Joseph Campbell should have studied music too…
That was an instant thought flashing by as pianist Amy Wurtz summoned what felt like an archetypal melody we had been unconsciously singing since our zygote hour—at once so ancient feeling yet in our DNA. This was Martin Bresnick’s Ishi’s Song, a tribute to the last living member of Northern California’s indigenous Yana people, and one of five pieces in the Speaking in Tongues performance at the Davis Theater by Access Contemporary Music.
The exquisitely well named Speaking in Tongues program – like all Access Contemporary Music performances—showcased works by contemporary composers including: Lee Hyla’s We Speak Etruscan, Florent Ghys’ Étude for 11 Faces, Alex Temple’s Willingly, Steve Reich’s Different Trains, in addition to Ishi’s Song. If you’ve ever read studies of how infants cross-culturally learn to groom rhythmic sounds into words, Speaking in Tongues will hit that awe and wonder spot that you find when you marvel at how Dada and Ma words cross cultures and oceans.
More though, Speaking in Tongues was, in this writer’s opinion, a showcase of just how pioneering today’s music explorations are. For one, there’s the integration of video, and Davis Theater turns out to be a perfect place to perform this type of work. How fun to watch Ghys’ 11 friends’ mouths forming whoosh whoosh sounds on the screen as a sort of chorus accompanying the musicians.
Composer Alex Temple was in the hall to explain the inspiration for her work, asking us, just as she had to a wide range of people before, on what they were doing now that they could never have imagined a decade before. One answer – forgiving the man who raped me—mingled in the air with the likes of a more mundane “..eating Indian food”. A wrapping metronome sound and steps remind of passing time. Music and words -- at times muffled and other times clear—combine into poetic type clarity
The last piece performed, Different Trains by Steve Reich, takes us on a musical journey. For about a half hour we are riding on trains via the composer evoking his memory at crisscrossing the country to visit his separated parents, and then also remarking how at the same time he might have been on a death train to the likes of Dachau. The cello accents the conductor station callouts, and then the violin does same “..New York to Los Angeles..” We know the train has switched to the Holocaust when the music escalates anxiety. And then Act III – the war ends. How amazing to be snapped from reverie of daydreaming looking out a train window on our long journey, to find that we never left our newly plush seats at the Davis.
Access Contemporary Music Really DOES Make Contemporary Music Accessible
ACM, in this writer’s opinion, is yet another hidden in plain sight gem of Chicago culture, and especially for those of us who appreciate new music but aren’t already neck high in it’s scene.
Seth Boustead, founder and artistic director
David Wetzel, technical director
Musicians: Alyson Berger – cello ; Zachary Good – bass clarinet; Aurelien Pederzoli – viola; Thomas Snydacker – baritone saxophone; Arianne Urban – violin; Trevor Patrick Watkin – flute ; Amy Wurtz – piano; Jeff Yang – violin.
ACM is at work on their next performance, April 20th also at the Davis, a reprise of The Sound Silent Film Festival. On August 10 and 11 ACM will also host what may be the country’s only contemporary music street fair, in Uptown. Visit the Access Contemporary Music website for more information.
Photos of live performance by Kimberly Schlechter, others courtesy of Access Contemporary Music, unless otherwise indicated