SHOCK OF THE NEW
Kristin Kuster’s Myrrha, a setting of texts from Ovid for three amplified sopranos, male chorus and orchestra, unquestionably demonstrated the composer’s expertise in crafting unique timbres. Here, my hesitancy to declare full apprehension had more to do with the specific ways in which she set her texts. The rippling harp and luscious bass clarinet figures behind the word “noctis” (“night”) seemed fitting, as did the resounding booms that punctuated the repeated appearances of “Me miseram” (“I am wretched”). The sopranos bent their notes like a folk choir under succulent lines translated as, “The golden moon flies from the heavens, and black clouds cover the hiding stars, and Night has not lost her fires.” But the burbling conga drum and rhumba intimations that percolated behind the lyric in which Myrrha is transformed into a tree gave me pause — while incidentally making me think of similarly jarring juxtapositions of word and sound in Osvaldo Golijov’s works — and the rhythmic ferocity with which Kuster set lines that described bent branches and falling tears were disorienting in much the same way. Still, even at 15 minutes in length, this felt like a piece one might fruitfully spend much more time getting to know. And despite my seeming ambivalence, I will add that in the end, Kuster’s compositional ingenuity outweighed my questions with regard to its deployment. Judith Clurman’s well-drilled chorus did outstanding work, and the piece received a rousing response, well deserved.
– Steve Smith, Night After Night, 5 May 2006