Review: Philharmonia Baroque premiere of Caroline Shaw’s “The Listeners” oratorio

Posted on: October 25, 2019

“When the two Voyager space probes left Earth in 1977, they carried with them copies of a kind of cosmic LP [recording] overseen for NASA by astronomer Carl Sagan,” writes Joshua Kosman in Monday’s (10/21) San Francisco Chronicle. “ ‘The Listeners,’ a shimmery and often heart-tugging new oratorio by Caroline Shaw, takes many of the themes implicit in the ‘Golden Record’ … and transmutes them into music of eloquent clarity…. Shaw muses deeply on our place in the cosmos…. The piece had its commissioned world premiere … by Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale [revealing] a work of arresting directness…. For ‘The Listeners,’ which runs about 30 minutes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer assembled a collection of poetic texts by writers ranging from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, to the contemporary African American poet Yesenia Montilla. The settings call for two remarkable vocal soloists—contralto Avery Amereau and bass-baritone Dashon Burton—along with chorus and orchestra…. The Philharmonia Chorale … dived headlong into the score’s rich harmonies, and the orchestra gave the music the necessary sparkle…. The first half of the program … was devoted to the music of Handel … worthy of being included in any future space-bound communiqués.”

Posted October 25, 2019