VIDEO PREMIERE: Michael Gordon’s ‘To the West’

by Maggie Molloy

The vast landscapes and rich histories of Big Sky, Montana are the inspiration behind a new large-scale collaboration between composer Michael Gordon, filmmaker Bill Morrison, and the chamber choir The Crossing.

Montaña is a project unfolding over the course of four years, with the artists meeting each summer in Big Sky to invest in chapters of what will ultimately become a long-form spatial work for a cappella choir and film. Drawing on frontier ballads, cowboy songs, and historical texts, the piece explores not only the expansive geography of Montana but also sounds and stories from the American frontier. The ongoing project invites the public into the artistic process through performances at the end of each summer at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.

But you don’t have to be in Montana to hear it. We’re thrilled to premiere a new video from Four/Ten Media featuring a section from Montaña titled “To the West,” which sets words from Chief Tecumseh and Thomas Jefferson.


For more information on Montaña, including interviews with the creators, click here.

Of Zealotry and Choral Music: Canticles from The Crossing

by Dacia Clay

Conductor Donald Nally. Photo by Becky Oehlers.

Donald Nally and his new music choir The Crossing recently won a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance for their recording of the Zealot Canticles by composer Lansing McLoskey.

It’s clear that The Crossing has tapped into something: this is their second Grammy win (their first was for The Fifth Century by Gavin Bryars). It might have something to do with the timely message McLoskey’s piece conveys about zealotry in all of its forms and about how we talk to and about each other in a time of political divisiveness.

Zealot Canticles is based on Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s Twelve Canticles for the Zealot, a set of poems that looks at fanaticism. In this interview, Nally talks about Soyinka’s work, why Lansing McLoskey was uniquely suited to write this piece, and about the music itself.

Audio production by Nikhil Sarma.


The Crossing’s new album Zealot Canticles is out now on Innova Recordings. Click here for more information.

ALBUM REVIEW: Sound from the Bench by Ted Hearne

by Maggie Molloy

If U.S. politics is all just a puppet show, then who’s pulling the strings?

The Crossing. Photo by Becky Oehler.

That’s the big question behind Ted Hearne’s probing new choral work, “Sound from the Bench.” The sprawling 40-minute political cantata casts corporations as the grand puppeteers: after the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision back in 2010, businesses and the multimillionaires who run them were free to funnel their corporate money into politics—and to directly influence the course of history.

But of course, the answer is not so simple. In fact, court decisions like this one merely raise a myriad of other questions—questions of power, privilege, politics, and perspective.

Ted Hearne. Photo by Nathan Lee Bush.

“Sound from the Bench” is the title track and centerpiece of Hearne’s new album, a collection of four choral works which examine many of those unanswerable questions. Performed (and co-commissioned) by Philadelphia’s contemporary chamber choir the Crossing under the artistic direction of Donald Nally, the four featured works delve into the depths of our current political climate, stitching together historical political texts and haunting literature in gripping musical settings.

The title track, for instance, combines text from landmark Supreme Court cases with words from ventriloquism textbooks and poetry from Jena Osman’s Corporate Relations, a collection which explores the history of corporate personhood in the U.S.

Scored for choir with two electric guitars and percussion, the five-movement work is a kaleidoscope of influences: ethereal choral polyphony, infectious rock grooves, dense harmonies, and dramatic utterances color the dry legal language of Citizens United—reminding us of the humanity at stake in these formal and detached court documents. The manic fantasia boomerangs between conventional choral settings and heavily distorted rock riffs in a fiery exploration of opposites: individual vs. corporation, man vs. machine, and puppet vs. puppeteer.

“Guitars are loud and they can growl menacingly,” Donald Nally said of the work. “Machines can always speak louder than individuals—even louder than a whole lot of individuals combined into a unified voice. Drums keep beats, but the beat that you hear may not be trusted. And harmony tells stories.”

Donald Nally. Photo by Becky Oehlers.

Another story is at stake in the album’s opening track, “Consent” for 16 unaccompanied voices. The haunting motet takes its text from love letters, religious wedding rites, and text messages used as evidence in the 2013 Steubenville Rape Trial. The piece begins with tense breathing in the soprano and alto parts, deeply contrasted against obsessive advances in the tenor and bass. But as the work progresses, the women begin to sing—and yet the men still do not listen. The drama climaxes in a chaotic clash of voices and ends with sweet choral harmonies singing the Catholic wedding phrase, “Who gives this woman?”, leaving us to reflect on how, even in the 21st century, our society still conditions us to treat women as property.

“Ripple” for unaccompanied choir uses simple, sweet harmonies to underscore another type of discord: America’s blissful ignorance. The piece ruminates on a single, haunting sentence of the Iraq War Logs across eight short, continuous movements—each becoming progressively more introspective with the quiet and overwhelming realization of the tragedy at hand.

The album closes with “Privilege,” a collection of five short pieces exploring generational privilege, the deep class divide, and the unjust erasure of the poor.  The movements shift between clashing perspectives: Hearne’s own personal reflections, Bill Moyer’s 2009 interview with The Wire creator David Simon, and an English translation of an anti-Apartheid song from South Africa. Hearne spins the listener through a dizzying maze of musical styles, sporadically shifting between densely harmonized, mechanical rhythms and airy, organic melodic lines: a musical representation of our search for meaning in an ever-shifting media landscape.

Photo by Becky Oehlers.

“Hearne’s work is fundamentally about asking questions—questions about the world we live in, about art, and about language and music,” Nally said. “He asks questions that don’t have easy answers, and his art makes artistic demands that are not easily reached.”

Yet the Crossing reaches every single note on this album, shifting effortlessly from warm, immersive harmonies to disembodied and detached percussive textures when the music and libretto call for it. Each court case, war log, letter, and poem comes alive through the choir’s stunning vocal precision, balance, and depth—and the result is a visceral and deeply moving mosaic of the horrors of modern America.

It’s a story that couldn’t be told quite so compellingly in any other musical medium: choral music in itself represents community, harmony, and humanity. In this album, the Crossing’s voices become all of our voices, blending together to tell both individual and universal stories of our humanity.

Because for all the probing questions Hearne asks with this album, this is perhaps the most central one:

Who has a voice in the U.S.—and more specifically: how do they use it?