Once the enfant terrible of New Music, composer John Zorn has finally attained an irrefutable level of respectability in the world of classical composition. In addition to his recent MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, Zorn's chamber compositions have been performed by many interpreters, including those outside of his Downtown circle. One of his quietest albums to date, the appropriately titled From Silence To Sorcery
is his latest installment of nuanced chamber music compositions.
Zorn's recent interest in the occult has been apparent in his chamber music scores. Magick (Tzadik, 2004), Rituals (Tzadik, 2005) and Mysterium (Tzadik, 2005) have all been directly inspired by various occult rituals and traditions. This album is no exception.
Consisting of three instrumentally varied pieces, the album balances a mix of aesthetic formal concerns with a focused thematic concept. Zorn demonstrates eclectic proficiency with an unaccompanied violin cadenza, a solo percussion tone poem and a small chamber ensemble arrangement.
The opening piece, "Goetia," is named after a type of black magic used to conjure evil spirits. Zorn draws upon the rich history of the violin and its association with the devil for this miniature. Violinist Jennifer Choi circumnavigates a labyrinth of dynamic shifts and challenges in this colorful and varied piece. Delivering a series of conversational phrases that hint at darker forces, she makes her instrument whisper, murmur and cry.
The second composition, "Gris-Gris" is inspired by Haitian Voodoo rituals and Korean Shamanism. Written for thirteen tuned drums and a single kick drum, it features percussionist William Winant. Beginning as a simmering exploration of tone, it rustles with understated energy slowly building to a climactic, polyrhythmic finish.
The final selection, "Shibboleth," introduces a traditional string trio augmented by clavichord and assorted percussion. Dedicated to the outcast Jewish poet Paul Celan it is a quiet, restrained ode. Delicately dissonant and softly assertive, the chamber quintet unveils episodic changes in mood with spectral clarity.
A remarkably restrained effort in contrast with his usual output, Zorn again proves his creative viability as a post-modern renaissance man with a sublime collection of chamber music.
Personnel: Jennifer Choi: violin (1, 3); William Winant: 13 tuned drums and kick drum (2), percussion (3); Lois Martin: viola (3); Fred Sherry: cello (3); Steve Drury: clavichord (3); Brad Lubman: conductor (3).