Christopher Stark

Kate Whitley: I Am I Say

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The children's choral work I Am I Say, by the young British composer Kate Whitley, gets top billing here. It's an attractive work in the great English tradition of music for young choristers, with a text by Sabrina Mahfouz and, notably, the singers themselves. And the performance, by what could easily have been an unwieldy group of massed school choirs, is clean and affecting. I Am I Say comes last on the program, though, and the music that comes before is considerably different in style. It's a good deal less tonal (although there is usually a tonal center) and generally edgier in feeling, with sharp planes of sound that intersect and strain the capabilities of the instruments involved without, for the most part, going into the realm of extended technique. The exception here is the first of the Three Pieces for violin and piano, where the pianist creates a fascinating counterpoint with the plucked violin by using one hand as a damper. Sample this movement for an idea of Whitley's style in these instrumental pieces, cleanly structured yet knotty and expressive in effect. Whitley herself plays the piano in that work and seemingly has a close connection to all the other music on the program; the Viola Concerto, you learn from the booklet, was rejected by a performing organization, whereupon Whitley organized a performance on her own. Here it is performed by the composer's Multi-Story Orchestra, a group that has performed in parking structures to try to get away from the traditional concert hall experience. There's an X factor involving commitment here, and Whitley's music is both accessible and rigorous. She is a promising new voice on the British scene.

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