Exactly two weeks ago Cantaloupe Music released the third installment of Transient Glory, a commissioning and recording project created in 2001 by Francisco J. Núñez for the Young People’s Chorus (YPC) of New York City. Núñez is Artistic Director and Conductor of this ensemble, and he believes that it is important that the repertoire for children’s voices should be continually expanded with new and challenging music. The new album features the works of six composers. One of them, Terry Riley, wrote his contribution, “Another Secret eQuation,” on a commission shared with the Kronos Quartet. The remaining five composers, John Corigliano, Paquito D’Rivera, Michael Gordon, Meredith Monk, and Bora Yoon, were commissioned solely by YPC. The resulting recording is the first in the series to be distributed worldwide.
First of all there is no questioning the merits of this project. Any individual or group that has decided to make a commitment to performing music for others deserves opportunities to work with composers as part of that commitment. No performance space should be treated as a museum concerned with nothing other than the display of past relics. If the practice of making music ignores the inventiveness of the present, then it cannot be expected to bring the requisite measure of understanding to performing artifacts from the past.
Furthermore, there is no shortage of composers eager to work with those seeking new pieces to perform. Quite the contrary, if anything the “supply” of currently active composers probably outstrips “demand” by several orders of magnitude. In addition there is so much diversity on the “supply side” that it is almost impossible to provide listeners with a representative account of what composers are up to these days.
In that respect this new album is impressive for the degree of difference that distinguishes any one track from any other. At one extreme there is the lyricism that Corigliano brings to “One Sweet Morning,” written to conclude a song cycle commemorating the tenth anniversary of 9/11. At the other extreme there is Bora Yoon’s “Semaphore Conductus,” which, strictly speaking, is a sound installation, rather than a “composition.” There are also works requiring the singers to provide sound effects (Riley’s contribution) and percussion (Paquito D’Rivera’s “Tembandumba”). Finally, there are contributions by composers that can be imaginatively quirky, such as Meredith Monk deconstructing the text of an eleven-year-old or Michael Gordon making a litany and libretto out of the names of the stations on the F Train line.
All of this can probably work very effectively in performance. However, the impact of recording is not quite so compelling. As one with a fair amount of experience riding the F Train, I was rather curious as to how Gordon would approach his project; but I quickly found myself struggling with poor diction (having decided that I was not going to refer to the text sheet). The fact is that, across this entire recording, words come and go, leaving the sympathetic listener wondering just how much they signify. Whether this is a problem with Núñez’ direction or poorly supervised mixing technique cannot be determined from the data point of a single release; but it is likely that the good intentions behind this project deserve better realization.