The Nederlands Kamerkoor the Amsterdam Dance Event: not exactly a combination where you shout ‘but of course!’ Esther is the name of the multidisciplinary performance with which the choir wants to pay tribute to women. The evening was indeed planned out on the stage of the Amsterdam Muziekgebouw, from conductor to eight singers.
Women only? No, tenors and basses participated. And the choral music also came from a man, the American David Lang. You could call that a break in style. Or, if you’re a bit more involved in the identity debate, a mistake. On the other hand, Lang came up with a European premiere. And that he creates the least intimidating and poisonous choral sounds you can imagine.
He wrote when i’m quiet (2019) commissioned by the Chamber Choir and New York’s Carnegie Hall. Typically Long, as it turned out. He is a specialist in soft, vibrationless voices that always seem to form such a peaceful landscape together. His premiere piece, part five in the complete cycle the writings, reflects on the Bible book Esther.
As a prelude, the Dutch slam poet Lisette Ma Neza summarized the story. To mild presentations of the Jewish Esther, husbands of a Persian king, who managed to prevent the extermination of her people. Ma Nezarecht nets it out wide. The name Hitler fell, as did the phrase ‘now I’m standing here on Dam Square, I can’t breathe anymore’.
David Lang’s new piece started with fits and starts. Song, silence, song, silence: even someone muster the courage to stop being silent. The Slovenian conductor Martina Batic delicately stacked the sixteen choral voices on top of each other. After a passage with gospel-like pre- and post-songs, the music evaporated into a short, liberating soprano solo.
Meanwhile, Niaya Jones danced on a screen overhead. The African-American imagined through the hip-hop form krumping her experience with gang and police brutality. In the video by filmmaker Miriam Kruishoop, she danced extremely slowly against a snow-white background. Singing and dancing remained islands, as did the interludes of the Iranian-British turntable artist Shiva Feshareki. She mixed electronic growl with manipulated chorus and an excess of echoes. She invariably followed the same course: from soft and simple to hard and layered and back.
The Nederlands Kamerkoor ticked the boxes for diversity and inclusion in an exemplary manner. striking how many under 40s continue Esther sitting locks. Now only to find a form that adds up to overwhelming Gesamtkunst.
By the Nederlands Kamerkoor conducted by Martina Batic.
13/10, Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam. Tour until 24/10.