This past weekend, I had the chance to hear The Esoterics perform at Holy Rosary Church in West Seattle. This particular concert was titled Ephemera and was built around the fleeting joys of nature. The Esoterics are known for the committed performances of contemporary choral music. This recent concert was no exception. Every piece on the program was written by a composer born after 1920. Four of the six pieces were written by composers born after 1969. The youngest being Scott Perkins who is not yet 30 years old.
Eric Banks – Esoterics founder, conductor and composer – programmed his own piece “12 Flowers” leading the group in the Seattle premiere of the piece. I was taken by the piece. Banks sets 12 haikus by Yosa Buson to music. Banks translated twelve of Buson’s flower haikus for the piece. Interestingly, Banks didn’t employ breaks between the pieces, instead each flower flowed into the next creating a continuum of sound. Or, as Banks says in the program notes — a bouquet. Also, Banks utilized the morphology of each flower represented in the poems to guide the music. For instance, flowers that were smaller, and had more petals were sung faster and felt more scattered – like snow as Banks would say later. Imagine walking under a blossoming cherry tree and being surrounded by petals falling from the tree. Now try to imagine, like Banks did, this same experience in music. The chorus sings swiftly. The moment feels free and easy as singers flutter through the music.
Donald Skirvin – the Esoterics Composer in Residence – and Scott Perkins were also in attendance and also had pieces performed on the program In Skirvin’s case, it was his piece “Awakening.” Skirvin sets three Gordon Abshire poems to music. Abshire and Skirvin were close friends and Abshire even served on the Esoterics board. He died suddenly in 2005. “Awakening” is a moving piece for a departed friend. Music like this very personal piece by Skirvin, make me feel uncomfortable. I relish personal expression in music, but I also feel when I hear a piece like “Awakening” that I am experiencing something not meant for me, but for the spiritual nourishment of the composer. Nevertheless, I am grateful Skirvin shared with me and the entire Holy Rosary audience his valediction for his friend.
The third composer in attendance was Scott Perkins. Perkins comes from Connecticut and his piece “L’invitation du voyage” is the result of his winning Polyphonos – the Esoterics competition for young composers. Perkins divides utilizes repeating patterns and subdued voices to create a temporary, dream-like effect.
When the concert ended, I had a chance to talk with Eric Banks out on the Holy Rosary church’s lawn. For both of us, the cool grass and West Seattle breeze was a nice relief from the still warmth inside the church. What follows is part of my conversation with Banks.