DAVID LANG (b.1957): The Difficulty of Crossing a Field.
Catalogue Number: 06Q086
Description: This is an adaptation by contemporary playwright Mac Wellman of a one-page story by Ambrose Bierce, a typically oblique, succinct and ambiguous fragment with suggested implications of social commentary and the supernatural, never made explicit. In 1854, an Alabama plantation owner walks across an open field in broad daylight and disappears, never to be seen again. The event is either witnessed, very nearly witnessed, or not witnessed by a number of people, whose interpretations of what happened, either directly narrated or recalled second-hand, emerge in the course of court proceedings to determine whether he is dead. Lang's music is closer to 'classic' minimalism than we frequently hear under that banner these days. Overlapping gestures and fragments of enigmatic text create a sense of patterns phasing in and out of focus in the manner of early Reich or Glass, though here these processes are not prolonged but are used to dramatic effect, heightening the feeling of strangeness, of there being something more than suddenly and inexplicably doesn't meet the eye in the odd event. Placed in this obsessive musical narrative, the strange musings of the man's daughter, the attempted rationality of the judge (which only succeeds in emphasizing the irrationality of the event), the slaves' acceptance that something of this kind could be a natural occurrence (a brilliantly effective minimalist take on Gospel singing), take on an increasingly nightmarish quality and as parts of the text start to recur in new contexts, the tension of the work mounts to an almost unbearable pitch. Libretto included. Beverly O'Regan Thiele (soprano), Chorus, Harlem String Quartet.