New York — Music Concert With Film, Performed by Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble. It's hard to label Meredith Monk, but here are some tags that would certainly fit: singer, composer, pianist, dancer, choreographer, director, filmmaker.
All these talents were on display during her latest show, a "Music Concert With Film" that recently played two weeks in the Space at City Center. For those not fortunate enough to be there, most of the contents will soon be available on a new album, "Dolmen Music," to be released in August on ECM Records.It will be a major event for Monk fans everywhere.
The concert began with three solos for voice and piano (dating from 1972-73) that will be included on the forthcoming disc. Here the monk singing style was allowed to shine on its own -- an utterly unique sound based on a bold mixture of dramatic expression, sheer vocal strength, and compositional elements ranging from folksong to birdsong.
The effect can be dizzying, with its enormous leaps from cozy coloratura to keening wails, hollers, and sighs, all in a vordless vocalise that further enhances the exotic atmosphere. Apparently in a gentle mood, though, Miss Monk chose friendly selections -- a lullaby, a children's song, a condensed version of a long set-piece from her jaunty theatrical extravaganza "Education of the Girlchild." Thus the evening began with a mellowness that's a far cry from, say, the sharp sonic assault in the first grooves of the Monk album "Key."
Next on the bill was a short film interlude, from the 1976 "quarry" -- a wonderful little movie in which an immense rockpile comes alive with a mysterious swarm of human visitors. Then music returned with the premiere of a new waltz called "Turtle dreams." Three other singers joined Miss Monk, carefully complementing her own strong sounds to the accompaniment of two electric organs, and joined at the climax by a wordless woman in spanking white pinafore who danced silently -- and amusingly and unsettlingly -- across the stage in eccentric counterppoint to the simple, shuffling choreography of the singers.
After another film -- a dour excerpt about immigrants, from the movie-in-progress "Ellis Island" -- the evening concluded with the 1979 "Dolmen Music," a stunning composition for six singers, cello, and percussion. Grouped in a semicircle, the musicians epitomized the enormously emotional implications of monk's work, moving from full-voiced fortissimos to various couplings and triplings that added dramatic and even visual impact to a piece that I'd never dare define as either "absolute" or "program" composition. Elusive yet razor clear every moment, it summed up what Monk's chameleonlike art is all about: a cry from the heart refined by a busy intellect and expressed with shivering immediacy.
It was a dense and delightful evening at the Space, and I look forward to the renewed availability of its high points when the next monk album is released. Meanwhile, she is now developing "Specimen Days: a Civil War Opera," due for a November premiere in New York, to be performed by members of her troupe, the House. Active days on the Meredith Monk front, which is good new s for all of us.