The 15th annual Present
Music Thanksgiving concert took place on Sunday at the Cathedral of St. John
the Evangelist, Milwaukee’s most elegant public space. The Bucks Native
American Singing and Drumming Group once again began and ended the concert in
A commission to
honor the 35th season of Present Music, Robert Honstein’s Book of Hours was derived from
artist Laura Grey’s reimagining of a medieval book of hours, used for daily
devotion. The excellent eight-member Hearing Voices Ensemble performed with a chamber ensemble, conducted by Kevin Stalheim.
Short texts were contemplated in settings that are simultaneously peaceful and restless,
pondering the ever-present and always-changing now.
takes patterns of repetition and artfully layers
them; the result is often quite beautiful. The six-movement piece concludes with the men singing “Tomorrow,
and tomorrow, and tomorrow.” On top of this the women sing “Timor mortis
conturbat me” (Fear of death confounds me), creating a profoundly moving combination of hope and dread of the inevitable fate
of all humans. As the sound accumulated and soared I couldn’t have been the
only one there moved to tears.
restorative to hear the refined young voices of Arrowhead High School Broadway
Company in Caroline Shaw’s Fly Away I. Calm and
gentle music was heard in movements from Henry Brant’s Mass in
Gregorian Chant, played in a low and warm range by about 20 flute players
scattered around the room.
Stalheim’s Ives Mash Up used one of
Charles Ives’s best art songs, “The Things Our Fathers Loved,” as its basis,
interrupting it with sections of Variations on America for organ, and
nostalgic American songs sung against one other, like two or three radio
stations heard at once. The organized chaos of
Americana captured my feelings about the country at the moment.
sing-along of “America the Beautiful” was my first experience of anything
patriotic since the election. The words choked in my throat. If Thanksgiving is
about gratitude, I’m grateful for this concert, which
was a soothing balm in a surreal time of what feels like shifting sand.