Cary Ratcliff’s sweeping oratorio ‘Ode to Common Things’ proved to be the hit — a captivating, charming ride.
Collaborations between two of Austin’s major classical groups are always rewarding. That this one featured contemporary repertoire — not so typical for ASO — was decidedly refreshing....
The Rochester-based Ratcliff set music to poems by Chilean writer Pablo Neruda who, throughout the course of his life, devoted four volumes to odes to ordinary, everyday objects. Ratcliff selected five, keeping the text in the original Spanish.
Percussionists and harpist stayed busy with the shifting rhythms. Two pianos and a synthesizer (which added echoing sounds and Dopple shifts) gave the music dimension.
Starting with the percussive ‘Ode to Things,’ Ratcliff’s score rapidly shape-shifted through many moods yet the fury never overwhelmed. There was pleasure in the racket Ratcliff created — the almost 100 voices of Conspirare generating the rhythm with the textures of short consonants and open vowel sounds of Spanish.
The musical, and emotional, dimension grew deeper with ‘Ode to the Bed’ before the reflective ‘Ode to the Guitar.’
Among the trio of vocal soloists, mezzo-soprano Dana Beth Miller impressed in ‘Ode to the Guitar’ particularly in the almost edgy duet with acoustic guitar which echoed the darker, thoughtful tonal colors and complex harmonies.
The mood shifted again with ‘Ode to Scissors,’ a gentle parody of sorts of Orff’s over-played Carmina Burina. Syncopations ruled here, rhythms snipped along.
The final ‘Ode to Bread’ was as much urgent as hymnal, a reminder of our connection to the universal life of the everyday.
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Austin American-Statesman, 23/11/2009