Karchin’s musical language is wildly inventive, and his orchestrations vivid and deft….evocative orchestral passages that captured the novel’s repressed romantic passion. The singers rose to the opera’s challenges with blazing talent and commitment. Jennifer Zetlan’s performance in the title role was nothing short of heroic. Her Jane was plucky, innocent, and appealingly self-aware….tenor Ryan MacPherson made a handsome, elegant Rochester, singing with brilliant bright tone…
The opera is paced engagingly and, like Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti fragments having been quoted earlier), it builds to a stormy Act 2 climax in which an intruder interrupts a wedding ceremony…..[The] final duet came off as a high point, a soaring piece that put a four-note motif through churning modulatory progressions before reaching a serene sustained chord to end the opera in a Wagnerian manner. This was just one element of Karchin’s richly eclectic style….Karchin, a New York University professor whom Andrew Porter called a “composer of fearless eloquence,” proved himself a master of his craft. Keenly directed by Kristine McIntyre.
Karchin’s Jane Eyre is an old-fashioned opera, bold in its aim, unblushing about opera’s traditions. He tells the story through the orchestra, as much as the singers, with their words…. The librettist, too, deserves a bow. She has performed a feat of compression. The opera begins when the story gets wild and woolly. [Diane] Osen’s libretto is filled with interesting couplets. The composer, and the librettist, and the stage director—and the novelist Charlotte Bronte—had me the whole way. The end is moving, as Jane returns to Rochester, in his wrecked physical state. I thought, ‘This opera in its warmth, beauty, and goodness, is brave.’
Crucial arias and scenes build to glittering radiance….big arias that end with flourishes and invite applause….The cast members gave their all, especially Ryan MacPherson as Rochester and Thomas Meglioranza as St. John Rivers, a minister who appears later in the story. Sara Jobin conducted a colorful, bristling account of the score.
There were striking ensembles, as when Zetlan and MacPherson sang with soprano Kimberly Giordano, as Mrs. Fairfax, his housekeeper, and mezzo soprano Jessica Best, as Bessie, to close Act One…. Kudos go to director Kristine McIntrye and designers Luke Cantarella, Burke Brown and Rachel Townsend.
Louis Karchin (b1951) arrives on Bridge Records with a rich harvest of evocative vocal music written between 1992 and 2012. Philadelphia-born Karchin… has an easy way with a comprehensive range of musical materials, shifting seamlessly between speeds and creating absorbing narratives both dramatic and intimate.
“Karchin’s music is closely attuned to the content of the texts, and the texts he chooses, for the two big works are complex and challenging: Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s aggressive “Who are you, Grand Canyon?” and two of the American poet Dana Gioia’s most powerful lyrics. The music itself, of course, provides compelling, alternative ways of understanding what the poets were trying to say.
“Robert Carl’s booklet notes underline the importance of composers recording their own music. Baritone Thomas Meglioranza has the lion’s share of the vocal work and sings with eloquent passion and command.
A new CD of vocal music by Louis Karchin introduced me to this American composer who was born in Philadelphia, in 1951, and studied at the Eastman School of Music and Harvard. What caught my eye, before my ear, was his setting of two major poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Who are you, Grand Canyon, and Requiem for Challenger. (Dmitri Shostakovich set Yevtushenko poems in his vocal Symphony No.13 ‘Babi Yar,’ a work that instantly aroused high controversy in the Soviet Union for its depiction of the slaughter of Ukrainen Jews on the edge of the Kiev by Nazis and local collaborations.) While Karchin’s reputation lies largely with his lyrical vocal music, including operas, Grand Canyon is told in bold declamation, its vocal line for baritone often quite angular recitative. The orchestral score that supports it is vividly colorful, powerfully energized and shrewdly crafted for wide-angle effect. Yevtushenko was plainly bowled over by that astonishing sight, ‘the miracle of its beauty.’ He imputed to it all sorts of metaphorical allusions, Old Testament, circle of Dante’s hell, Noah’s ark, the Huns, Aztecs, Incas, the pyramids, the Kremlin, Ivan the terrible, the battleship Potemkin, Sputnik, Che Guevavra, and even a description of a blind teenage girl fearlessly making the long trek from the rim to the Colorado River. The musical score mirrors the vivid images like a tone poem.
“Requiem honors those ‘seven evaporated souls’ of the space-shuttle Challenger disaster, ‘the white tragic swan of farewell explosion.’ Again, he paints the images through grandly exalted allusions. In both cases, Thomas Meglioranza articulates the narrative clearly; no need for subtitles to get his message. The Orchestra of the League of Composers is conducted by the composer.
“Soprano Mary Mackenzie and pianist Eric Sedgwick in To the Sun and Ekmeles (a cappella choir) in To the Stars, both based on anonymous ancient texts, further polish Karchin’s art. The Da Capo Chamber Players support Meglioranza in The Gods of Winter, text by Dana Gioia, while Sharon Harms completes the program with A Way Separate…, poetry by Ruth Whitman and Hannah Senesh. Karchin garbs all these pieces in splendid instrumental and often spooky beauty. Highly recommended.
The music….seemed to unfurl in a ceaseless strand of gentle lyricism, filled with timbral variety and punctuated by passages of puckish humor that deftly mirrored the stage action…..The briskly-paced comedy fell a few minutes short of an hour. I would have happily stayed to hear it performed again.
Karchin’s instrumental palette is rich, varied and often stunning. The emotion that Karchin’s orchestration and instrumental effects produce, whether they be audiophile drums grabbing centre stage or chimes describing the more esoteric aspects of the dramatic argument, gives rise to moments of striking beauty and visceral excitement that inform and colour the opera….. Katrina Thurman soars, exclaims and declaims as necessary. Hers is a remarkably vibrant voice.
Romulus exudes bright humour. Comic opera has rather languished lately, not least because so much modern music appears purpose-built to banish humour. In Romulus, though, Philadelphia-born composer Louis Karchin sets a genial vignette by Alexandre Dumas, père. His music, though modernistic in jagged rhythms and free-ranging tonality, is bright, and he aims for a Straussian flowing line….it’s fun, with excellent young performers, and distinctly promising.
Karchin states that he has tried to emulate the effortless, seamless flow of Richard Strauss and Wagner. He succeeds admirably…. The melodies are memorable, those “take-home” kind of tunes so obviously missing from contemporary opera. It’s a gem of an opera and a gem of a performance.
Romulus….announces its originality right out of the gate with its short, whimsical instrumental introduction and sustains it through to the very end of its seventy-two minute running time…… The music is unfailingly fresh and chromatically adventurous; its dissonances are playful and ear-catching…..
It was a real triumph on stage, and it’s an unmitigated pleasure to revisit it here on recording.
Karchin’s music is distinguished by harmonic clarity, and is enhanced by a truly glittering orchestration, which gets great variety and sonority from an 11-piece chamber orchestra. It sparkles, but it never gets precious in its beauty. The music crackles along, and the text setting always seems appropriate to the quickly changing action. It’s an interpretive approach that reflects a close, moment-to-moment reading of the thoughts and emotions of the characters. It is also quite wonderful, vocally…. The performance (conducted by the composer) radiates wit and energy, both vocally and instrumentally. Bravo to all involved. (Critics pick: Best of 2011)
In Louis Karchin's Chamber Symphony.... continuously reconfigured textures, dynamics and timbres wove spells so magical that debates about harmonic language were beside the point.
While composing his three-movement Chamber Symphony, Louis Karchin was preoccupied with exploring the range of sonorities possible with a small ensemble that included a piano and most orchestral instruments. His efforts paid off with a kaleidoscopic work that received its world premiere on Wednesday at Merkin Concert Hall, with Mr. Karchin conducting the Washington Square Ensemble. Rippling waves of sound punctuated the first movement of the symphony, rich with intriguing timbres. The textures thinned for the sparer slow movement, followed by a riotous explosion of color in the exuberant finale.
The Second String Quartet [is] a ten-minute work in a single movement…..creating a series of fascinating cameos based on a single motive heard in the first measure. By turns the music is aggressive, ruminative… The Sonata da camera reveals an outpouring of emotion that takes Karchin back to thematic and melodic materials. Whereas in the quartet we find Karchin almost toying with a motive, we here feel a more cohesive approach, the development of material being more clearly defined.
“Rustic Dances, a work in one continuous movement scored for violin, clarinet and marimba, comes from the same year . There appears to have been so many ideas impinging on Karchin’s thought process, with Jewish, Latin American and Hungarian traditional music playing a role. Rhythmically it is very strong, the sound colors multifarious, each instrument starting an idea that is taken up and expanded upon by the other two. Cascades draws upon the Impressionist era for its sound spectrum….the darting sprays of water taking the music in very differing directions, at times crashing down as a moment of musical dissonance; but more frequently it is playful and of luminous quality.
“I would describe Karchin as a 21st century musician, taking us into the new millennium with a new vision of music.
Karchin's pieces combine the rhythmic drive associated with downtown music with the harmonic and structural rigor of uptown serialism. These pieces are serious as well as fun to listen to. —Steve Hicken, American Record Guide
One of the signal new music events of this year... Over a 17 minute span, the Eastman-trained composer avoids most of the pitfalls of contemporary writing for the voice, as he envelops his setting of three poems within a chamber-orchestra fabric of coruscating beauty.
Brazen and beautiful...
A kind of fearless eloquence in its gestures... Karchin is unafraid of cliches, such as diddledy-diddledy triplet ascents, when they can still serve a purpose, and his harmony moves powerfully. Fred Sherry, for whom the sonata was composed, and Alan Feinberg gave a cogent performance.
On Monday evening's Earplay concert the final piece emerged as the main attraction. The featured work of note was Louis Karchin's Orpheus, a setting of poet Stanley Kunitz' “In the Dark House”... The music seemed in constant flux, creating strong, richly textured sonorities for strings and woodwinds, lustrous chords for piano, harp, and vibraphone, and artfully-deployed sounds from the percussion, which added fullness and interjected brilliant splashes of color; this Orpheus floated on an incandescent fabric of sound. Conductor Mary Chun led the way with energy and verve, helping to mold an outstanding performance of this original and compelling work.
The suspenseful "Veterans' Cemetery" had an underlying tone of reproach, and a hymn-like chorale haunted the title song. Even in its quietest moments the work had a bare-nerve intensity. Mr. Opalach provided a gripping account.
Fiftieth Birthday Concert
On Tuesday night at Merkin Hall came a chance to hear what Karchin has been achieving lately...which turned out to be quite a lot. Although the composer, in his note, insisted on the difference between vocal and instrumental pieces, the same personality was there in both. Mr. Karchin likes to explore wide harmonic worlds, but with precision and determination.
A success worthy of this accomplished composer...
At once austere and sumptuous...
“Laura Frautschi, Gray Gorczyca and Robert Schultz had a nice romp with the unique kinds of trills and tremolos this combination invites, not scanting the piece´s firm this-follows-that narrative strengths.”
“Best of Boston 2000”
“Louis Karchin´s economic, nicely paced Rustic Dances showed a folksy, barn dancing-fiddling heart beating beneath its thoroughly contemporary exterior.”
“We must give Lou the highest of compliments; he entirely disappeared. The text was so expertly set that one was totally absorbed in the in the dramatic presentation and poem, and the music was so integrated with this that it became only heard by the subconscious….”
“Karchin’s settings of the poetry of John Keats are his most recent displays of a striking conception of text setting, in which the sonic, syntactic, rhythmic, and semantic properties of the poetry interact with the musical material in an unprecedented fusion of the verbal and the musical.” Citation from the Walter N. Hinrichsen Award, presented to the composer by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
“Beautiful indeed, with particularly fine integration of the flowing vocal line with the instruments.”
“Using piano registers both above and below the sax, and sometimes doubling pitches in the same register, Karchin carefully makes a music that fuses the two instruments in a new sound color, no mean feat.”
“Already reveals a deft sense of timing and economy of gesture…Clear textures that project a strong harmonic profile."