On Moonstrike, Apollo Chamber Players mixes folk and contemporary influences
Creating a scrapbook juxtaposed with fantasy and contemplation while gazing at the moon is not something many can do thoughtfully. Yet Apollo Chamber Players has done just that in its latest release, Lunar Strike. Released September 2, 2022 on Azica Records, this excellent album is a representation of how the natural world remains relevant. The album features works by Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, Jennifer Higdon and Pierre Jalbert, all of which were commissioned as part of the Apollo Chamber Players 20×20 commissioning project.
Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate’s Lunar Strike is the inspiration for the entire album and features narrator John Herrington, the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to enter space 20 years ago. The eight-movement work tells the story of three Native American legends through arrangements of traditional Native American songs and original music by Tate. Tate’s composition beautifully portrays elements of the story that are fun to hear and would probably be even more exciting to experience during a live performance. In the first caption, “Origin of the Moon”, Herrington describes eight young boys stealing the moon from the animals referenced in the story. The sounds of the boys rolling the moon down the hill through dangerous terrain are brought to life by carefully descending and ascending melodic gestures through the instruments.
“The Man Who Married the Moon” is filled with a range of emotions that are beautifully encapsulated by the Apollo Chamber Players’ stellar performance. The most melancholy moments of the story rely on a longer and slower rhythm brought by the viola and the cello. The emotions of grief and longing require players to think carefully about the extent to which they are able to exhibit their feelings as a whole.
“Raven Steals the Moon” tells the story of a bird we often talk about: the raven. In this movement, the ”CAW! CAW! CAW!” sounds intended to mimic crows increase the intensity of the story as it reaches its climax. Evocative of fewer traditional folksong elements, “Raven Steals the Moon” swings between moments of excitement with very active fast moves in the upper strings and slower, more meditative moments in the full set.Like many other pieces intended for set and storytelling, these stories effectively intrigue and engage curiosity and attention of listeners of all ages.
Apollo Chamber Players opens the album with Jennifer Higdon’s In the shadow of the mountain. Higdon uses his opera cold mountain as the inspiration and basis for the folk sounds created in this piece. In the shadow of the mountain opens in a rather disorienting and unsettling way, but as the piece progresses, one begins to hear Higdon’s call to the mountains as the tempo and meter quicken. The mood of the room often resembles the various environmental forces found in Appalachia: sometimes arid and dry, but mostly humid and warm. In the shadow of the mountain captures something that is so important in folk music that is almost indescribable – a sense of something distant, yet surprisingly familiar.
by Pierre Jalbert The Spirit of the North complete this record. French-Canadian folksongs are the raw material for much of the three movements. Lisette’s song is a beautifully staged theme and variations featuring the first violin, while hymn opens in stark contrast as a 1940s field recording of someone singing is doubled over the top of the string quartet. A ‘Passion’ song and The pilgrims — two religious folk songs — are contained in this movement, and Jalbert uses call and response, a form of composition widely used in sacred contexts. The extra-musical material played at the beginning of fiddle dance, the piece’s third and final movement, is another 1940s recording of a harmonica and spoons. Jalbert’s dance plays heavily on elements of traditional folk music, including the repeated use of thematic material and percussive percussion to mimic the feet of people dancing.
Chickasaw artist Dustin Illetewahke Mater used the memory of his Muskogean ancestors to create the beautiful album cover of a moon striking in the night amid mountains and water. Lunar Strike is a decidedly folk album that demonstrates the many elements that contemporary composers can draw from different genres. This album is both celebratory and revelatory: the celebration is done through the stories of how the moon is more than a rock-like object that comes out at night and recedes when the sun rises. The revelation is that the moon is something we all witness, sometimes without even realizing it.
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