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It’s not often that one can attend a concert in which the transcendent is celebrated or, for that matter, even recognized. But such certainly was the case in Stewart Theater at North Carolina State University, where State students, faculty, and guests presented a program billed as “an evening of poetry and music.” The spirit of the gathering was introduced early by a performance of Bruch’s "Kol Nidre," observing the Friday evening start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Day. Faculty member Jonathan Kramer arranged this piece for two cellos, one for the traditional solo part with the second managing the support. Performing this surprising and effective offering were Kramer himself and Nate Leyland.
Visiting poet Coleman Barks provided a major feature of the evening. In addition to his other works, he is known for translating the writings of Jalal ed-Din Rumi, a thirteenth-century Persian poet and mystic. Among Barks’ readings of several Rumi works was the poem, “God Picks Up the Reed-flute World.” Music Department Director J. Mark Scearce has created a stylish choral work from these verses. The NC State Chamber Choir, with director Alfred E. Sturgis, did brilliantly on this spare and challenging score. (It was hard to escape the irony of this ancient text in so modern a setting.) Mary Boone, flute, Bo Newsome, oboe, Nate Leyland, cello, and Laura Byrne, harp, furnished powerful support.
Part of the evening featured Barks’ expository reading of Rumi lines, spanning a spectrum from the recondite to the obvious. For example: "When it’s cold and raining you are more beautiful." Barks explained that in this line, “you” stands for all English language pronouns (I, you, she, they, etc.) plus God! Also: "What is a true human being? And further: What is the soul?" These readings were enhanced by Kramer’s mostly ad-libbed cello accompaniment. (It was astonishing when both Barks and Kramer agreed that the “soul” question called for blues strains on the cello!) The poet concluded this section with samples of his own light, humorous verse.
Sturgis brought out the full Concert Choir for the uncommon and altogether pleasing John Tavener work, "Svyati" ("O Holy One"), based on an ancient Russian Orthodox chant. In this number, the solo cello, assuming the role of the priest, carries out a solemn funereal dialog with the choir. With Leyland again as the cellist, the polish of the choir belied their relative youth. Closing the evening, with augmented choir, was Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of the traditional “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.” Accompanying instruments were flute, oboe, and harp, played by the aforementioned artists. Particularly appealing here were oboe and flute as they echoed the choristers.
So ended this edition of the Price Music Center Lectures. The NC State Music Department can be justly pleased for having presented such an imaginative offering.