For all of the tragedy and trouble the pandemic has brought into our lives, it did present us with at least one gift — the opportunity to live an examined life. Pressing the pause button allowed us to review our values and, in many cases, change directions.
Poetry, an art form that's all about the examined life, asks us to pay attention to the experiences of others through words that distill events, emotions and ideas to their essence. And poetry sometimes comes to us through song.
That's the focus of the ninth Source Song Festival in downtown Minneapolis. It's a weeklong gathering that always has been about the creation and performance of art song, but this year has a special focus on bringing composers, poets and performers together to give birth to inspiring new pieces of music.
Monday night's festival-opening concert at the acoustically sublime Westminster Hall was an ideal example of what Source is all about, as six women expressively gave voice to the words of six poets. The composers represented were all Minnesotans, and most rose to talk about how the works were created, as did the most adapted of the concert's poets.
The result was a deeply involving confluence of the literary and musical arts, a chance to find touchstones of common experience and enlightening glimpses into the lives and hearts of others through the intimate medium of a single voice with a pianist.
While many events open with a land acknowledgment asking audiences to think about the history of where they sit and its ties to Indigenous tribes, Monday did so without words. Composer Brent Michael Davids combined the "vocables" of traditional Indigenous song with classical form on "Spirit Woman Song," which became a fascinating stylistic hybrid in the hands of mezzo-soprano KrisAnne Weiss.
The evening's most compelling poetry arrived in Reinaldo Moya's "DREAM Songs," an adaptation of four poems by writers in the process of immigrating to the U.S. The emotional power of Javier Zamora's "How I Learned to Walk" and Wo Chan's "Such As" was greatly enhanced by Moya's music, although mezzo-soprano Victoria Vargas could have softened her approach to draw the audience closer to these tales of displacement and disconnection.
The poet at the concert's center was Morris, Minn.-based Athena Kildegaard, who was both commissioner and commissioned. Linda Kachelmeier's "I Give Voice to My Mother" was the highlight of the evening, as four singers traded songs that the composer had created from Kildegaard's poetry. Opening and closing with soft, simple benedictions from festival co-founder Clara Osowski — whose voice I would have loved to have heard more — the cycle was at its most touching on soprano Maria Jette's interpretation of "A Healing" and Weiss' chronicle of a mother's death, "Cadence."
The concert also served as a fine reintroduction to the artistry of composer and soprano Shruthi Rajasekar, who commissioned poetry from Kildegaard for her senior recital at Princeton University — expertly interpreted by Tracey Engelman — then sang her own Henry David Thoreau adaptation, "For a Walk." Rajasekar served up a reminder that singer/composers often have a special talent for giving voice to a poet's words.
Source Song Festival
What and when: Premieres of eight composers' settings of the poetry of Mary Moore Easter, 7:30 p.m. Wed.; a recital by tenor David Portillo and pianist Warren Jones, 7:30 p.m. Thu.; MNDuo singers and pianists perform, 6 p.m. Fri.; MNSong composers' showcase, 7:30 p.m. Fri.
Where: Westminster Hall, 12th Street and Nicollet Mall, Mpls.
Tickets: free-$25, available at sourcesongfestival.org.
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. Reach him at email@example.com.