Resounding Love for Love Resounding: The ARK Trio Shines at Symphony Space

The ARK Trio (soprano Allison Charney, cellist Kajsa William-Olsson and pianist Reiko Uchida) had an auspicious debut presenting six world premieres of new classical compositions in front of a surprisingly packed and enthusiastic audience at Symphony Space's Leonard Nimoy Thalia this past Valentine's Day.

In a city where even the most revered classical music institutions offer new works in relatively small doses, this intrepid program, "Love Resounding" was noteworthy entirely because it presented a complete program of new classical works, inspired by the trio's unique sound. As explained from the stage, the combination of soprano, cello and piano is so unusual that the trio members quickly realized the paucity of works in the classical canon available for their use. Driven by necessity, the ARK trio commissioned six new works from composers Michael Ching, Dina Pruzhansky, Moshe Knoll and Kim D. Sherman. In their inaugural concert the ARK trio operated with seamless integration, blending, supporting and complimenting each other. Unlike many concerts featuring vocal music, where the lights are kept on low so the audience can follow the text in their program, and distractions abound by the constant turning of pages - this was happily not the case. The moment the house lights darkened, the audience was ushered into the world created by the clear and rapturous performances of this music written specifically for the trio. Of note, Ms. Charney's gift of clarity in both language and dramatic intention obliterated any need to refer to the text on the page, even when the text was not in English.

Michael Ching's "Arrangements and Derangements: Interpretations of Schubert" delivered five of Schubert's lieder to the audience in a new form, relying on Ms. Charney's expert diction and expressivenes in delivering songs to a 21st century American audience based on German texts by 19th century poets, a contradiction that clearly fascinates Mr. Ching. The set was alternatively spiky, moving, engaging and, in the case of "DIE Forelle" genuinely humorous, particularly as delivered with perfect comic timing by Charney. Ms. Uchida played the piano accompaniments - unchanged from the Schubert - with unusual clarity, sensitivity and color.

The musical language of the program took a turn to the contemporary with Dina Pruzhansky's "On Love and Land". This setting of three love letters had a lush, cinematic effect, movingly evoking the stirrings of love found and the painful ache of love lost, brought to visceral life by Ms. Charney's emotional interpretation of voice two distinct characters.

The first half of this ambitious program concluded with Moshe Knoll's showstopping cantata, "Simplicity." This setting of texts by Henry David Thoreau is a musical study of transcendental timelessness. "Simplicity" masterfully shifts musical techniques from eras of the baroque, classical, romantic (as well as jazz-pop) in an ever-changing meter that leaves the audience with no sense of time or space. Knoll's mercurial composition, equally reminiscent of both Bach and Phillip Glass, particularly underscored pianist Ms. Uchida's exquisite playing of the composer's florid, soloistic passages with seamless skill and great beauty. The opening cello solo was delivered with rich sensitivity by Ms. William-Olsson, and Ms. Charney's pliant voice soared throughout. One couldn't help but notice how timely Thoreau's commentary is in our contemporary social/political climate.

The second half of the program was devoted to three works by American composer, Kim D. Sherman. Her epic "Laodamiad: A Mythic Journey" for solo cello was a stunning tour de force for Ms. William-Olsson whose performance was captivating. Ms. Sherman brought a new voice to the yearning, contemplative and strong voice of the cello, asking Ms. William-Olsson to make music not just on the strings but all over the body of her instrument, creating sounds this listener has never before heard. Sherman's "Wedding Song" is a masterpiece of mood painting, and Ms. Charney's evocative interpretation was both romantic and heartbreaking in its simplicity and beauty. The program closed with Ms. Sherman's song cycle, "A Prairie Diary" - an homage to the hardships and triumphs of the American pioneer. Based on the writings of Willa Cather and American playwright Darrah Cloud, the texts take us through a journey of immeasurable struggle that through grit and perseverance ends finally with deep and abiding love, a perfect end to a Valentine's Evening.

With Symphony Space's growing reputation for new classical music one definitely left the Leonard Thalia hoping for the next opportunity to hear the ARK Trio.

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