(New York City Opera – VOX 2009)
A most compelling work was composer Anne LeBaron and librettist Douglas Kearney’s “Crescent City,” a reaction to Hurricane Katrina, that incorporates electronic sounds, swing, jazz, blues, and rollicking honkytonk, as it posits 19th century Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and the voodoo deities she worships as potential saviors of New Orleans after the 2005 disaster.
--- Bruce Michael-Gelbert, Q-OnStage, May 3, 2009
Phantasmagoriettas from Crescent City
(Den Haag, The Netherlands)
Of the three compositions in the Regentes Theater that were shown, the work of the American Anne LeBaron was musically the most extensively developed. She is working on an opera that functions as a kind of ‘wake-up call’ for the disasters that threaten humanity. Crescent City, where her opera story takes place, concerns a future catastrophe that will endanger New Orleans. The music sounded even more remarkable than the images on the screen. If ever the ideal of melding different musical styles together came close, it was in this very enjoyable American mix of jazz, improvisation, operatic passion and light music. Of the three singers, the most notable was the young Kazakhstan tenor Timur Bekbosunov, who introduced a vocal color totally his own, with its smooth and vibrato-rich operatic sound. This performance makes one curious to see a complete, staged production.
---de Trouw, Dec. 3, 2007
Machine sex in opera isn’t new; Stockhausen indulged in it in his extraterrestrial epic "Licht." Nor is suburban angst, which got a good boost from Leonard Bernstein's "Trouble in Tahiti" back in 1952. But LeBaron combines the two in her 38-minute “Sucktion." The vacuum cleaner here is an unusually responsive model with a long hose and electronic sensors that sonically interact with a singer's every squeal of delight. But the interaction between acoustic and electronic music - and between traditional vocal sounds, nontraditional vocal sounds and aIl those transformative auditory sensors - is where the interest lies.
--- Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 2, 2008
The last piece, though, by Anne LeBaron, who is on the faculty at CalArts, changed the equation.
Her “Los Murmullos” (“The Murmurs”) was the one work that directly and theatrically addressed Rulfo’s text in “Pedro Páramo.” Screams weren’t silent but real. Cervantes began by putting a black shawl over her head and crashing into the keys with her elbows. She read bits of text. “Ay-y-y-y,” she howled into the piano, creating haunting resonances on the strings to introduce Rulfo’s shocking sentiment, “Life I am too good for you!” She rattled percussion.
In gripping, short musical phrases, LeBaron captured the moment the soul turns to ice and the buzzing of a swarm of bees. Tapping on the lid of the keyboard represented the erratic heartbeat. Death, ever changing and inescapable, made a series of appearances.
This is, like so many lines of Rulfo, a piece not easily forgotten and impossible to ignore.
---Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 1, 2009
Her concentration on often syncopated, usually atonal works, commencing with Arturo Marquez's lyrical piece Solo Murmurs and culminating in Anne LeBaron's raucous work Los Murmullos--a work incorporating the flat-hand key-pounding of Cecil Taylor as well as Keith Jarrett's penchant for using piano strings like a harp--brought a sense of both the hallowed and the magical to the performance.
---Joseph Mailander, LA Opus, Oct. 5, 2009
Los murmullos is the most charismatic of the piano works which Cervantes commissioned from each of twelve composers: six from Mexico, three from the US, two from Spain and one from Britain, all of which appear on the CD, from Quindecim Recordings and produced in 2006. The project is an international homage to Juan Rulfo. More than a work for piano and narrator, LeBaron’s piece is an 11-minute opera-in-miniature, based on texts of Pedro Páramo. Rulfo’s words draw the listener into a phantasmagoric world of murmurs: “Estuve oyendo durante muchas noches el rumor de una fiesta. Luego dejé de oírla, y es que la alegría cansa [All through many nights I heard the distant sounds of partying. Later I stopped hearing the party; it’s that merriment is wearying”.
It is astounding that this writing for piano, highly complex and of a genuine “rulfian” character, was composed by a foreigner, proof of the universality of Pedro Páramo.
--- José Alfredo Páramo, El Economista, March 5, 2007
“Los Murmullos,” by LeBaron, was the peak of a concert in the Festival International Cervantino; “Los Murmullos” was the highlight of the concert with its dramatic melodicism.
---Guanajuato, Gto., (Notimex), Oct. 18, 2006
Wet, at REDCAT in Los Angeles
"Wet" is an ambitious and alarming new opera with strong music by Anne LeBaron. It is about the horror of flooding and the big business of water. The context we can't possibly ignore is New Orleans inundated. Death controls the flood of this opera's water, be it the pernicious nature of the water plant or the river overflowing. But he doesn't really set the tone of the opera, which hovers uneasily between realism and surrealism. LeBaron's writing for the instrumental ensemble is full of invention, sometimes avant-garde and sometimes not. Cultures never collide, but many coexist. Her fluidity with musical style and with musical character is the real wetness of "Wet." The instruments offer watery unpredictability and readily take the shape of any container (or musical form). New operas rarely find their footing the first night out. But those with effective music often do eventually. "Wet's" got the music. Now what it needs is a dramaturge.
---Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 3, 2006
On Earth as it is in Heaven
Balancing the heady thematic content are the rich emotional textures in Anne LeBaron’s evocative original score. Recorded string quartet, harp and wind instruments are accompanied by a live percussionist (Joshua Jade or Zack Behrens), in angular, rapidly shifting moods suited to the characters.
---Los Angeles Times, Oct. 11, 2002
Traces of Mississippi
If music is the soul of a people, LeBaron has perfectly captured and provided the graph that accurately measures how a people’s social, political and economic reality exists in a circular relationship with its art. To know a people’s art is to know their lives. To know their lives is to know their art. LeBaron’s composition is a window into the lives of Mississippians and all of humanity.
---C. Liegh McInnis: Jackson Advocate, The Mississippi Link, and Up Close Magazine, Nov. 2000
Conductor Mensel fully exploited his group's firm grip on intonation and rhythm (and sense of humor) in LeBaron's "Nightmare", a bittersweet ode to a cabbage's lost hopes. In this piece's vibrantly imaginative manipulation of colors, LeBaron proves herself an adept student of her teacher, the Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti.
---Grant Menzies, The Oregonian, March 23, 1999
American Icons: the National Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin conducting
A fanfare by Washington-based composer Anne LeBaron, "American Icons," began the show. A bright, brash mixture of jazz, pop, folk and 57 other varieties of homegrown music, this might be likened to listening to five radios at the same time, each of them playing a tune you'd like to hear more of.
---Tim Page, The Washington Post
Sachamama, performed on a Theater Chamber Players concert
. . .Anne LeBaron's magically exotic "Sachamama," a rich and evocative score that was played here by William Montgomery on amplified flute accompanied by a taped recording.
---Mark Carrington, The Washington Post
"D.C.'s Composer-in-Residence Takes a Risk with The E. & O. Line"
. . .LeBaron, who has lived primarily in Washington since the mid-80's, is one of the few composers with classical credentials to make inroads with the jazz and rock audiences that have accepted (Phillip) Glass and (Anthony) Davis. . .
Just as LeBaron and (Thulani) Davis revamped the Eurydice character, LeBaron rethought her approach to composing an opera. She added gospel, Tin Pan Alley stylings and even free jazz to her established post-modern vocabulary, frequently synchronizing the score to an intricately detailed tape that, among its sonic feats, digitally transforms the sounds of creaky bedsprings into train whistles, and train whistles into human voices. As Davis's libretto breathed new life into Eurydice, LeBaron searched for a method to do the same for the structure of the opera. She found it in the plasticity of the blues. . .
---Bill Shoemaker, The Washington Post
The E. & O. Line in workshop at the University of the District of Columbia
The legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, the oldest of all operatic subjects, takes several new turns in "The E. & O. Line," a work still in its formative stages. In what they accurately describe as "an electronic blues opera," composer Anne LeBaron and librettist Thulani Davis adopt Eurydice's point of view--possibly for the first time in the legend's long, complex history. LeBaron writes for voices and a jazz ensemble with a good sense of the idiom and what it can do, and she also used recorded sound effects and musique concrete effectively to create atmosphere and make psychological comments. …in this first tryout, the work showed great potential.
---Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post
Blue Calls Set You Free, at Mt. Vernon College and Woolly Mammoth Theatre
This is a small fragment from "The E. & O. Line," an electronic blues opera of ambitious proportions that is still being developed. In this episode, Eurydice has been brought, unconscious, into the Hades Bar, and her awakening occurs on several levels. First she apprehends her new situation, then gradually becomes aware of herself as a human and a woman. LeBaron's music, in a blues and gospel style, generates enormous power as sung by Debra Tidwell, and she is effectively supported by a trio of harpies.
---Joseph McLellan, The Washington Post
St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble premieres Devil in the Belfry in Washington D.C.
You might not call it a major work. It's too short, for one thing, and it treats serious subjects with more whimsy than profundity, but in its premiere . . at the National Academy of Sciences, Anne LeBaron's "Devil in the Belfry" for violin and piano proved to be the product of uncommon imagination and technical skill…it reflects a textural inspiration and an energy that is not mainstream, that makes this music special.
---Joan Reinthaler, The Washington Post
Devil in the Belfry
As a gloss on Poe, Anne LeBaron's "Devil in the Belfry," for violin and piano proved diverting in its New York premiere . . by the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble at Merkin Concert Hall. Poe's delightful little allegory concerns the distinctly odd but fastidiously ordered Dutch borough Vondervotteimittiss. Far from ever having to vonder vot teim itt iss, the townsfolk are in utter thrall to their clocks (not to mention their cabbages) until, on noon, the devil enters the belfry. Adding a 13th ring to the hour, he throws the dull citizenry into hopeless disarray. It was fun to listen for the stultifying regularity of the civic rhythm and its swift demise, and for the Irish tunes dredged up by the triumphant devil on his fiddle, "scraping, out of all time and tune, with both hands."
---James R. Oestreich, The New York Times
Newband plays Southern Ephemera at NYC's Alternative Museum
Anne LeBaron's "Southern Ephemera," elegantly blurring snippets of song from the American South.
---Alex Ross, The New York Times
Southern Ephemera at Wexner Center for the Arts Weigel Hall in Columbus OH, two reviews:
Anne LeBaron's "Southern Ephemera," . . . draws from sources ranging from country hymns to Hank Williams. It is a piece that tweaks the memory, touching on one reference and then another. Imagine standing on a Western butte and knowing that miles in the distance there are musicians playing. As the wind shifts, a snippet of a song--distorted by space and atmosphere--suddenly strikes.
---Tim Feran, The Columbus Dispatch
Of the other pieces on the concert, Anne LeBaron's "Southern Ephemera" was the best. She added flute, alto flute, and cello to Partch's instruments, then wove spirituals, country-western tunes, and jazzy melodies into a highly enjoyable composition.
---Cindy Bylander, American Record Guide
Dora Ohrenstein's performance of Dish at Dance Theater Workshop
"Dish," by Anne LeBaron, was a set of pop songs based on poems by Jessica Hagedorn, and the first was a knockout. "Seeing you again makes me want to wash the dishes," crooned Ohrenstein as a refrain, and the Gershwin-esque chords never got a bit too artsy.
---Kyle Gann, The Village Voice
Dish at Spoleto in Charleston, S.C.
"Dish" by Anne LeBaron used some bluesy, jazzy things mixed with clusters and taped sounds with a sometimes intelligible text of, shall we say, words of courtship of a rather intense kind.
---David W. Maves, The News and Courier/The Evening Post
Strange Attractors at Carnegie Hall
"Strange Attractors," by Anne LeBaron (who was born in Baton Rouge in 1953, and studied for a while with Ligeti), was commissioned by the Oklahoma Symphony for a fiftieth anniversary that the orchestra did not survive to celebrate. The title, her program note explains, "derives from theoretical physics and refers to mathematical feedback loops," which can produce "both stable and chaotic patterns: and "have been described as systems of curves and clouds of points, variously evoking galaxies, fireworks, and weird, disturbing blossomings." The phrases are apt, too, to describe her twelve-minute, colorful piece, which is packed with bright incident but is cleanly and surely shaped.
---Andrew Porter, The New Yorker
The curtain-raiser, Anne LeBaron's "Strange Attractors," proved diverting despite its crowded agenda. The title, the composer explains, "derives from theoretical physics and refers to mathematical feedback loops: expressions whose output can be fed back into them as new input, resulting in the emergence of both stable and chaotic patterns." Commissioned by the Oklahoma Symphony, which was about to turn 50 but folded before playing the work, "Attractors" makes much sport with the number five and, for reasons less obvious, the number three. Be all of that as it may, the loosely episodic work is memorable chiefly for its jazzy interludes.
---James R. Oestreich, The New York Times
In retrospect, the most attractive piece was the first, Anne LeBaron's "Strange Attractors," a 12-minute work commissioned by the now-defunct Oklahoma Symphony. The title, the composer explained in her notes, refers to "mathematical feedback loops" in theoretical physics, which evoke "galaxies, fireworks, and weird, disturbing blossomings." The blossomings in LeBaron's work were not particularly weird nor disturbing, but they were gently beautiful. LeBaron's contribution to this method was to give leading roles to the brass and woodwinds, whose slightly more pungent presence lent color and energy to the sound. There was nothing hurtful, aggressive or agonized here; it was a kinder, gentler modernism.
---Peter Goodman, New York Newsday
Telluris Theoria Sacra at the Kennedy Center
Like the classical Greek theorists, Anne LeBaron hears music in the churning of the earth. A premiere of her "Telluris Theoria Sacra," a kind of postmodern music of the spheres, capped the Theater Chamber Players' concert at the Kennedy Center Saturday night. With its catalogue of traditional musical forms recalling Berg's "Wozzeck," "Telluris" attempts to be a music drama about genesis and chaos. The sound were strange and picturesque; their timbres were evocative. LeBaron has a talent for shaping spectacular moments--as when a jazzy rhythm shoots back from an earlier movement and then explodes into silence during the "Vortex Tarantella."
---Marion Jacobson, The Washington Post
Telluris performed by the New Music Consort
The most ambitious style jumper was Anne LeBaron, whose 29-minute "Telluris Theoria Sacra" describes the history of the world from Genesis and the Flood through an eventual fiery destruction and implosion. Ms. LeBaron draws on a misty chromaticism in her depiction of the formless void of the nascent universe. But from within the opening haze, slightly out-of-kilter jazz and rock-and-roll figures emerged in the piano part. These, joined with suitably jazzy wind figures, took center stage in "The Devil's Polymer," the movement depicting today's world. And in the finale, the post-conflagration world is depicted in a distortion of Renaissance harmony that gives way, in the "Gravothermal Collapse" section, to the harmonic haze (this time decorated with sparkling percussion) that opened the work.
---Allan Kozinn, The New York Times
Lamentation/Invocation at Carnegie Recital Hall
Two Orpheus songs by Anne LeBaron, "Lamentation" and "Invocation," for baritone, clarinet, harp, and cello, had their world premiere and left a stronger impression, for they are thoughtful, imaginative pieces, precisely and delicately "heard;" each utterance tells. I'd like to hear them again.
---Andrew Porter, The New Yorker
on harpist Georgeanne Cassat's performance of Planxty Bowerbird:
The program would have risked becoming too pastel-hued but for the inclusion of Anne LeBaron's "Planxty Bowerbird," a chirping, cheerfully dissonant dialogue with a taped synthesizer, which included--among other things--occasional use of a screen-door spring as a bow.
---Sunil Freeman, The Washington Post
on LeBaron's performance of Planxty Bowerbird, and also on Noh Reflections, performed by the Theater Chamber Players of Kennedy Center:
LeBaron is certainly not in a rut. Her two pieces couldn't have been more different. The first, called "Planxty Bowerbird" and scored for harp and tape, was fun to listen to, cheerful and full of the sounds of the harp imitating the electronics. LeBaron, who was the soloist here, played her instrument with a variety of unconventional devices, such as a metal spring bow that produced a rather interesting texture.
Her "Noh Reflections" for string trio, however, was considerably more difficult. In two extended movements, the music employs a lot of portamento and microtones, projecting a sort of agonized and contemplative apathy so hard to penetrate that it was a temptation to stop trying. The performance seemed well coordinated and thoroughly polished.
---Joan Reinthaler, The Washington Post
Concerto for Active Frogs
was the unlikely title for a hilarious piece of contemporary music presented last night at Strathmore Hall in a program devoted to compositions by Anne LeBaron. The chorus (frogs, of course,) entered wearing tunics cut from green trash bags. The head bullfrog was sung (or rather, croaked) with amazing aplomb by baritone Richard Potter, who had a frog mask on his head and carried two bicycle horns. Real frogs were represented on tape. LeBaron's stated intention was to increase "respect for the inherent musicality of these ancient tailless amphibians." Her work did just that with humor and imagination, and with a solid musical structure.
---Ed Roberts, The Washington Post
. . .follows the inclination of its materials and is musically convincing. Each of three movements begins with disparate ideas in the five winds, harp and percussion. LeBaron's program notes propose that in each case the movement is toward "increasing disorder," but as music often will act perversely, independent of its creator's conscious intentions, it sounded the opposite, toward satisfying synthesis and resolution.
---Robert Commanday, San Francisco Chronicle
Rite of the Black Sun, at NYC's Carngie Recital Hall
The hit of the evening was the newest work on the program, Anne LeBaron's "Rite of the Black Sun," which received its world premiere. In some respects, Miss LeBaron could hardly have failed to create a fascinating tour de force with a piece that derives its musical power from 50 percussion instruments conjuring up images of a bloody peyote ritual among Tarahumara Indians in Mexico. The score weaves an appropriately hypnotic, incantatory spell, employing its exotic sound sources with sophisticated compositional skill and a sure ear for dramatic effect.
---Peter G. Davis, The New York Times
And at Tanglewood
Far more interesting was "Rite of the Black Sun" by Anne LeBaron, which dates from 1980 and 1987, and came to the Festival already a well-traveled success and candidate for compact disc. Aside from a quartet of energetic players, who ran around their percussive hives after every conceivable gong, drum, rattle and noisemaker, "Rite" was written for seven optional dancers, not present at this concert. According to the composer, their gyrations help to clarify the structural complexities. That "Rite" works without them was surprising, but it did. One would not have guessed an easy marriage between LeBaron's severly dry erudition and Antonin Artaud's mystical palaver in the text that inspired it. Ritualistic awe and a sense of primitive might did arise from the fantastic array of instruments. The tintinnabulation almost talked.
---Tim Salvner, The Berkshire Eagle