Love can fail, but not Lorelei

Two weeks ago “This Tyrant, Love,” the Lorelei Ensemble’s first public performance in two years, featured lutenist Kevin Payne as part of an expanded core (8-16) including Corrine Byrne, soprano; Michele Kennedy, soprano; Arwin Myers, soprano; Sonja Tengblad, soprano; Dianna Grabowski, mezzo-soprano; Sophie Michaud, mezzo-soprano; Stephanie Kacoyanis, viola; and Clara Osowski, viola. Longy’s audience recorded ecstasy! What an exchange of energy!

From 15and century with Luzzascho Luzzachi and ending with Laura Mvula. The second half was dedicated to clips from their ongoing project with David Lang’s “the failure of love.” In the first half, composers from various eras comment on the painful side of this tyrannical emotion, love, while in the second half, a major contemporary work poses a definitive conclusion on the failure of love. The lyrics described a progression from the romantic sentiments of Renaissance courtly love to the very contemporary emotions of Bjork and Laura Mvula. Beth Wiler led a second half in David Lang’s thoughtful lyrics about times from Marie de France to Lydia Davis, in this case alternating and contrasting rather than progressing.

The title “love fail” poses an interesting conundrum. What is love? What is failure? What would be the success? Are success and failure the same for Marie De France as for Laura Mvula? David Lang noted that the Tristan and Isolde says:

I’ve compiled the weirdest incidents from these versions of their romance, removed any names or technological information that would make the texts appear ancient, and placed them alongside stories by contemporary author Lydia Davis. These stories are eerily similar to the Tristan stories – they are also about love, honor and respect between two people, but they are much more recognizable to us.

Lorelei set (file photo)

So the texts of “failure of love”intentionally move away from a sense of changing attitudes and toward a universality of emotion, and we now realize that Caroline Shaw’s staging of Dolce Cantavi” of 1615 foreshadows it. We tend to view the subject of love with a post-Victorian sentiment that provides a lens for judgments of success and failure. Does success involve living happily ever after, vine-covered cottages and picket fences? Yet angst has certainly spurred artistic creation over the centuries. We need look no further than the text of “true and false” from love fails for a modern expression of this complexity “She knows she’s right, but saying she’s right is wrong, in this case.” It is complicated!

As Lorelei presents early music and newly commissioned works, seemingly divergent interests often reveal similarities. What a dizziness, for example, to hear (on NPR) a set beginning with Troppo Ben Puo by Luzzaschi, a madrigal from 1601 followed by the beautiful setting of Caroline Shaw’s poem in 2015 Dolce Cantavi from 1628 by Francesca Turina Bufalini Contessa di Stupinigi and ending with Bjork’s Solstice. To hear Bjork with ears that have been opened by the madrigal and transformed so gracefully by the Shaw/Stupinigi collaboration! Suddenly we realize that the associations that we bring to Bjork’s music are not relevant when presented at this level. Syllables are assigned to notes in a way one would expect in a Renaissance madrigal, but this seems surprising in a Pop/Techno/electronic world music context. Perhaps the lute reinforced the impression, but Bjork’s own “Gravity Harp” sounds strikingly similar. Lorelei has created a space where the distances of time, geography, society dissolve into a unified sonic experience, and a compelling musical logic becomes apparent.

The extraordinary level of precision and control of the whole allows even the smallest eighth notes of vocal decoration to bewitch us. Lorelei takes control of the sound waves in the room. They don’t become singers we hear, but rather singers who take up space in our brains, engaging our body’s mechanisms to produce sound. It’s too easy to think of music as something we witness, something done to or for us. But with Lorelei we have a different opportunity, they live in us. Space becomes an instrument they use to express sensation, we feel the sound travel and reflect around us. It is as if the sound itself has become an object of our augmented consciousness.

Michael Scanlon has spent his life in the arts and design. He listens carefully to the live performances of local musicians.

About Raymond Lang

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