REVIEWS: SONGS OF THE KISAENG, CHICAGO ENSEMBLE

HYDE PARK HERALD by M.L. RANTALA

The newest and longest composition on the program was Songs of the Kisaeng by the young Hawaiian composer Michael-Thomas Foumai, written in 2010. The work featured all the performers in a song cycle set to English translations (by Jaihiun Joyce Kim) of ancient Korean poetry written by kisaeng, roughly the Korean equivalent of the Japanese geisha. All 20 songs use very short poems, most only six lines, and the composer has organized them to create an arc that roughly recalls a story from birth to death.

Areyzaga was a splendid interpreter, offering a versatile performance filled with warmth, wonder, anguish, and resignation. She moved seamlessly from spoken lines to sung ones, from caressing, quiet moments to bold, forceful declarations. The instrumentalists provided a solid underlying structure, making the cycle something special.

Songs of the Kisaeng was a winner of “Discover America,” an on-going series of competitions started over 20 years ago that the Ensemble holds in order to find, recognize and perform new chamber works. This is yet another example of how Rizzer’s ear for fine music makes the Chicago Ensemble’s concerts a valuable contribution to the Chicago music scene.

Full Review: hpherald.com/2015/11/11/review-fine-hyde-park-performance-of-rarely-heard-music/

CHICAGO CLASSICAL REVIEW by LAWRENCE A. JOHNSON

Michael-Thomas Foumai’s Songs of the Kisaeng was the main work of the evening. This 2010 song cycle was the winner of the “Discover America” competition, the Chicago Ensemble’s admirable project to promote and perform new chamber works by American composers.

The Hawaii-based Foumai draws on material from Korean folk songs to set twenty poems written by the Kisaeng, esteemed female entertainers similar to the Japanese geishas. The nature imagery of the settings — in an English translation by Jaihiun Joyce Kim — also forms a Romantic arc of sorts, painting first feelings of love to yearning, rejection, anger, abandonment and an uneasy acceptance.

Foumai’s cycle is scored for soprano backed by a quartet of clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Yet the textures are never cloudy or thick and the composer balances the voice and varied instrumental coloring with great skill.

Areyzaga’s performance was extraordinary and a tour de force. With a radiant, evenly produced soprano and crystal-clear diction, she brought to life the passion, melancholy, and wistfulness of these settings, segueing evenly from simple spoken lines to declamation and full-throated vocalism.

Full Review: chicagoclassicalreview.com/2015/10/soprano-areyzaga-warms-up-a-rainy-night-in-chicago-ensemble-opener/

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