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Metamorphosis of a Fairy-Tale

New York
Crypt of the Church of the Intercession
12/11/2019 -  
Hannah Lash: Music for Eight Lungs – The Shepherdess And The Chimney Sweep (New York Premiere)
Hannah Lash (Harp), Loadbang: Andrian Sandi (Clarinet), Andy Kozar (Trumpet), William Lang (Trombone), Jeffrey Gavett (Baritone)
Luke Leonard (Director), American Opera Project (Producer)

H. Lash (© Samuel A. Dog)

The whole world is a series of miracles, but we're so used to them we call them ordinary things. For the most wonderful fairy tale is life.
Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)

Hannah Lash is not a household name, except as a professor in Yale Music School–and to us New York scribblers who wait in breathless anticipation for her next offering. Like Caroline Shaw, Ms. Lash is young, they are both performers as well as composers (the former violin and vocals, the latter harp and dance), and neither composer can be put into a box.

Ms. Lash doesn’t imitate, but she can transform. I heard her once transforming a Copland tune when she wrote a tribute to his upstate house. And transform a kind of echt-19th Century violin cadenza into her own language. As well as composer of a concerto for her harp, offering dazzling new concepts to her instrument of choice.

Last night, she joined Loadbang, the uncommon ensemble of clarinet, trumpet, trombone and baritone, with whom she frequently collaborates. In fact, the initial work last night was Loadbang sans harp, called Music for Eight Lungs. Granted, I heard only Loadbang’s quartet of lungs. But with Ms. Lash, who’s counting?

The non-vocal trio started with a series of transformations again, this with slow downward plunges, obviously laments, to which was added the equally lament-filled voice of baritone Jeffrey Gavett. At first, his sounds were wordless, then as his voice ascended, the sounds became...well, almost words. Yet were they words or tones? Or a combination? I stopped wondering as his baritone became tenor and almost counter-tenor, as he rose from the ashes, as the trio performed contrapuntal hijinks, as we had a dispute of meanings until the end.

That was short and intriguing. The major work down in the crypt of the Church of the Intercession, was her own sort-of operatic setting from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Shepherdess and the Chimney-sweep.

Neither character was real. They were bits of crockery, played by harpist Lash and baritone Gavett. (Disney’s animated crockery from Alice in Wonderland could have come from this.)

A. Kozar, A. Sandi, W. Lang, H. Lash, J. Gavett (© Samuel A. Dog)

Add to this the Loadbang instrumental trio. Trumpet and bass clarinet Andy Kozar and Adrian Sandi sat and moved together (again, like Disney’s Tweeledum and Tweedledee) as the Goat-Legged Satyr. They performed, repeating the introductory motives, they spoke (they also loved the Shepherdess), they called on the “old man” sitting alone.

This, William Lang’s trombone, was the Grandfather who had to give consent to a betrothal. He didn’t speak but the splats, splurts and final trombone song was enough. In fact, enough that the title characters got up and danced and sung. Mr. Gavett sung of his love, Ms. Lash did some ballet exercises. And then...

Well then the poor Chinaware shepherdess went back to her harp, he went back to his imploring. Until a revelation, until an understanding.

The chamber opera was again a magical act of permutation for Hannah Lash. In effect, she transformed a rondo form with a repeated theme into a dramatic line. She changed characters into crockery (via H.C. Andersen), crockery into musicians, musicians into actors, and she from composer to clay shepherdess to harpist to ballerina.

Behind this is a moral fixture of almost Stephen Hawkings scope, about the universe and vastness and love and reality. Yet that was secondary to the invention and re-invention of music and role-playing and fairy-tale as opera.

A cogent opera, which seemed far shorter than its 45 minutes. No, this wasn’t memorable music 19th Century style, or great drama Wozzeck style or even great opera Hans Christian Andersen style like, say, Dvorák’s Rusalka. Instead, it was another piece in the Hannah Lash picture of the world. A world which she attempts to re-imagination with invention and evident joy.

Harry Rolnick



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