Having heard EXAUDI in several recordings, I was very glad to have two chances to hear them live at the Huddersfield festival. The first time was at the Christopher Fox premiere, which I have already written about. At the Sunday night concert, I became more deeply impressed with what they do.
I normally think of choral music (including EXAUDI’s recent recordings) as a kind of fluid, enveloping sound. This was not that kind of concert. Markus Trunk‘s when air too still is a setting of a Beckett text which Trunk reads as an evocation of a “claustrophobic, nocturnal world where the present and the past converge.” The silences were incredibly tense, and the sounding portions offered little to no relief. Each member of the choir would periodically break a section of the stick he or she was holding. The whole piece had the sense of being brittle, and even breakable. The silences were like the fractures in the sticks.
James Weeks‘ Hortus conclusus was a massive layering of canons that steered into an ephemeral, unarticulated zone of sound. I’d never heard anything like it before. Weeks described the canons as “a literal enclosing or enfolding of the music, a system in which to bind the sensual.”
James Saunders‘ #231108 had a tension to it that I found uncomfortable but really interesting. There was little to no outright singing. Instead, each singer had his or her characteristic type of sound production, which was often obstructed by a physical motion (like covering the mouth). Later, I mentioned to James how the piece had worked against my expectations, and made reference to the classic ‘collective sound’ one expects from a choir. His response, that it’s “about the individuals,” was quick and revealing. He did not use EXAUDI as a “singing group” but as a collection of vocalizing individuals. The members of EXAUDI are totally capable of performing in either of those ways, and the second correlates to Saunders’ approach.
EXAUDI is a young, curious, exceptional group. I don’t know of another choir that is nearly as exciting today. And I have never come away from a concert before with the sense of expanded possibilities and active support for new explorations in vocal ensemble writing.