Singing Paul and Mary (sans Peter)

The Madonna in Sorrow, by Sassoferrato, 17th century Paul Hindemith

Although the dramatic and memorable music of Paul Hindemith is performed less often than one might expect for a composer of his monumental stature, a quick look at his publisher’s website shows that no fewer than 40 major performances were scheduled in seven countries in December 2011 alone, and that’s just the concerts they know about. Hindemith is surely one of the great musical figures of the twentieth century, both in composition and in music theory — his texts and letters are still widely used today, and his ideas helped shaped the way musicians and composers think about their craft for generations to come. (For more on this titan of modern music, click here.)

One work in particular is not often performed: Das Marienleben, a song cycle from texts by Rainer Maria Rilke. But lucky for us, Blackbird Music Project will perform this lesser-known set in Orange County on Sunday, continuing their mission to spotlight music that is slightly off the beaten track. Sung by rapidly emerging soprano Ariel Pisturino, with BMP founder Benjamin Makino at the piano, this powerful and monumental work tells the story of the life of Mary, mother of Jesus, using Rilke’s dense, richly emotional words to evoke a little seasonal time travel. The duo will perform the revised 1948 version of the work, painstakingly redrafted by the composer over a period of 25 years. (Hindemith was known for his ability to write extraordinary music very quickly, so this attention to detail and commitment to perfecting the piece hints at how much this cycle meant to him.)
Some pieces fade away because they’re too much of their own era. or because they’re simply not the composer’s best work. This is certainly not the case here: this cycle is performed less often simply because it is so challenging for both the vocalist and the pianist. But when performed well, it is deeply satisfying to hear, with great sweeps of emotion, affecting themes, and layer upon layer of intricate composition that become an enticing and fascinating aural puzzle. Pisturino’s luxurious, soulful voice is well suited to this material, and Makino has already proven himself a sensitive and very capable performer. What a beautiful way to celebrate Christmas: gorgeous tunes, a great story and a melding of old and new. Perhaps there’s a new tradition in the works?

Blackbird Music Project presents
Hindemith’s Das Marienleben
Sunday, December 18, 6pm

Salmon Recital Hall
Chapman University
One University Drive, Orange CA
Map & Directions



$20, or students $10


Originally published in the 12/21/11 issue of Next 7: Vocal Events in Southern California newsletter

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