Estonian composer Veljo Tormis, sung with compelling vigor by the men of the ensemble under the first-rate guidance of assistant conductor Carlo Vincetti Frizzo.

Then, percussionist Bobby Conselatore, on big, banged-upon bass drum, and faculty organist Christopher Young joined the ensemble’s men for a text-less, la-la-la-driven, arresting “Capriccio” by Chen Yi, written for the Paralympic Games in 2002; the composition is based on a bagpipe tune and Indonesian monkey chanting.

An “Agnus Dei” written in 1981 for 16-part choir by IU’s Sven-David Sandstrom followed. Good thing that the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble boasts 10 members within its ranks that have perfect pitch. That must have helped DiOrio prepare this impressive, expressive plea for mercy and peace, with its notes squeezed one upon another in the densest of musical fabric.

Impressive concert. DiOrio is a find.

Copyright: 2012

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