September 12, 2011

Portara Ensemble @ Indeterminacies September 13

The Indeterminacies series at Zeitgeist Gallery kicks off the fall season tomorrow night with David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Little Match Girl Passion” performed by Nashville’s own Portara Ensemble. Based on the famous Hans Christian Andersen story, Lang intersperses texts from H.P. Paull, Picander and the Gospel of Saint Matthew to compose an allegorical “Passion of Jesus.” In his liner notes to the Harmonia Mundi recording, Lang writes:

I wanted to tell a story. A particular story, in fact: the story of The Little Match Girl, by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The original is ostensibly for children, and it has that shocking combination of danger and morality that many famous children’s stories do. A poor young girl, whose father beats her, tries unsuccessfully to sell matches on the street, is ignored, and freezes to death. Through it all she somehow retains her Christian purity of spirit, but it is not a pretty story….What has always interested me, however, is that Andersen tells this story as a kind of parable, drawing a religious and moral equivalency between suffering of the poor girl and the suffering of Jesus. The girl suffers, is scorned by the crowd, dies and is transfigured. I started wondering what secrets could be unlocked from this story is one took its Christian nature to its conclusion and unfolded it, as Christian composers have done in musical settings of the Passion of Jesus…The Passion format—the telling of a story while simultaneously commenting upon it—has the effect of placing us in the middle of the action, and it gives the narrative and powerful inevitability.

Scored for mixed voices accompanying themselves on simple percussion, the thirty-five minute work is elegantly beautiful—and emotionally devastating. Tim Page, a juror on the 2008 Pulitzer Prize committee, said about the piece: “I don’t think I’ve ever been so moved by a new, and largely unheralded, composition as I was by David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion, which is unlike any music I know” (Id.). This is a rare opportunity to hear a modern masterpiece—and participate in a discussion led by John Pitcher from ArtNowNashville. Don’t miss it! Zeitgeist Gallery is located at 1819 21st Avenue South, in Hillsboro Village, Nashville and the program begins at 6:00pm.

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