Alex Ross: The Relaxation Is Noise: Road Symphony’s Bach

Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise: Street Symphony's Bach



Photograph: David Zimmerman.

Road Symphony, a exceptional Los Angeles-based group led by the violinist-activist Vijay Gupta, phases performances and workshops in homeless shelters, jails, and different locations the place classical musicians seldom seem. Beforehand, I would seen them on the Midnight Mission, a shelter and restoration middle on L.A.’s Skid Row. On Saturday evening, I witnessed a special type of Road Symphony occasion, this one at Internal Metropolis Arts, a specialised arts college. It was oriented towards most people, though many associates and allies of the group have been in attendance. This system consisted of Bach’s Cantata No. 82, “Ich habe genug,” interspersed with monologues by Linda Leigh, a longtime Skid Row resident who has established herself as a poet, instructor, and activist. The efficiency was a singularly intense and shifting event; the one level of comparability that got here to thoughts was Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s legendary account of “Ich habe genug,” in Peter Sellars’s staging. The soloist was the bass-baritone Scott Graff, a member of the L.A. Grasp Chorale. When, in 2017, I wrote a column about Road Symphony, Scott was giving vocal classes to a recovering addict named Brian Palmer. Two years later got here the tragic information that Brian had died, on the age of forty-four. He was current within the performers’ ideas final weekend, and in mine.

Leigh’s effortlessly delivered, deeply affecting tales — about an academic journey to South Korea; about her experiences of beginning, abortion, and miscarriage; about her conversations with rideshare drivers who decide her up on Skid Row  — intersected potently with the uncooked, roiling emotion of Bach’s cantata. No try to explicate or justify the connection was made, and none was wanted. In purely musical phrases, this was an outstanding account of Bach’s nice work, one that will have graced any competition setting. Graff sang in exactly articulated, lyrically flowing model; Gupta and the oboist Aaron Hill supplied professional, vibrant solos; Jin-Shan Dai, Alex Granger, Eva Lymenstull, and Adan Fernandez handsomely stuffed out the ensemble. Along side Leigh, although, it grew to become one thing quietly transcendent. Afterward, Gupta talked about that Bach’s music would initially have been heard together with a sermon in church. Leigh’s monologues have been a sermon of a form, although they have been freed from dogma. Within the wake of the Supreme Court docket’s catastrophic assault on the rights of ladies, the night supplied a type of refuge, one freed from straightforward comfort.