On , Khorikos will be closing out the Latin American Cultural Festival with a program of works by Spanish and Latin American composers. Among these early and modern pieces will be a special performance that blends old and new: Variations on Hanacpachap is a collection of original arrangements and “recompositions” of an anonymous 17th-century Peruvian hymn.
According to the Choral Public Domain Library, Hanacpachap Cussicuinin was first published in Peru in 1631, and is likely among the earliest polyphonic works printed in this hemisphere. The piece's publisher, Juan Perez de Bocanegra, has been cited as the composer, but since there seems to be no concrete record of his authorship, the composer is commonly listed as anonymous. A prominent theory about the piece's genesis says that the composer was an Incan native being trained in the rules and customs of 17th-century Spanish church music, though apparently not that effectively; some unconventional dissonances and Andean rhythms in the score suggest that the trainee took some license when imitating the old European style. The Quechua text is a colorful hymn to the Virgin Mary—though there's evidence that the poetry existed already as an ode to Pachamama, the Incan life-giving Mother Goddess. Many of the hallmarks of western polyphonic music are present in Hanacpachap, but the piece shines in the moments when those conventions are tampered with; it's tempting to imagine an indigenous musician—perhaps a reluctant participant in a new and foreign institution—bending the rules to keep his own musical voice alive.
These Variations reframe the centuries-old tune by exposing the versatile melody to a number of "western" choral archetypes. The performance begins with a solo guitar meditation on the melody, followed by the original choral work in all its polyphonic glory. Then the chorus embarks on a series of experimental sketches, interspersed with reiterations of the melody. The melody and harmony are both subject to reinterpretation in these sketches:
Florid Counterpoint, featuring 6 voices, tests the melody against the Renaissance-era rules that govern the movement of notes in relation to each other. The vocal lines begin moving completely independently of each other, slowly converging and forming homophonic chords.
Ambitus, featuring male voices and a soprano soloist, is an exercise in range, and explores the contrast between the limited octave range of the original melody and the expansive vocal range of the accompanying male voices.
Arpeggiations, featuring guitar and tenor soloist, rethinks the baroque tradition of improvised basso continuo, allowing the guitarist to reference the original harmony while circumventing familiar tones and defying the ear's expectations of what's coming next.
Double Choir features every Khorikos voice, splitting the full group into two—then three—separate choirs that echo each other in a call-and-response format. The original work takes on a different identity when it is pitted against itself.
Hanacpachap Cussicuinin is a piece stuck between two musical worlds, and these Variations celebrate its mixed and conflicted heritage. In each sketch, new rules and conventions are imposed upon the old tune, and each time, Hanacpachap disobeys.
We have lots in store for KHORIKOS and our music community! We commence our season with a performance honoring Benjamin Britten's 100th birthday on November 22nd. Next, we will bring you this year's featured closing performance for Latin American Cultural Week (Brooklyn) at Littlefield. Additionally, we be releasing our much anticipated CD, "Saros," just in time for Christmas! Stay tuned for upcoming events and our full season calendar!
A NEW MICRO-OPERA for chorus, piano and percussion King Lavra features music by Czech composer, Jan Jirásek and video projections by New York artist, Sheri Wills.
The choral ensemble, KHORIKOS, will perform the world premiere in May 2013 at the Czech Center in New York City.
The opera is performed in English.
The story of King Lavra is based on a Czech fairy tale about a king, with an embarrassing secret: beneath his long hair, he has the ears of a donkey. Although he is generally a benign, if uninspired, leader, his insecurity about having the ears of an ass lead him to execute every barber who cuts his hair – to ensure the secrecy of his unusual feature. When Kukulin is chosen as the next unlucky barber, his widowed mother emplores the king to spare him. The king relents, but swears Kukulin to secrecy – a secret that
turns out to be very heavy to keep.
While King Lavra is the specifically Czech version of this story, a king with donkey ears is found in many cultures. The most well-known contemporary retelling of King Lavra was a 1950 puppet animation by the great Czech animator, Karel Zeman. Artists living under the repressive Soviet regulation often worked with children’s stories and folk tales as a strategy to avoid censorship. By wrapping political critique in a seemingly naive covering, artists slipped their work past the censors to audiences who clearly understood the underlying messages of these old stories in relationship to their current circumstances.
Jan Jirásek is well known for his subtle, superb arrangements in the tradition of European mystical minimalism. Unafraid of embracing beauty, his compositions draw on both the textures of Early Music and contemporary extended techniques.
He is also one of the leading composers of film soundtracks in Europe. Jirásek’s King Lavra is dramatic and infused with dark humor. The chorus functions as a demanding crowd, the voice of the people, wielding scissors and snapping them as percussion instruments. While the piece is obviously a satire of foolish leaders, ultimately it is a critique of the passivity of the people who accept them. King Lavra is an exciting, sophisticated, yet accessible piece – an operatic adventure in less than twenty minutes.
King Lavra is a story about concealing and revealing – secrets whispered into a willow tree, only to be played out for all to hear. It is a psychological story about one’s need to hide a secret shame, and a political one – the need for people to know the true nature of their leaders, and to question their own responsibility when those leaders fail. In developing the video projections for King Lavra, video artist Sheri Wills draws on the surreal symbol of the scissors, while focusing on the importance of place in the story: the comfort and familiarity of the king’s castle, as opposed to the untamed and unpredictable qualities of the forest. Using folk art patterns and organic imagery, Wills creates an uneasy and complex visual component to the opera.