Toby Newman is joined by members of The M6 (Emily Eagen, Holly Nadal and Sidney Chen) for a special concert of music by Meredith Monk, including Three Heavens and Hells (1992), a work scored for four female voices based on a text by Tennessee Reed, the 11 year-old daughter of author Ishmael Reed, and Tablet (1974/1976), the first piece Monk created that allowed her to fully extend her discoveries of the voice into a group situation. (Watch the video above of excerpts of The M6 performing Tablet in 2008).
"I’ve been trying to extend the voice in as many ways as possible, utilizing as many resonating chambers, different kinds of syllables, positions in the mouth, the inside of the mouth, the tongue, the lips and breathing techniques….I’ve been trying to find a language for the voice that’s intrinsic to the voice." –Meredith Monk
The M6 is a vocal ensemble dedicated to continuing the legacy of legendary composer/singer/director Meredith Monk. The members of the group were among 19 singers chosen from around the world to participate in a professional training workshop offered by Monk and the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall in January 2006, culminating in the Meredith Monk Young Artists Concert at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall. In 2007, The M6 formed out of the desire to continue learning Monk’s work through direct coachings with the composer herself, as well as with past and present members of her Vocal Ensemble. Since the majority of Monk’s work is created and taught in the oral tradition, the group is devoted to immersion in this process and believes it is vital in order to assure that her extraordinary work lives on. Individual members are also working to transcribe more of Monk’s work in an effort to help document it for future generations.
Mezzo-soprano Toby Newman’s work spans the operatic, concert, and new music repertoire. Beyond her opera career in works of Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Holst, and Bernstein, she works regularly with Meredith Monk, singing with her on multiple recordings and in concert at Carnegie Hall as well as many other venues. She has also appeared in the world premiere of Robert Een’s opera The Escape Artist at Disney Hall in Los Angeles.
Video: Excerpts from Meredith Monk’s Tablet (1976), performed by members of The M6—Emily Eagen, Holly Nadal, and Silvie Jensen (L to R)—at Symphony Space in New York (March 2008).
First of all, fuck you. It’s always been like, you know, an irritating thing that you’d attempted to co-opt the language of feminism and other civil rights struggles to cloak your sexist ideas in bullshit like “Men’s Rights” and calling this sexist garbage “activism.” And for a long time, I think…
This fall, Other Minds released Sarah Cahill’s recording of works that have come out of her A Sweeter Music commissioning project, developed as a response to the Iraq War. Innova released High Art, a collection of pieces that San Francisco-based percussion/electric guitar duo The Living Earth Show has been performing regularly which were written for them by a younger generation of composers than those represented on Cahill’s disc.
A Secret Rose fulfills one’s expectations of 100 electric guitars playing simultaneously in the same 45,000 square-foot room—that is, tongue-lollingly loud shredding that triggers involuntary head bobbing—but Chatham covers far more ground than that.
Described as a “spatial symphony” composed and directed by Lisa Bielawa, Crissy Broadcast involved hundreds of musicians drawn from a dozen or so local ensembles, including middle school and high school bands and orchestras, adult amateur musicians, two choruses, a traditional Chinese instrument orchestra, and a gaggle of electric guitarists with portable battery-powered speakers slung over their shoulders.
“I believe it was John Cage who once told me, ‘When you start working, everybody is in your studio- the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas- all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you’re lucky, even you leave.’”
In the past several years, the San Francisco new music community has been energized by a wave of performers emerging from SFCM who are deeply, and in some cases exclusively, committed to the creation of new work, supported by a tightly knit network of composer peers and mentors.
Theatre: On Behalf of Nature Joyce McMillan, 17 August 2013
**** (four stars)
IT APPEARS in the theatre section of the festival programme; but in truth, what the great composer and performer Meredith Monk offers, in the European premier of her latest work, is something more like a 21st century oratorio, in which the singers also dance. There is a bare stage, apart from the area where three musicians gather with their instruments. And in this space, ravishingly lit by Elaine Buckholtz , the Vocal Ensemble – five extraordinary singer/dancers, led by Monk herself – move through 75 minutes of exquisite musical variations, waves, ripples and rythmic surges of sound and movement that begin by seeming to imitate the sounds of birdsong or bees, and end with what seems like a reassertion of the human, of humankind’s journeys and dances and prayers. […] There’s an integrity, a beauty and towering musical talent in Monk’s work that demands respect and love.
On Behalf of Nature at Royal Lyceum Donald Hutera, 20 August 2013
**** (four stars)
It’s safe to say that no one else makes work like Meredith Monk. Agelessly gnomic with her trademark pigtails, the veteran American composer and director describes what she does as abstract musical theatre, which seems about as apt a definition for her latest production as one could wish. Receiving its European premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival, On Behalf of Nature worked a generally quiet, deceptively modest magic.
The whole show was infused with an air of unassuming ceremony, sometimes as soothing as prayer and at others tipping over into a barking cacophony. […] Its sense of poetry was palpable.
The natural world in all its glory is celebrated in Meredith Monk’s remarkable seventy-five minute dramatic meditation performed by her and her nine-strong Vocal Ensemble for Monk’s return to Edinburgh International Festival.
With the performers dressed in what looks like pioneer-type outfits, at times their gambolling looks like a hoe-down in Eden. At other, more intimate moments., their propless mimesis flutters into being with a stark beauty. … There are clear parallels here, both thematically and stylistically, with Philip Glass’ score for Koyaanisqatsi, Godfrey Reggio’s big screen meditation on the relationship between the natural world and the big bad city. In Monk’s hands, however, such concerns are rendered through a combination of dance, music and a kind of physical calm that soothes and heals a wounded planet even as it reasserts its place within it.
On Behalf of Nature Meredith Monk’s skilful work encourages us to reflect on our relationship with nature Clare Brennan, 24 August 2013
There is a holistic quality to her blend of dance, drama and music. […] Vocalisations, including whoops, yells, yodels, clicks and hums, suggest birds and insects as well as human herders, farmers, celebrants. Rhythms and gestures are derived from animal as well as human movements – scuttling, stretching and jumping intersperse dancing, walking, sitting. The ensemble is magnificent: on-stage musicians integrate into movement sequences; dancers create soundscapes with their voices.
Edinburgh 2013: Meredith Monk The American luminary’s On Behalf of Nature is a weird but haunting piece Ivan Hewett, 17 Aug 2013
**** (four stars)
The singers, or dancers — call them what you will — were like sprites, dressed in reconstituted rags and tatters. Sometimes they were like dumb creatures, sometimes they embodied the way Nature expresses itself through ordered, graceful patterns. These patterns never repeat themselves exactly, a quality Monk beautifully caught in her choreography, and in her very subtly composed music.
On Behalf of Nature, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh Griselda Murray Brown, 19 August 2013
Her creations typically ignore conventional boundaries between art forms, and this latest, in which she also performs, has movement that is not quite dance, lighting that is almost installation and singing that melts into primeval sounds.
Edinburgh International Festival: Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble – On Behalf of Nature Alan Coady, 19 August 2013
***** (five stars)
The cast of eight, at first glance, appeared to comprise three instrumentalists and five vocalists/dancers known as Vocal Ensemble. However, some moments featured all eight in centre stage. […] Vocal Ensemble were very impressive. Despite near-constant choreography, shortage of breath was never a problem. Their “extended vocal techniques” – a radical departure from the European bel canto ideal – included melodic lines which were not only angular in themselves but often tangential to the harmony of the moment; a wide variety of consonant and vowel play in addition to various sound effects; and very impressive pitching, including moments where notes plucked from the silent air proved to be at pitch with instruments joining in after extended passages of vocal counterpoint. […]
This was one of the most unusual and captivating events I have attended for some time. The show has moved on and there is, as of yet, no recording. Perhaps, without the dramatic elements, the music might make less sense. Nonetheless, I feel quite bereft at the thought of not hearing it again.