Saturday, August 17, 2013
Ted Hearne: art and politics in his "Katrina Ballads" (even a little bit of AC360)
Ted Hearne, one of a “gang” of young composers, won the 2009 International Gaudeamus Prize for composition for his 70-minute ensemble suite “Katrina Ballads” (his description here), available on a CD. You have to buy the CD to get all 12 movements; two of them are not offered on mp3 download.
The suite (or "song cycle"), almost a miniature oratorio, is performed by five vocal soloists and a 12-piece chamber orchestra conducted by the composer, recorded at Avatar Studios in Manhattan in 2008. The soloists are Abby Fischer (mezzo-soprano), who sings the Prologue; the composer Ted Hearne as tenor, who sings the eighth movement titled “Brownie, You’re Doing a Heck of a Job”, Isaiah Robinson, tenor, who sings “Kayne West”; and a duet of Soprano Allison Semmes and baritone Anthony Turner, who act as Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and CNN news anchor (AC360) Anderson Cooper, respectively.
The musical numbers track the approach of Hurricane Katrina, and the first belief that New Orleans had dodged a bullet. The Anderson Cooper interview is supposed to happen on September 1, 2005.
Some of the text refers to the spending on war overseas (Iraq) and unpreparedness to take care of people at home when there is a natural disaster. But that effort can be put in personal terms. Of course, it’s relevant to consider Spike Lee’s HBO film “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts”. Oprah Winfrey had visited the New Orleans Superdome, turned into a refugee center, and almost vomited when she saw the stench.
The music has a somewhat expressionist mix of jazz (especially with the winds), modal music, and occasional serialism, with a “Pierrot Lunaire” effect in a few places. Tempos are often relatively slow.
Hearne has composed other works with a political bent. On August 24, 2011 I discussed his piano suite “Parlor Diplomacy” as performed by Timo Andres, who whimsically called the performance “Parlour Timocracy” – all as if to make fun of the inability of a bickering, partisan Congress to act with a financial default staring it down.
I actually volunteered with the Red Cross in Falls Church VA for a while, manning phone centers, but about all we could do is direct callers to FEMA, where they faced telephone waits for hours. I visited New Orleans myself in February, 2006.