Ecstatic Music Festival 2019
The Ecstatic Music Festival at Kaufman Music Center is known for presenting unexpected musical collaborations. The collaboration between Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Wye Oak on March 21st certainly fit the bill. The distinct sound of a youth chorus seemed an unusual accompaniment to the intimate, personal energy of the indie rock band. As a former member of a youth chorus, I was eager to hear how young voices worked in a collaborative, experimental setting. The Ecstatic Music Festival did not disappoint.
Before Wye Oak came onstage, we were treated to five world premieres: the Brooklyn Youth Chorus performed a new composition by Owen Pallett, “Cyclops,” and four new songs in collaboration with the singer/songwriter Alev Lenz. “Cyclops” used the mythological creature as a metaphor for conservative ideology. Pallett described the piece as a “fourteen-minute nightmare,” but I found the most frightening moment of the night to be Lenz’s “Splendid Soldiers.” Lenz’s songs had amazing breadth, ranging from bright and poppy to ominous and etherial. I particularly liked “The Chair,” in which the chorus sang and whooped while Lenz recited a spoken-word poem.
Wye Oak’s collaboration with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus was especially unusual because the duo is known for Jenn Wasner’s mesmerizing voice. As Wasner said during her introduction to the song cycle, Wye Oak had never taken on a project of this scale. The novelty of the collaboration was evident in the first few songs, but the confidence and complexity of the choral arrangements grew throughout the night and peaked with “Sky Witness,” a meditation on the modern need to have a witness for all one’s actions. All five songs Wye Oak composed for the Ecstatic Music Festival dealt with themes of alienation and the reliance on technology for communication, issues that must have been especially resonant for the teenage musicians of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. The concluding song, “AEIOU,” perfectly resolved these themes and made the best use of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus’s unique sound that I heard that night.
The Ecstatic Music Festival was as exciting as the name suggests. It presented a truly novel collaboration, one that produced beautiful and deeply moving music. The five world premieres that opened the show were a wonderful bonus to Wye Oak’s achievements.