Review: Peter Sellars goes from Bach to Black

Review: Peter Sellars goes from Bach to Black

From our roving critic Susan Hall:

The Park Avenue Armory and the Asia Society premiered We Shall Gather at the River, a new musical drama created by Peter Sellars using Bach Cantatas and Black spirituals. The form is not mix and mash, but rather propose and respond. Cantata 39 echoed the beatitudes and the response addressed them.

Mounted on a platform formed of several rectangles, and on an adjacent mount to the southeast of the Drill Hall floor, the work crossed the Leipzig master with the underbelly of Middle Passage ships.

Under the baton of Tom Hammand-Davies, the Oxford Bach soloists and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street wander the platform to find ta place and the moment for performance. Soprano Molly Quinn and tenor Nick Pritchard mix beauty with anguish. Counter tenor Reginald Mobley is accompanied by a dancing doppelganger, a Flexn dancer from the streets of Brooklyn. Flexn dance style is rooted in a protest movement against police brutality,and social injustice. Other doppelganger dancers flexed as the music played.

Sellars took Canatas from Bach’s second season as cantor of Leipzig. On the face of it Bach formalities and Black spirituals seem like an odd couple. Yet both originate in simple tunes. Bach starts Cantata 39 with a chorale fantasy. On a separate riser Jonathan Woody sang the spiritual, “Let us break bread together on our knees” in response to Bach’s “Break your bread with the hungry.” Improvised rhythms and blaring trombone trumpets remind us of ambient dangers. Huge photographs of melting ice, crumbling coal mines and raging fires decorate the East wall of the Drill Hall, courtesy of Glacierworks.

The hall is huge and sound difficult to manage. Mark Grey does a superb job, separating orchestra from choir, solo instruments from solo vocalists, with the occasional echo as a reminder of human frailty. Peter Sellars has found a happy home in the Armory.

The post Review: Peter Sellars goes from Bach to Black appeared first on Slippedisc.