On May 18 and 20, Empire City Men’s Chorus, known to fans as ECMC, treated the greater New York City area to “i carry your heart,” an amazing concert of new music, including a world premiere! This program was entirely e.e. cummings poetry set to music and ECMC knocked it out of the park!
They were beautifully turned out in concert black with colorful bow ties, as we enjoyed their settings of e.e. cummings poems by modern composers. The thrilling exploration of the heart held many colors, as Spring does, and what I enjoyed was the collaborative listening, so often absent in the world outside the Church of the Holy Apostles, in Chelsea, where the concert was held.
The concert began with “you shall above all things be glad.” This lush and beautifully textured David N. Childs piece is uplifting perfection, gently leading into Pride season. Simple open harmonies resonate with peace and beauty. Next was the first of two settings of “i carry your heart with me.” David C. Dickau's setting is a sweet Spring-sunny love song for a love you may have but once in your life, fraught with suspensions and tensions and resolutions, just like life itself. This was one of my favorites of the entire evening. If ECMC includes this in a recordinghint-hint, very unsubtleI will make an entire playlist of it! “porky and porkie” is an adorable Neil Ginsberg work, where he has created a lullaby fable that is delightfully like a memory of a 1960s-flavored fugue, then of bluesy avenues of sinuous tension that return to a lightly gamboling sweet finish.
The finale of the first act was “Four Cummings Choruses,” Opus 98, by Vincent Persichetti, who was an icon of new music in NYC. The works in it include “dominic has a doll,” which is wistful and slightly dark, as blue notes grind deliciously pendant. “nouns to nouns” flows like spring water, ice melt smoothly over now-rounded stones. “maggie and milly and molly and may” take a girls trip to the sea only to find nature mirrors lifesupported soft singing is like the lap of the waves and contains the same beautiful lilt as the title. Finally, “uncles” is a catalog of family that is as starkly beautiful as an Asian brush painting with a deliciously abrupt ending.
Act Two began with the the delightful “hist whist,” and Jere Hutcheson's setting is a sibilant Gorey-esque onomatopoetic romp of assonance and dissonance culminating in delight. The world premiere setting of “i carry your heart” was by Justin Dello Joio, one of Persichetti’s students, a neat hearkening to the first act, and we can hear inspiration in every note. Big thoughts with scintillating accents mark the opening of Dello Joio's setting of the cummings poem, with bell tones and heraldic solo passages that stir ruminations, followed by rich modern harmony and drama in the accompaniment in this richly figured performance. The melody swirls from side to side then the music soars to an ecstatic conclusion
“birdsong” was the finale of the evening and David Brewbaker's trio of songs revolve around beauty, love and accidental Buddhism. “purple finch” is the eternal questionwhy must life end? The finch answers with its art. “humble one” is the story of a bird gifted with "illimitable joy," who sings of the great truth of love, flouting the forces that seek to plumb the depths, and find the limit of this avian Candide, who continues to persist. The music contains the conflict, even as the bird’s song fugally emerges to prevail. “now” directs us to live in the moment, gives us inspiration as we feel the freedom of birds, who seek ever greater beauty. Live in the moment, remember that purple finch, who knows that life is short. Ride each moment like a thermal wind. Matthew Robbins did the honors as the soloist with his clear and beautiful voice, wresting every bit of meaning from the text. Pure delight!
Vince Peterson’s expert artistic and concert direction took us on a summer sojourn we will all long remember, ably supported by principal pianist Sean Forte. Mika Sasaki, a newly minted Doctoral grad from Juilliard, did the honors on the Dello Joio premiere and Alex Canovas was a featured guest conductor. ECMC gives voice to will, blending, listening creating beauty whose energy carried us out into the Spring night ready to take on the World! Follow them at www.empirecitymenschorus.org