Philadelphia based contemporary vocal ensemble The Crossing, under the direction of Donald Nally, releases "Rising w/ The Crossing," an uplifting album that serves as an offering of hope amidst a pandemic as well as a journey through the ensemble's projects over the last several years. Including music by Joby Talbot, Eriks Ešenvalds, Dieterich Buxtehude, Paul Fowler, Alex Berko, Ted Hearne, Santa Ratniece, and David Lang's hauntingly topical "protect yourself from infection," which sets texts from a 1918 U.S. government document, with the names of Philadelphians who fell victim to the 1918 influenza pandemic.
|01||protect yourself from infection|
protect yourself from infection
|The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor||5:31|
|The Crossing, John Grecia, keyboards, Donald Nally, conductor||3:46|
|The Crossing, Kelly Ann Bixby, soprano, Elisa Sutherland, alto, James Reese, tenor, Dimitri German, bass, Donald Nally, conductor||4:26|
|04||Membra Jesu nostri, BuxWV 75: IV. Ad latus|
Membra Jesu nostri, BuxWV 75: IV. Ad latus
|The Crossing, Quicksilver, Kelly Ann Bixby, soprano, Rebecca Myers, soprano, Elisa Sutherland, alto, James Reese, tenor, Dimitri German, bass, Donald Nally, conductor||8:11|
|The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor||3:55|
|06||the national anthems: I. our land with peace|
the national anthems: I. our land with peace
|The Crossing, International Contemporary Ensemble, Donald Nally, conductor||5:18|
|The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor||5:46|
|08||the national anthems: IV. keep us free|
the national anthems: IV. keep us free
|The Crossing, International Contemporary Ensemble, Donald Nally, conductor||4:10|
|09||What it might say|
What it might say
|The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor||4:35|
|10||Membra Jesu nostri, BuxWV 75: II. Ad genua|
Membra Jesu nostri, BuxWV 75: II. Ad genua
|The Crossing, Quicksilver, Rebecca Siler, soprano, Shari Wilson, soprano, Elisa Sutherland, alto, Steven Bradshaw, tenor, Daniel Schwartz, bass, Donald Nally, conductor||8:01|
|11||Earth Teach Me Quiet|
Earth Teach Me Quiet
|The Crossing, Edward Babcock, marimba, Donald Nally, conductor||7:19|
|12||Horo horo hata hata|
Horo horo hata hata
|The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor||9:57|
Grammy award-winning, Philadelphia-based new music choir The Crossing releases its 22nd commercial recording, Rising w/ The Crossing. This unusual collection of live recordings from the ensemble’s extensive archive was selected by conductor Donald Nally for the ensemble’s 60-part series of daily releases, launched in March 2020 as an immediate response to the 2020 pandemic. That series is now archived by The Library of Congress as “an important part of the historical record” and lives on through this album of twelve remarkably varied and polished performances that capture the urgency and immediacy of The Crossing in concert. Featuring music by David Lang, Joby Talbot, Êriks Ešenvalds, Paul Fowler, Ted Hearne, Santa Ratniece, Alex Berko, and movements from Dieterich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu nostri, the album is an expression of solidarity and community in the time of COVID. The Crossing is joined by the International Contemporary Ensemble for movements of Lang’s the national anthems, and early-music ensemble Quicksilver for the Buxtehude tracks.
Of the album's conception, Nally says, “‘We really love singing together.’ Those are the words that came to me when viewing a Zoom screen of faces of my colleagues, as we let them know we couldn’t sing together in March. Singing had been determined an unsafe activity at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. Our response to this grief was to ask how we can continue expressing and gathering, how we can hold the community together, how we can ensure artists can pay their rents, how we can use what resources we have to rethink who we are at this moment. One of those resources is an archive of 15 years of live concert recordings, musical moments in our history that stand out as special or loved or fun or challenging or just calm at a time when calmness stands in relief against a background of chaos moving into the foreground at the beginning of the Great Shut Down. We wanted to feel like we were walking through this together, waking up and starting our day together, Rising w/ The Crossing. So, we began sharing these archived moments on March 16, each accompanied by my thoughts on why we love singing together, and why we love singing that day’s music.Read More
“Summer passed, and, with it, the promise of our 2020-21 Season. We found ourselves a part of social uprising, of a national reconciling, a previously unimaginable political contest, and a pandemic that had hold of the country and would not let go. As we looked at a completely re-imagined Fall and Winter, we wanted to ensure we remember this time, a time when routines and rituals like Rising w/ The Crossing felt like rudders in stormy seas, when communication was a gift, and when music…That time when music reminded us that we must never take it for granted. It is the bread by which we commune and the wine by which we are reminded that truth matters, words matter, Black Lives Matter, and singing together matters.”
David Lang’s protect yourself from infection, the inspiration for this collection, was commissioned by Blast Theory for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia to remember the names of thousands of victims of the influenza pandemic of 1918 due to the ill-fated Liberty Loan Parade.
Êriks Ešenvalds’ Translation, Ted Hearne’s What it might say, and Paul Fowler’s First Pink were commissioned for The Crossing’s 2016 project Jeff Quartets, in memory of Jeff Dinsmore, co-founder of The Crossing.
Though The Crossing has focused on contemporary music almost exclusively, they commissioned a project of responses to 17th-century composer Dieterich Buxtehude’s oratorio Membra Jesu nostri in 2016, when the group partnered with Quicksilver and the International Contemporary Ensemble for Seven Responses. Included on this album are two cantatas of Buxtehude’s masterpiece that underscore the common links of contrapuntal writing and natural color between contemporary and early vocal repertoire, a rare glimpse at the background of the artists and art that led to The Crossing.
David Lang’s the national anthems is the result of his investigation into many national anthems to find common links. In “our land our peace,” Lang begins with a simple, transparent statement of solidarity and accumulates intensity by layering texts and stacking rich, chordal verticalities. “Keep us free,” in contrast, has the feel of a folk dance – short, direct ideas lead to layers that evolve into declamatory statements over which a soprano solo drives the message: ‘our land will not die.'
The text for Alex Berko’s Lincoln appears on the dedicatory inscription in the Lincoln Bay at the Washington National Cathedral. A variety of pointed articulations leads to a more expansive final section, moving through a journey of conflict to healing, while capturing the righteousness of Lincoln’s conviction and the poignancy of his personal experience of leadership.
Recording Producers: Paul Vazquez, Donald Nally, and Kevin Vondrak
Recording Engineer: Paul Vazquez
Editing, Mixing & Mastering: Paul Vazquez
Cover & back cover: Steven Bradshaw, stevenbradshawart.com
Design & layout: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
The Crossing photo: Becky Oehlers Photography
The Crossing is a Grammy-winning professional chamber choir conducted by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music. It is committed to working with creative teams to make and record new, substantial works for choir that explore and expand ways of writing for choir, singing in choir, and listening to music for choir. Many of its nearly 110 commissioned premieres address social, environmental, and political issues.
The Crossing collaborates with some of the world’s most accomplished ensembles and artists, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra, Network for New Music, Lyric Fest, Piffaro, Beth Morrison Projects, Allora & Calzadilla, Bang on a Can, Klockriketeatern, and the International Contemporary Ensemble. Similarly, The Crossing often collaborates with some of world’s most influential venues and presenters, such as the Park Avenue Armory, Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania, National Sawdust, David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Haarlem Choral Biennale in The Netherlands, The Finnish National Opera in Helsinki, The Kennedy Center in Washington, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, Symphony Space in New York, Winter Garden with WNYC, and Duke, Northwestern, Colgate, and Notre Dame Universities. The Crossing holds an annual residency at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center in Big Sky, Montana where they are working on an extensive, multi-year project with composer Michael Gordon and filmmaker Bill Morrison.
With a commitment to recording its commissions, The Crossing has issued 21 releases, receiving two Grammy Awards for Best Choral Performance (2018, 2019), and five Grammy nominations. The Crossing, with Donald Nally, was the American Composers Forum’s 2017 Champion of New Music. They were the recipients of the 2015 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, three ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming, and the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award from Chorus America.
Recently, The Crossing has expanded its choral presentation to film, working with Four/Ten Media, in-house sound designer Paul Vazquez of Digital Mission Audio Services, visual artists Brett Snodgrass and Steven Bradshaw, and composers David Lang and Michael Gordon on live and animated versions of new and existing works. Lang’s “protect yourself from infection” and “in nature” were specifically designed to be performed within the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Crossing is represented by Alliance Artist Management. All of its concerts are broadcast on WRTI, Philadelphia’s Classical and Jazz public radio.https://www.crossingchoir.org/
This assemblage of joyful sound is also a requiem. It celebrates and mourns the Resonant Bodies Festival, which from 2013 to 2019 represented the unofficial start of the New York fall arts season in early September with a burst of experimental vocal music.
Its founder, Lucy Dhegrae, chose the singers, then delegated to them programming control. The audience tended heavy on fellow musicians, but the mood wasn’t insular. You felt openness, rather — the freedom to unveil works still in progress.
A new album includes a baker’s dozen of those works, mostly solos written by their performers. The use of electronics — as canvas for, and distortion of, the voices — is widespread. Texts are far rarer than squawks, moans, clicks and wails. The prevailing style is agile expressionism.
On offer are Charmaine Lee’s fierce plosives; Pamela Z’s ethereal, hovering tone, disintegrating into birdsong babble; Julia Bullock’s velvety command; Caroline Shaw’s slippery humming; Arooj Aftab’s mellow voice unfolding, unhurried, over nearly 14 minutes; Anaïs Maviel accompanying herself with the gentle burble of the n’goni, a West African harp; Kamala Sankaram’s painfully close harmonies; the veteran Lucy Shelton, whimsical as she manipulates bells and chimes; Sofia Jernberg, her keening breaking into incredible warbles, sometimes jeweled, sometimes parched.
The panoply is a stirring tribute to Resonant Bodies, already missed. May it rest in noise.
— Zachary Woolfe, 4.01.2021
While choral groups may be the most endangered of musical species during the COVID-19 scourge, new releases just keep on coming from several of these organizations many months into the pandemic. In the case of Philadelphia’s prolific The Crossing, one solution was to raid the archives, dipping into some 15 years of accumulated concert recordings.
Hence Rising w/ The Crossing (New Focus) — 12 selections from a 60-part series of daily digital releases that started in March 2020. Most of the tracks are of new music, a couple are of very old music, all are grouped together to form “an expression of solidarity and community” in COVID times.
The kickoff track, David Lang’s protect yourself from infection, provided the inspiration for the collection. The libretto consists of a 1918 U.S. government document instructing citizens how to avoid the Spanish flu during that year’s pandemic — with every word applicable to our pandemic — interspersed with the names of Philadelphian victims. A predictable response? No, the piece was written in 2019 before anyone had ever heard of the COVID, so we can credit Lang with prophesy, if not a departure from his usual composing routine (short phrase, pause, short phrase, pause, short phrase, pause, repeat ad infinitum). There’s more of that start-and-stop shtick in a couple of excerpts from Lang’s the national anthems, with spare backing from a string quintet from the International Contemporary Ensemble.
I prefer the lush, delicious modern harmonies of Ēriks Ešenvalds’s Translation, with its coda repeating into the lingering void. Ted Hearne’s alluring What it might say also falls into the lush category — no coincidence since it and Translation come from the same project, Jeff Quartets, a memorial to The Crossing’s co-founder Jeff Dinsmore. Another attractive Ešenvalds piece is Earth Teach Me Quiet, with its descending choral lines and quiet humming blurring into the warm vibrating sounds of a marimba.
The old music consists of two excerpts from Dietrich Buxtehude’s oratorio Membra Jesu nostri, with the early music ensemble Quicksilver providing the plaintive period-instrument backings. This is apparently one of The Crossings’ rare ventures outside contemporary music — indeed, its first, according to leader Donald Nally — and they are just as good at that, contouring their phrasings to the swelling attacks of the period ensemble.
Last comes the strangest and most progressive-sounding track — a spacey work by Santa Ratnieve called Horo horo hata hata, based on Ainu prayers (the Ainus are the native people from Japan’s Hokkaido and Russia’s Sakhalin and Kamchatka regions). To my ears, it’s all drifting, sliding, cawing, vibrating syllables, a descendant of Ligeti’s choral experiments, ending with weird cries into the night. I found it captivating and disturbing, a reflection of the unmoored mood of pandemic times.
— Richard Ginnell, 1.04.2021
Living in the throes of a raging global pandemic we all experience our “new normal” differently. If ever we could imagine a soundtrack that unites us through the silent roar of isolation it would be one that reflects both the hopelessness of it all as well as the uplifting energy of hope itself. With its soul-stirring music, Rising w/ The Crossing certainly qualifies to provide powerful anthems for our self-isolating sensibilities.
The choral ensemble conducted by Donald Nally brings uniquely thoughtful and penetrating insight to music by Joby Talbot, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Dieterich Buxtehude, Paul Fowler, Alex Berko, Ted Hearne and Santa Ratniece; works that follow in the wake of David Lang’s powerfully prescient protect yourself from infection, the text of which was inspired by instructions that rose out of the last pandemic: the Spanish flu.
The sense of awe and wonder which hovers over this entire recital is particularly close-focused in Lang’s work. It is echoed in the ever-shifting heartbeat of the wonderfully supple voices of the singers who make up The Crossing; voices that ceaselessly and eloquently trace the melodies of other stellar miniatures too.
Much of the music is performed a cappella and this gives the works in question a wonderfully spectral quality. This is certainly true of Hearne’s 2016 work What it might say. But equally, it is Buxtehude’s Baroque-period works featuring the Quicksilver ensemble that enliven the elusive moments of this ethereal music’s whispered breath.
— Raul da Gama, 3.18.2021
Earlier this year, when singing together became just about the most dangerous thing you could do, Donald Nally, the magus behind the Crossing, our finest contemporary-music choir, began posting daily recordings from their archives. He called it “Rising w/ the Crossing,” also the title of an album of a dozen highlights. There’s David Lang’s eerily prescient reflection on the 1918 flu pandemic, performed last year, and Alex Berko’s stirring “Lincoln.” But I keep returning to Eriks Esenvalds’s dreamily unfolding appeal to the Earth, its text a prayer of the Ute people of the American Southwest: a work of true radiance, fired by the precision and passion of this spectacular group.
— Zachary Woolfe, 12.17.2020
The Crossing is a marvelous chamber choir and you probably know of them if you read these pages. I've covered a fair amount of their releases--they are to me a seminal outfit for the New Music today. They are superb. There's a new one that covers a great deal of ground, Rising w/ the Crossing (New Focus Recordings FCR281).
Featured are a pretty vast potpourri of some 12 short works, beautifully performed. We get two Early Music gems by Buxtehude that manage to sound like they fit in with the Post-Minimal, Radical Tonality gems on display here.
A very prescient opening work, "protect yourself from infection" (2019) is a text from the last Pandemic--the Great Influenza of 1918. A sung list of victims fallen in Philadelphia alternates with a prayer-like chant of preventive health advice from the time. What could be more relevant just now?
And then the nine additional contemporary works have lots to absorb and enjoy. Lang comes through with s couple further points of interest--via several movements from "National Anthems."
Then we get to experience some other choice works that fill out the program nicely, choral studies by Joby Talbot (2000), Erika Esenvalds (2016, 2013), Paul Fowler (2016), Alex Berko (2018), Ted Hearne (2016) and Santa Ratniece (2008). All of these have more or less in common the idea that repetition is not primary but more hooked into tan ambient sonority characteristic to the post-New-Age, so to speak. The Crossing are extraordinarily well-suited to this repertoire for their gorgeous timbral essence, so that everything works out for the very best and keeps listener interest focused and keen, or so I found anyway.
It is a good one for the season, but then for any season in the end. Good show!
— Grego Edwards, 12.23.2021
Earth Teach Me Quiet, a slowly surging choral piece by Eriks Esenvalds, is a perfect showcase for the purity — but also the passion — of the Crossing, an amazing contemporary music choir.
— Zachary Woolfe, 12.28.2021
A Philadelphia based outfit who are under the direction of Donald Nally, The Crossing deliver an ideal listen during a pandemic, where a hopeful and joyous environment radiates across their 22nd commercial recording.
David Lang’s Protect Yourself From Infection starts the listen vocally strong as harmony vocals emit a warm, gospel execution, and Lost Forever, by Jody Talbot, follows with soft piano guiding the expressive, ethereal singing.
Closer to the middle, Paul Fowler’s First Pink is an exciting display of vocal acrobatics that range from sparse and soothing to vibrant and powerful, while Lincoln illustrates Alex Berko’s talent in both firm, soaring atmospheres as well as bare moments of beauty. One of the best selections is Ted Hearne’s What It Might Say, where the singers reach a spiritual level with their combined tonality amid a highly melodic landscape.
At the end, Eriks Esenvalds’ Earth Teach Me Quiet finds itself in sublime, dreamy territory, and Santa Ratniece exits the listen with the atmospheric Hora Hora Hata Hata, which illustrates the ensemble’s varied, timeless skill.
It’s of little surprise that The Crossing have won a pair of Grammy Awards across 5 nominations, as their contemporary approach and unparalleled group singing leaves an indelible mark on anyone willing to lend an ear, as evidenced by this remarkable live effort.
— Tom Haugen, 12.16.2020
The last release of the three contains all of The Crossing's virtues in one extremely enjoyable package - uplifting, even, as the marketing promises. David Lang's Protect Yourself From Infection, composed for the 100th anniversary of the 1918 flu epidemic, is obviously on point, and we also get Ted Hearne's What It Might Say, a soulful piece based on Winnicott's theories of communication between infant and mother. The whole thing, including two stunning Buxtehude cantata movements, is sequenced for maximum enjoyment. If you're looking for choral music, just set up a Google alert for The Crossing and take whatever they give you!
— Jeremy Shatan, 12.26.2020
In a time where live music is nearly impossible to make happen safely, Grammy award-winning new music choir The Crossing gifts us with Rising, their first live album and a collection of recordings from concerts in the “before” times. This album came out of a series of morning emails sent by artistic director Donald Nally as the pandemic began to shut everything down. Rising with The Crossing each morning, members could stay connected and reflect on music they performed in the past. Now, more than ever, this connection is crucial, and this collection of works shows the power of musical connection.
The album opens with the unfortunately timely Protect Yourself From Infection, by David Lang, the work that inspired the album. The text comes from official government instructions on avoiding the 1918 flu, interspersed with the names of victims of the flu from Philadelphia. Many of these instructions sound familiar over a century later. The most striking aspect of this work is the contrast between the mechanical-sounding choral instructions with the soloists singing the names of the dead. The names are humanized in this contrast, reflecting how those who have died were human beings. It is a sentiment that is needed today, as those suffering from COVID-19 are human beings often lost in statistics displayed on a screen.
2020 has had several other major upheavals, of course, and what better way to reflect on the political crises this year than with movements from Lang’s national anthems. The first movement, our land with peace, uses text that reflects an almost obsessive love for one’s nation. The Crossing collaborates with International Contemporary Ensemble for this performance, and the two ensembles blend together flawlessly for this haunting work. Political content aside, this work is well-performed, especially the complex rhythmic textures in the fourth movement, keep us free. On a similar note, Alex Berko’s Lincoln holds relevance in the American political climate. The text comes from a dedication to Abraham Lincoln, yet the piece never mentions his name, instead focusing on those who remember him as history goes on. There is a brief reflection on his “lonely soul,” heartbreakingly performed by the choir as a pause to remember the human who stopped a conflict, as the words and phrases “conflict,” “by the truth,” and “marches” continue on in the background – persistent flashbacks, and yet this country is still in conflict today.
Several works on this album revolve around the need for human connection, and in a time of necessary isolation, these works speak stronger than ever. The Crossing hauntingly displays mourning the loss of connection in Jody Talbot’s Lost Forever, while quietly portraying the hesitant creation of the new connection between infant and parent in Ted Hearne’s What it might say. Both works create a sense of longing, something all can relate to in this year. Paul Fowler’s First Pink reflects on another very human need – that for perseverance. The text painting in this work is beautiful, starting so fragile and empty and growing into something triumphant. This persistence may join with anticipation, which comes across in Ēriks Ešenvalds’ Translation. This beautiful, atmospheric work begins with emptiness, similar to First Pink, but there is more of a sense of waiting and preparation to begin something new, while taking its time to reach this new beginning. The Crossing conveys all of these emotions, and one can only imagine the power that could be felt in person during the concerts where these works were performed.
Interspersed between works all composed in the last few decades are two sections from Dietrich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu nostri, an early Baroque work. The liner notes say it best: “In fact, we learned a lot about our repertoire through singing music that forms the foundation on which contemporary music is built.” The Crossing slips into their Baroque hats expertly, as many of the skills required to sing complex newer works apply to the counterpoint and independence of the early Baroque period. They collaborate with early music ensemble Quicksilver for these performances. The connection to an ancient past closes out the album with two indingeous “prayers,” one based on a prayer of the Ute tribe in the American West, and the last taken from prayers of the Ainu tribe in Japan. Ešenvalds’ Earth Teach Me Quiet asks to learn lessons from nature itself, a timeless need as climate change ravages the planet. The closing work, Horo horo hata hata, by Latvian composer Santa Ratniece, immediately takes the listener to another place and time. The Crossing performs the extended techniques and difficult ranges of Ratniece’s work expertly.
2020 has been a year of conflict, uncertainty, and drastic change. The variety of works included in Rising reflect on aspects of this year while remembering the power of live music. The Crossing has won two Grammys for a reason – they truly can perform a variety of works in a variety of styles with power and emotion. The power and resilience in Rising is a fitting close to look back on a tumultuous year. Rising is available now digitally and will be released in a physical format in January.
— Katie Heilman, 1.21.2021
When performances began to shut down in March of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the members of the fine small choir The Crossing did not dissociate from each other and retreat into their own homes. They began to meet on Zoom and review their past live performances, discussing not only their musical qualities but their resonances in a time of crisis. Rising w/The Crossing was the result. In some of the works, the references to the 2020 situation are explicit. The opening Protect Yourself from Infection, by David Lang, was recorded in 2019 and sets a public health text from the 1918 influenza pandemic, but one couldn't ask for more in terms of up-to-the-minute relevance. Other references are more oblique and point not only to the pandemic but also to the tumultuous U.S. political situation; Alex Berko's Lincoln, with a stark and simple text by the former dean of Washington National Cathedral, is especially effective. For the first time, The Crossing performs early music, in the form of a pair of excerpts from Buxtehude's Membra Jesu nostri, on the theme of suffering. For fans of The Crossing, a major attraction will be the chance to hear a selection of the choir's live performances, different from the sheen of their regular releases but equally well-wrought. Special recognition should go to producer Paul Vazquez, who also serves as mastering engineer; he fused a hugely diverse set of sound environments into a coherent set.
— James Manheim, 2.04.2021
Rising with The Crossing distinguishes itself from many of the other twenty-one commercial recordings the Philadelphia-based, Donald Nally-led vocal ensemble has issued. Whereas many emphasize the work of a single composer, this one features material by eight, making it a compendium of sorts. There's a reason why the release is as it is. When the pandemic made public performance impossible, the company decided to make selections from its fifteen-year archive of live concert recordings available through a weekly series, with those pieces now gathered into a full release. Such a move has both enabled the choir to continue its prolific release schedule and give listeners another exceptional sampling of its music to help them through this difficult time.
While Rising with The Crossing does qualify as a compilation, certain artists are prominently featured: three pieces by David Lang appear, as do two by Eriks Ešenvalds and two movements from Dieterich Buxtehude's Membra Jesu nostri, BuxWV 75. Composed in 1680, the latter is the sole early work on the release, with the others spanning the years 2000 to 2019. Enhancing the seventy-one-minute presentation, International Contemporary Ensemble accompanies the choir on two of the Lang settings while Quicksilver joins The Crossing for the Buxtehude. Keyboardist John Grecia also takes part, and Edward Babcock adds marimba to Ešenvalds' Earth Teach Me Quiet. There are times during the recording where individual singers are featured and at such moments the singing registers as powerfully as do the full-choir passages.
The material was thoughtfully curated to reflect the times, with Lang's protect yourself from infection the clearest example. As timely as it is, it was written before the 2020 pandemic, specifically to commemorate the thousands of Philadelphians who succumbed to the influenza pandemic of 1918. Voiced softly by the choir, the text proper comes from a government document (sample lyric: “Avoid being sprayed by the nose and throat secretions of others / Beware of those who are coughing or sneezing / Avoid crowded streetcars…”) with the names of victims voiced by individual choir members; stylistically, the material is quintessential Lang and instantly identifiable as such. The other material representing him, two movements from 2014's the national anthems enriched by the strings of five ICE members, are as indelibly stamped with his signature.
With the singers accompanied by piano, Joby Talbot's pensive Lost Forever (its text by Roddy Lumsden) wasn't conceived with COVID-19 in mind, though its riveting account of personal loss is one that resonates in the wake of the personal devastation wrought by the pandemic. Much the same could be said of Paul Fowler's First Pink, whose text by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer meditates as affectingly on loss and fragility (“In the loss / is a branch / with a brittle / stem / where an old / fruit hangs / rust-colored / and dried …”). The impact of Ted Hearne's delicate What it might say is heightened by D.W. Winnicott's text, which movingly imagines words a baby might say to its mother.
Like Lang's pieces, Ešenvalds' are immediately recognizable as his, with the soaring Translation (words by Oregon poet Laureate Paulann Petersen) representative of his elegiac style as it ponders the moon's enigmatic, enduring presence. With words taken from an Ute of North America prayer and marimba and tuned water glasses adding to the music's ethereal character, Earth Teach Me Quiet achieves a shimmering, reverential beauty so disarming it suggests The Crossing might want to consider devoting an entire album to Ešenvalds' hymnal material.
The baroque lilt of the Quicksilver sextet adds to the beauty of The Crossing's handling of the Buxtehude material, the movements showing the group as capable of executing earlier material as contemporary—not that that should wholly surprise when the former, with its glorious vocal counterpoint, forms the seed out of which the latter grows. Rounding out the programme are Alex Berko's moving Lincoln and Santa Ratniece's Horo horo hata hata, a boldly experimental creation that distances itself from the others when whistling, swoops, and other unusual vocal sonorities relay text derived from Ainu lullabies and prayers. Perhaps more than anything else, Rising With The Crossing illustrates how effectively the ensemble meets any challenge that comes its way. Whether it be a seventeenth-century work or one written a year ago, the group illuminates every performance with vocal finesse and nuance.
— Ron Schepper, 1.01.2021
Even in times less fraught with fear and death than the pandemic-riddled year of 2020, music can be an anodyne for existential angst and a soothing counter to the unending (and decidedly unmusical) drumbeat of worry, trouble and trauma. Rising w/The Crossing, a compilation of a dozen of the Philadelphia-based vocal ensemble’s live concert recordings, is designed for uplift and may well be a source of it for the singers themselves, although that does not necessarily translate into an equally positive experience for listeners. The highly intriguing opening track on this New Focus Recordings disc shows why: it is David Lang’s fascinating exploration of the flu pandemic that started in 1918, juxtaposing texts from a government document of the time with the names of Philadelphians who died from the disease. Called protect yourself from infection (Lang eschews capital letters in his titles), the work has the chorus saying “don’t get hysterical” and “beware of those who are coughing and sneezing” and “avoid crowded streetcars” and “walk to the office if possible,” all those phrases and others interspersed with names of the dead. The parallels between the advice of a century ago, when antibiotics and antivirals were nonexistent, and the similar recommendations of today, is eerie rather than reassuring, the message more one of how little things have changed than one of “we got through that and we will get through this.” The work is quite well-written but misfires badly if its intent is reassurance. Also on the disc are two Lang works from what he calls the national anthems. They are I. our land with peace and IV. keep us free. Again, the intent seems to be one of solidarity, showing that many nations share similar wishes and goals; but the effect is somewhat different, given words such as “we fight for peace” and music that ranges from the simplistic to the angular and rather intense.
The entire disc inspires decidedly mixed emotions. The two most-calming works on it are ones that do not fit what The Crossing, a contemporary-music ensemble, usually does. They are Ad genua and Ad latus from Dietrich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu nostri, and they have a simplicity, elegance and heartfelt sense of belief that combine to offer a true vision of hope – even if their religious context is less integral to life today than it was in Buxtehude’s time. One other composer heard on the disc is represented by more than a single work: Ēriks Ešenvalds, who contributes Translation and Earth Teach Me Quiet. The first of these, a chorale, fits well with the Buxtehude excerpt that it precedes. The second, a more-layered choral work with a sense of upward motion as well as quietude, follows the second Buxtehude work and also fits it well. Also on the CD are Lost Forever by Judy Talbot, a quiet and rather insistently depressive piece; First Pink by Paul Fowler, an expressive but fairly dour memorial work; Lincoln by Alex Berko, with disconnected words and phrases taken from an inscription at Washington National Cathedral but here rendered less than fully coherent; What It Might Say by Ted Hearne, another work written mostly in unison and mostly in melancholy fashion; and Horo horo hata hata by Santa Ratniece, which is filled with audio enhancements and alterations that undermine rather than improve the sound of The Crossing and which goes on much too long – lasting 10 minutes, it is the longest work on the 71-minute disc. As a whole, the CD shows the excellence of The Crossing as an ensemble and of Donald Nally as its conductor; but the “rising” theme of the disc’s title, although often reflected in the way the music is constructed, does not come through particularly well in terms of the words and meanings of most of the pieces.
— Mark Estren, 12.17.2020
Philadelphia-based contemporary vocal ensemble The Crossing, under the direction of Donald Nally, releases Rising with The Crossing, an uplifting album that serves as an offering of hope amidst a pandemic as well as a journey through the ensemble’s projects over the last several years. The album includes music by Joby Talbot, Eriks Ešenvalds, Dieterich Buxtehude, Paul Fowler, Alex Berko, Ted Hearne, Santa Ratniece, and David Lang’s hauntingly topical “protect yourself from infection,” which sets texts from a 1918 U.S. government document, with the names of Philadelphians who fell victim to the 1918 influenza pandemic.
— Lisa Flynn, 12.27.2021
Arriving in our own century, we come to this latest release from the fecund Philadelphia choir The Crossing, led by Donald Nally. The mostly modern pieces on Rising w/ The Crossing were recorded live in concert over the past few years, and they have a wonderful melding of live energy and precision.
The pieces speak directly to the modern soul, beginning with David Lang's incantatory "protect yourself from infection," a setting of text from a U.S. government advisory from 1918 concerning the deadly influenza pandemic we've read so much about in the context of COVID-19. Unison choral chants echo plaintive solo voices, and had it been recorded with a tremendous amount of reverb, it might have put me in mind of Kassianí. "Beware of those who are coughing or sneezing...Avoid crowded streetcars...If you become ill don't try to keep on with your work." If only everyone had had the option to follow all this sage advice during 2020.
The International Contemporary Ensemble accompanies the choir on two movements from another work by Lang, "the national anthems," a collage of lines from the world's patriotic hymns. Part IV is notable for a thematic duality that pits sections of the choir against one another and seems to carry us off in two suggestive directions at once.
By contrast, there's a childlike charm and sadness to Joby Talbot's "Lost Forever," performed beautifully by the female voices, and a calm sweetness to Ted Hearne's "What it might say," which takes the perspective of an actual baby.
The choir also brings off well the reedy modernism of Paul Fowler's springtime picture "First Pink," a setting of lines by contemporary poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, and of Alex Berko's setting of a stark ode to Abraham Lincoln.
But the album's most remarkable music is at the end. Supremely lovely is the marvelous "Earth Teach Me Quiet" by the contemporary Latvian composer Eriks Ešenvalds. In this quiet stunner, transportive harmonies waft through the air, like clouds peacefully circling instead of drifting by. And "Horo horo hata hata," by Santa Ratniece with words from Ainu prayers, casts its spell with eerie aerial gestures, hisses, whistles, glissandos, chatterings, and hollow midrange calls that seem to arise from some mysterious echoey place beneath the surface of the earth.
Remarkably for this contemporary-music ensemble, the album also includes two movements from Membra Jesu nostri by Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707). The singers, especially the soloists, bring a refreshingly colorful timbral variety that such ancient music often lacks in the more staid, almost obsessively respectful performances of today. They're accompanied adroitly by the early music ensemble Quicksilver in a revealing performance that brings us full circle, if not back to Kassianí's ninth-century abbey, then to a time when stories had to be told by real human voices in person.
— Jon Sobel, 3.30.2021
The Crossing is a contemporary professional chamber choir conducted by Donald Nally. Each of its new CDs is an event. We have reviewed them twice before—Anonymous Man and Fire in My Mouth. Lovers of choral singing, especially of new works, will delight in their latest endeavor, Rising w/ The Crossing. In the absence of live performances, and with the impossibility of even singing together to record in a soundproof room, The Crossing has delved into its archive of live recordings to select 12 tracks, almost 71 minutes’ worth of material highly relevant to our time.
The opening number is David Lang’s protect yourself from infection, his setting of a 1918 U.S. government document during the global influenza epidemic. Philadelphia had done pretty well with the flu up until then, but in 1918, toward the end of World War I, it made the unwise decision to hold a Liberty Loan Parade. That unleashed a new wave of sickness that killed thousands. The names of a few of those unfortunate souls are scattered throughout Lang’s piece, which is otherwise the progressive harmonic announcement, almost chants, of directives as if heard on public address speakers mounted on telephone poles. Among the 20 advisements, only the last two are repeated by the chorus: “If you become ill don’t try to keep on with your work” and “Fight the disease rationally and do not become unduly alarmed”—compare and contrast with our government in the COVID-19 pandemic!
The theme of loss is carried over into the second cut, Lost Forever, by Joby Talbot to a text by Roddy Lumsden, which concludes, “You’re lost forever and the actors who will play us are not yet born,” a sweet if perhaps only aspirational sentiment that somehow, someday, any of our lives will go on to mean something, somewhere, to somebody.
In Translation, composer Ēriks Ešenvalds and poet Paula Petersen attempt to depict in music and verse what it means to render an idea from one medium, or one language, into another, capturing its essence in a different vocabulary: “Emptied of nothing,/ filled with story, the moon becomes/ a thin wafer melting/ in the mouth, words/ having found their tongue.”
Interspersed among the modern works are two settings from the work of Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707), a forerunner of J.S. Bach. One is a mashup of a passage from the Biblical Song of Songs 2:13-14, ancient erotically charged poetry, linked to an invocation of the mingling of souls (the sinner’s into Jesus’s wounds) that is also sexually suggestive. It is not surprising that choruses, as well as individual soloists, often find deep resonance between early Western music and modern music, both absent the Classical formalism and then the Romantic influences of the centuries in between.
Continuing the theme of loss and rebirth, in First Pink, composer Paul Fowler and poet Rosemary Wahtola Trimmer sing a piece of humanist wisdom about the unstoppable continuum of life: “In the loss/ is a branch/ with a brittle/ stem/ where an old/ fruit hangs/ rust-colored/ and dried/ beside/ a tight cluster/ of rose-tipped buds/ where something/ fragile/ and persistent/ is just/ beginning/ to open.”
David Lang returns with two segments from his the national anthems, Part I: “our land with peace” and Part IV: “keep us free.” Lang surveyed the anthems of countries around the world and found remarkable similarities, including much hackneyed language and kitschy, standard-issue rhetoric. Surely this should surprise no one.
“The text for Alex Berko’s Lincoln appears on the dedicatory inscription in the Lincoln Bay at the Washington National Cathedral,” reads the program note. The words are “ABRAHAM Lincoln/ whosE lonely soul/ God kindled/ is here remembered/ by a people/ theIR conflict healed/ by the truth/ that marches on.” Berko starts from the end, and the word “marches” becomes a threnody telling us that conflict is continuous and never completely “healed.” In repeated snippets of the inscription he proceeds backwards—and unless I’m mistaken, the name Abraham Lincoln is never even sung. It’s not about a single person or hero but all of us and our truth that we remember at each step of the way.
The last two items on the CD reflect Indigenous spirituality—the final number by Santa Ratniece, the longest on the album at 10 minutes, an evocation of Ainu prayer (the Ainu people live in the area surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk, including what are today northern Japan and parts of Russia). The penultimate chorus is another piece by Ēriks Ešenvalds, based on a North American Ute prayer. The arrangement includes the unearthly vibrations of a marimba. The shifting harmonies are heavily grounded by the bass voices, and frankly, the words are barely intelligible. But luckily the excellently produced program booklet contains all the lyrics for the benefit of listeners, and I think our readers will appreciate them:
Earth teach me quiet—as the grasses are still with light.
Earth teach me suffering—as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility—as blossoms are humble with the beginning.
Earth teach me caring—as mothers nurture their young.
Earth teach me courage—as the tree that stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation—as the ant that crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom—as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me acceptance—as the leaves that die each fall.
Earth teach me renewal—as the seed that rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself—as the melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness—as dry fields weep with rain.
— Eric A. Gordon, 11.08.2021