From my seat… why I enjoyed the New York Polyphony

Last month, one of the world’s finest vocal ensembles landed on our stage in the Leacock Theatre. The New York Polyphony shared a program of sacred and secular music, most of it either written in the 15th century.

Dr. Kenneth DeLong, noted musicologist and reviewer for the Calgary Herald, was in attendance and shared his thoughts on the performance. Dr. DeLong has a strong affinity for polyphonic music, and he notes that it’s a special and small group who will be drawn to and properly appreciate this “special niche.”

Stephania Romaniuk, BMus, Vocal Performance, Eastman School of Music, and administrative assistant to the Director here at the Conservatory, was in the audience as well. I asked what she thought.

“The perfect ensemble of New York Polyphony is surpassed only by the richness of their combined sound. I sat mesmerized throughout their entire concert last Friday, considering myself so lucky to be watching music written centuries ago, re-created today so beautifully.

“I was particularly taken with Flos Regalis, part of the Wooster Fragments by an anonymous composer (c. 1300) and recomposed by Andrew Smith (b. 1970). The piece incorporated homophony, a texture where all parts move in rhythmic unison but vocal harmony. I was reminded of Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek, a popular song from a few years ago, that uses the same technique but with partially synthesized vocals. What is old indeed becomes new again…

“As a singer, I was inspired by the exact intonation and exquisite phrasing of this stellar collective. They are dedicated to their craft and take pride in offering music of the highest calibre.”

But it wasn’t just a performance enjoyed by musicologists and musicians. I had extended a pair of tickets to a young woman at the University who has never been to one of our concerts, and after she told me, “When they started to sing, my eyes welled with tears. It was so beautiful. And then it just kept getting better.”

When it comes to classical music, I’m the first to admit I am a neophyte, a newbie, a novice. I have been involved in the music industry in many forms for most of my adult life, with basic exposure to classical music (anyone know the most popular place to hear Pachelbel’s Canon in D?). But the past two years at the Conservatory have provided me ample opportunities to hear, see, learn and understand the vast and diverse music that is categorized as Classical.

What I experienced at the concert, was another step in my journey to appreciate another style of music. I heard beautiful harmonies and notes that were sustained for longer than it seemed I could hold my own breath. After the intermission, they spoke about the secular content, and I found the story behind the music just as fascinating as the performances.

Did you know that sheet music was hidden in order to be saved during the Reformation of the Church; that King Henry the VIII was not just a many-married man,but a romantic composer; and perhaps a slightly pedestrian thought – that men have been writing music about women’s feminine attributes (and sometimes odd attributes) for hundreds of years – perhaps rap-artists of this generation aren’t so unique in their choice of lyrical inspiration.

I find reviews like the kind written by Dr. DeLong, very helpful. I tend to interpret the music while listening, and then read programme notes and reviews. It forces me to test my personal assumptions against those of my learned colleagues.

Stephania and I may approach each concert with a different perspective – she with years of classical music training and experience, and me often hearing a piece for the first time. But the concert itself, the performance, provides us with a great deal to talk about, extending our experiences outside the concert hall.

by Melanie Watson, Feb. 19, 2013

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *