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The University of North Carolina School of the Arts hosted Anima Vox, a duo comprised of UNCSA flute faculty member Tadeu Coelho and soprano Carole Ott Coelho, for yet another special concert in Watson Hall. The program was packed with music, but, more importantly, it was comprised entirely of music written or inspired by Black, Indigenous, and other underrepresented composers and poets. The program also featured occasional appearances by bassoonist and Dean of Music, Saxton Rose, collaborative piano faculty member Robert Rocco, and percussionist Danté Thomas.
It was a night full of new experiences for me as a reviewer and usual audience member at UNCSA, and I am sure the rest of the audience would say the same thing. There were simply too many pieces on the program to go into much detail on all of them, but after every piece, I was able to find something that I had never heard before – especially not on the classical music stage. The first piece of the night was a vocal work by female Baroque composer Isabella Leonarda, a work that would be the most unconventional on most other programs. But with Anima Vox, this wound up being the most "traditional" piece that was performed.
From there, the audience was taken on a journey through the music and language of the Quechua people, Brazilian solo flute music, the music of Black women and men, a Habanera based on a Baroque feminist poem, and improvisations by the duo based on the poetry of African American and Brazilian female poets. It cannot go without saying that the Habanera was commissioned by Tadeu Coelho and composed by one of his own high school flute students, Phoebe Pylant. For a high school student to command enough respect from someone as esteemed as Coelho and have their piece put on a program full of such great music is extremely impressive. The improvisations, though, were the most surprising parts of the night. Frankly, I find most improvisations by classical musicians to be quite torturous. They always seem to go on for far too long and they stray too far from their intended tone and message, leading to the audience (and myself) checking their watches, wondering when it will end. Anima Vox did the exact opposite, though, keeping their improvisations concise and relevant, ultimately making them more meaningful. From now on, Anima Vox will be my golden standard for live classical improvisation.
The non-improvisational pieces were equally enjoyable, showcasing just how much can be done with such small ensembles. For example, their performance of Henry Thacker Burleigh's set, Songs of Laurence Hope, presented surprisingly thick textures and strong sound given that the ensemble only consisted of flute, piano, and voice. The pieces with more sparse textures like Daniel Cueto's Kimsa harawicha (Three Songs) did the exact opposite but were not any lower in quality. Throughout the entire program, though, the Coelhos' virtuosity and wide range of abilities on their respective instruments were illuminated.
It is not often that I can call a concert "refreshing," but that is the exact term I would apply to Anima Vox. Too often I find that I go into a concert trying to judge whether or not someone's interpretation of the pieces they play is right or wrong, and it usually takes away from my ability to simply enjoy listening to music. With music that has not been exposed or is just beginning to be exposed to the world, though, it is much easier to sit back and appreciate it. Additionally, it allows the performers a chance to flex their muscles in an entirely different way, while also broadening the audience's horizons. The more that duos like Anima Vox are allowed to flex those muscles and broaden those horizons, the better.