Meredith Monk’s voice in the wilderness

Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble (Musée du Louvre / Olivier Ouadah)

“I work in between the cracks, where the voice starts dancing, where the body starts singing, where theater becomes cinema.” That’s how avant-garde composer/singer Meredith Monk describes her own oeuvre – which was rather kind of her, considering that most other folks seem to have a tough time defining what she does.

Genre crossovers in the arts may seem like nothing new nowadays, but when Monk first hit the scene in the mid-‘60s, providing vocal counterpoints to the Minimalist composers who were just hitting their stride, what she was doing was groundbreaking. “Well before just about every choreographer on the planet declared their allegiance to multidisciplinary work, Meredith Monk was creating pieces that defied characterization in their use of song, speech, movement, film and images,” notes The New York Times.

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However one describes her wide-ranging work, there’s no question that it has made a huge impact on how we perceive the voice as an instrument and on how far composers are willing to push the envelope of composition itself. She has not only a MacArthur “genius grant” to attest to her influence on modern aesthetics, but also a slew of commissions by world-renowned classical ensembles, two Guggenheim Fellowships, three Obies for her theatrical works and five honorary doctorates. Since one of the latter was bestowed by Bard College, it’s only fitting that Meredith Monk should take the stage herself this weekend at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on the Bard campus with her Vocal Ensemble to perform a pair of Quartet Concerts showcasing Monk’s range as a composer and her pioneering exploration of the human voice.

Quartet Concert I, scheduled for 8 p.m. on Friday, November 9, will be performed by Theo Bleckmann on voice and piano; Katie Geissinger on voice; Bohdan Hilash on woodwinds; and Monk herself on voice and piano. The program includes multiple solo selections from Juice (1969), Songs from the Hill (1977) and Light Songs (1988); selections from Facing North (1990); Music for Voice and Piano, including Gotham Lullaby (1975), Travelling (1973) and last song (2004); and Music for Voice, Keyboard and Woodwinds, including Choosing Companions from ATLAS: an opera in three parts (1991), Waltz in 5s from The Politics of Quiet (1996), Scared Song (1986), clusters 3 from Songs of Ascension (2008), Panda Chant I and Memory Song from The Games (1984), masks from mercy (2001) and between song from impermanence (2004/2006).

Quarter Concert II, which begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 10, will be performed by Allison Sniffin on voice and piano; Katie Geissinger on voice; Bohdan Hilash on woodwinds; and Monk on voice and piano. The program features Music for Unaccompanied Voice, with selections from Juice (1969), Songs from the Hill (1977) and Light Songs (1988); Music for Voice and Piano, including Gotham Lullaby (1975), Travelling (1973) and Madwoman’s Vision (1988); and Music for Voice, Keyboard and Woodwinds, including Choosing Companions from ATLAS: an opera in three parts (1991), Hips Dance from Volcano Songs: Duets (1993), Prayer II from The Politics Of Quiet (1996), Scared Song (1986), epilogue and woman at the door from mercy (2001), clusters 3 from Songs of Ascension (2008), Panda Chant I and Memory Song from The Games (1984), masks from mercy (2001) and between song from impermanence (2004/2006).

This weekend’s performances at Bard by Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble are presented by New Albion Records and the House Foundation for the Arts. Ticket prices range from $15 to $45. For more information about the concerts, contact the box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit https://fishercenter.bard.edu.

Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble in concert, Friday & Saturday, November 9/10, 8 p.m., $45/$35/$25/$15, Fisher Center, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-7900, https://fishercenter.bard.edu.

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