As you probably know, black prison inmates in America’s South, hammering and digging along rural roads, came up with chain gang songs. They lifted their voices and their feet, clinking and clanging in percussive harmony.
Black brothers in South Africa did something akin in Apartheid days. Along with their fetters, they also wore massive boots, working in flooded gold mines. American-born Englishman David Bruce was moved to evoke the music and the soulful sounds emanating from such depths. At age 38 he wrote “Gumboots.” It’s for clarinets and string quartet. And the centerpiece of the Eko Nova concert called “Dancing in Chains.” Artistic Director/clarinetist John Klinghammer calls the composition part of a “joyful” experience combined with Béla Bartók’s third string quartet and American Caroline Shaw’s 2011 "Entr’acte.”
Bruce comments that the legend of those men toiling, singing and dancing in the mines points to an expression of “huge vitality…a striking example of how something beautiful and life-enhancing can come out of something far more negative…an example of the resilience of the human spirit,” moving from introspection to celebration. “Lively...jubilant...joyous” said The New York Times.
Bruce has been Associate Composer of the San Diego Symphony, where he wrote a violin concerto for Gil Shaham two years ago. Previously he was Composer-in-Residence with London’s Royal Opera House for whom he wrote the opera Nothing, which premiered three months ago. His chamber opera The Firework Maker's Daughter toured the UK and New York in 2013 and was shortlisted for the British Composer Awards and the Olivier Awards for Best New Opera Production.http://www.davidbruce.net/biography.asp
The harmonically adventurous, contrapuntal Bartók work also suggests dance, after an almost bleak start. You could find sonorous affinities with Bruce’s score. A “musical arc of violence and uncertainty culminating with affirmation,” Klinghammer notes. There is no evident programmatic intention in this 1927 piece, written when the Hungarian composer was 46.
Caroline Shaw’s "Entr’acte" comes from 2011 when she was 29. This could be called dance-like, given that it includes a minuet. She spins off from a Haydn quartet which, she points out, “suddenly takes you to the other side of Alice’s looking glass, in a kind of absurd, subtle, technicolor transition.”
Three years ago Shaw became the youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music for “Partita for 8 Voices.” That was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Classical Composition, not that she’s a stranger to the Grammys, being a singer in the winning group Roomful of Teeth. She’s had commissions from the Carmel Bach Festival, the Cincinnati and Baltimore symphonies plus the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and has been working on an ambient electronic album. http://carolineshaw.com.
New York Magazine enthuses that Shaw “has discovered a lode of the rarest commodity in contemporary music: joy.”
There’s that word again.
The performing artists are Kansas City Symphony musicians Sunho Kim, Stephanie Cathcart, Philip Kramp, and Maria Crosby, joined by John Klinghammer.
This performance in the Eko Nova series is May 2 at Kaneko, 1111 Jones St. Mon. 7 p.m. Tickets: $10-$15. http://www.omahachambermusic.org