Trinity Wall Street Choir, conducted by Andrew Megill; Alarm Will Sound; Tarab Cello Ensemble
Composer, violinist, and member of several NYC new music ensembles (Alarm Will Sound, ACME, etc.), Caleb Burhans is one of the best musicians in the thirty-something generation of post-classical New Yorkers. On his first composer portrait CD, Evensong, His work reaches back to Anglican choral music and sideways to embrace ambient post-rock and post-minimalism. That’s a lot of posts in one paragraph; one doesn’t mean to tarnish Burhans with any notion of stylistic dilution. But he is a composer who is comfortable exploring a mutable musical language that brings together seeming stylistic opposites in uneasy alliances. On Evensong, he also explores the uneasy relationship between faith and doubt, made all the more poignant by his musical background.
For more than two decades, Burhans has performed as a vocalist in church choirs. Like many a “recovering” church musician, he struggles with doubt, even agnosticism; sometimes seeing behind the curtain of liturgical ritual can help to engender this. Thus, Evensong is in part comprised of his diaphanously lovely choral music, including Magnificat and Nunc dimittis settings sung with aching sumptuousness by the choir of Trinity Wall Street Church, conducted by my estimable colleague at Westminster Choir College, Andrew Megill. Surrounding the choral pieces are works for Alarm Will Sound and the Tarab Cello Ensemble that use the aforementioned vernacular idioms to help to outline the “doubt” portion of the program.
Whether he is allowing the ostinatos to chug, the stalactite chordal verticals to clangorously chime, or arcing lines of vocal polyphony to float across the soundscape, Burhans has formidable chops and considerable taste in deploying and managing musical resources. Like Lou Harrison did before him, he helps to reclaim the word “pretty” from its desultory status in some contemporary classical circles. I don’t think Burhans could write an ugly piece if he tried, and I’m smitten with the beautiful works he’s already created. Evensong – recommended.
– Christian Carey