EXAUDI‘s premiere of Christopher Fox’s Comme ses Paroles would have made my trip to the UK worthwhile in itself. It was a totally involving, intense experience. The piece began before I knew it. Anton Lukoszevieze seemed to be warming up on his cello, not even playing, but hitting pitches percussively on the fingerboard. This was all happening well before the official start time of the performance. Eventually the lights focused on him and the singers came out one by one to circle him and watch what he was doing. The voices started to match the understated, percussive articulation of the cello in very effective, unexpected ways.
Pairs of singers then faced each other in what seemed to be confrontations. I was interested in the diversity of vocal approaches, not only between pairs but within each pair.
The choir repositioned, and the articulation changed for both the cello and the singers. Fox wrote in the program notes that
each part of the piece finds new ways to make music out of words. Words are assembled from their sonic components, they are translated into a dance for the cellist’s two hands on the fingerboard, they are stretched beyond comprehension, intoned and melismatically elaborated.
During this section, the recording came into audible play, creating a massive layering of sound using only the voices of the choir in both past and present performance. (I learned after the concert that the recording had been playing even before 8pm, but it was not noticeable then.) As the presence of the recording became more and more audible, I began to feel submerged in it.
The articulations continued to change from one section to the next. You can hear it in March 7, when it will be broadcast on Hear and Now. (I’ll try to post something about that closer to the time.) The end was an unexpected as the opening. James Weeks, the conductor, went offstage, and members of the choir went offstage while still singing, and continued singing offstage, eventually stopping. In the end, only Juliet Fraser and Anton Anton Lukoszevieze were visible and, for a time, audible. After 70 minutes, the sound just sort of faded away, but left a very powerful impression. I didn’t know what to make of the piece, but I’m so glad to have experienced it live.