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The Crossing’s Ambitious Two-Night Project: Seven Responses

Last month, the Philadelphia new music choir The Crossing launched a two-night event, Seven Responses, featuring seven new works by major composers. What goes into such a project? The Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns discovered that for one piece, it’s automobile parts.
David Patrick Stearns: The brake drums required a separate rehearsal, since members of The Crossing have never played them before.

James Reese: It also calls for an anvil-like hammer. And something to scrape along the inside of the brake drum to get that metallic ugly grinding sound. Kind of like that one.

Director Donald Nally can't believe that his most ambitious project is really happening.

DPS: For tenor James Reese, that’s just one of seven highly individualistic styles being accommodated for the Seven Responses concerts.

The music characterizes the nailing of Christ’s feet to the cross, heard alongside the 300-year-old crucifixion oratorio by Dietrich Buxtehude, Membra Jesu Nostri. Director Donald Nally can’t believe that his most ambitious project is really happening. Contemporary music choruses aren’t typically granted the money to do things like this.

Donald Nally: People just...still kind of laugh at me and it’s big, it’s $350,000 and seven composers and poets and Buxtehude scholars; they’re all coming, and they’re all put up in hotels for four or five days. It’s hilarious, but it’s awesome, it’s going to be so much fun...

DPS: Nally’s choice of composers was serious but also intuitive.

DN: I didn’t consider the spirituality of them at all. For me it’s about how they express emotional context and colors and textures and sounds. And I wanted a variety of cultural backgrounds.

DPS: Some, like Pulitzer Prize–winner Caroline Shaw, often dispensed with words completely.

The heart of the project is, of course, music contemplating the heart of Christ. That section went to the 83-year-old Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, whose music looks at the wounded heart, the joyful heart, the cynical heart, and then juxtaposes them all.

DN: He’s such a genius. You know, you should see the score. These tiny little notes because it’s 24 voice parts and another, like, 15 instruments.

DPS: Only a small percentage of commissions may work out to everybody’s satisfaction. But The Crossing seems to have an unusually high 70 percent success rate with new works. This time, Nally thinks it’ll be higher.

WRTI? broadcasts these concerts by The Crossing on Sunday, July 10th, and Sunday, July 24th, both at 4 pm!

For more about Seven Responses with The Crossing, Quicksilver Baroque, and the International Contemporary Ensemble at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, click here.