Rebecca Young (viola) and Colin Williams (trombone) walk to centre stage and —mics in hand— deliver a warm welcome to the audience of the new David Geffen Hall. The warmth of the greeting, the intimacy of the orchestral musicians breaking the fourth wall (as it were) is indicative of a closeness that the renovated space has so thoughtfully realised. Everything seems closer: the orchestra, the sounds, the humans. Just as the ‘firefly’ chandeliers have twinkled and risen into the ceiling of the hall, so too the opening Debussy sparkles as Jaap van Zweden points the swells skywards. The gentle ‘ping’ of percussion cuts through the wistful flutes as if crystal champagne flutes toasting the triumph of the new acoustic. Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune exudes a certain sensuality and its position at the opening of the concert certainly creates space, warmth and mood for what’s to come.

Eight microphones and their eight music stand companions herald the arrival of the ever-enterprising Roomful of Teeth and the eagerly anticipated Caroline Shaw commission around which the rest of the evening’s music pivots. Continuing the evening’s theme of making the sometimes invisible visible, the composer themselves is not tucked away in the shadows; when the vocal ensemble take the stake Shaw is third from the left, ready to contribute her voice to the blend. To mention that movement one is called [deep breath] ‘A filament of rust threaded through the pixelated chord structure of an old-growth forest’ [and exhale] is to nod at the freedom and play that Caroline brings to composition. The first sounds are complete with some familiar Roomful of Teeth/Shaw-isms. Clashing vocal lines, noises summoned from unusual, guttural places as light backing orchestration cracks the spine of this newly-bound publication.

Inspired by the Twitter micro fictions (stories told in a single tweet) of T.R. Darling, Microfictions, Vol. 3 seems well-calibrated for anyone who has enjoyed the sweet dopamine hit of a romp around social media. As voices ascend, Roomful of Teeth sway and exchange smiles, almost as if offering live emoji reactions to the fun of it all — this is enjoyable! Let’s have some fun! The chattering and chugging in movement three once again prompts the vocalists to exchange pleasure-filled glances, delighted at their own sounds and creating an atmosphere of irresistible enthusiasm for what it is to make music in a live setting. By the time that the first discernible ‘lyrics’ rise to the surface, it is the words ‘ever and ever’, another playful nod to narrative tropes that signal the conclusion is near. And the finale? Audience members moved to elevated applause as Caroline completes her hero’s journey, replacing Jaap on the podium so she might take her applause from the most elevated position available (as she should).

Florence Price’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor closes the evening’s proceedings complete with drum rolls, themes from ‘Wade in the Water’, tapping audience toes and a galloping close to Scherzo. This is thoughtful programming: measured, enjoyable, accessible, diverse, inviting. If the intention of the Home series is to leave audiences wanting more then the team at the NY Phil appear to be nailing their brief. And as for the new commission? Both epic and pocket-sized — what more could you want from a Shaw(rt) story?

This concert was part of Project 19: a series featuring commissions by Tania León, Caroline Shaw, Angélica Negrón, and Anna Thorvaldsdottir. Find out more about the 2022-23 featured commissions here. Photo credit — Chris Lee.

The Prickle - About transp