Kernis “Goblin” highlights ACM’s storytelling season finale

Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 11:44 am

By Adam Dahlgren

ACM performed Aaron Jay Kernis' "Goblin Market" in its Chicago premiere Tuesday night at Architectural Artifacts.
ACM performed Aaron Jay Kernis’ “Goblin Market” in its Chicago premiere Tuesday night at Architectural Artifacts.

Access Contemporary Music wound up their season Tuesday night with an intriguing novelty—a program that showcased compositions featured spoken narration.

The concert, which featured 14 musicians, took place at Architectural Artifacts in the Ravenswood neighborhood, one of the quirkiest venues in the city. The space is a former warehouse converted into a retail shop that sells recovered items from old buildings, the space providing a relaxed, relatively informal setting.

The title of the program stems from Aaron Jay Kernis’s Goblin Market. The 1994 composition by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer uses a text by Christina Rosetti, spoken by a narrator. Kernis traveled to Chicago to attend the performance and was on hand Tuesday to introduce the piece.

Spread over seven scenes with an epilogue and divided into two parts, Goblin Market tells the story of two sisters, the sensual Laura and the neurotic Lizzie, represented by viola and violin respectively. The score opens with a frightening depiction of a fruit sellers’ market manned by the goblins of the title, depicted by a range of winds, led by creepy bassoon work from Drew Pattison. The story is about Laura’s temptation by the goblin fruit sellers, who give her an insatiable taste for their succulent fruits, despite warnings from Lizzie that no good can come of her consuming them.

Menace is represented by Stravinsky-like wind and brass writing that depicts the mentally destabilizing threats posed by the goblins. A Japanese-style flute solo presents a sly, singular voice, which continues to haunt Laura after all the other voices in her head have vanished. The poem concludes with an optimistic, triumphant ending that was an ode to friendship and sisterhood conquering adversity, depicted as the dawn of a new day after a tumultuous night with a sober trumpet solo by Kyle Upton rising above the rest of the players.

ACM’s performance showed exceptional understanding of this challenging Kernis score. The winds handled the difficult burden of depicting the dangerous goblin forces with facility and the percussionists showed their range on a number of instruments, from wind chimes to xylophone. The piece’s narration was read by Leila Bowie in a children’s story-like manner, perhaps as an ironic counterpoint to the story’s sexual overtones (“proto-Freudian” elements, as Kernis described it). Conductor Francesco Milioto’s leadership no doubt helped the players navigate the difficulty of the music and gave remarkably equal coverage to the different shades and dramatic aspects of the score.

The concert opened with two shorter pieces. It Happened Like This by Eve Beglariana also featured a text read by Bowie. This modern-day fairy tale about a goat waaccompanied by a dancing cello solo played by Alyson Berger, who was also required to harmonize vocally.

Next was Punctus Contra Punctum, composed by Jenna Lyle, who read the text herself. Inspired by domestic violence, the piece began with jazzy pizzicato work by violin, viola, and cello, and ended with a piano solo that sounded like a dying person’s last wheezes.

Photo: Kimberly Schlechter
Photo: Kimberly Schlechter

Posted in Performances

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