I recently attended a Gloriana concert where the highlight was Ariel Ramirez’ wonderful “iconic” Misa Criolla. It was just fantastic and we, the people, forced the choir into a gratifying encore of the “Gloria”. I was just sufficiently conscious to switch on my kneecam.

I was familiar with this piece in a recording where the soloist was the third tenor, José Carreras (watch youtube). His recording has a sonorous grandeur, but there is nothing to compare with a live performance in an intimate space fat with reverb and live percussionists. Gloriana’s version had the mezzo-soprano Sophie Yelland, who was the tops, but she is occluded above by the conductor, Andrew Raiskums. Raiskums is evidently having a very good time; he’s swinging; they swung as they sung.

From Wikipedia: The Washington Post described Misa Criolla (1964) as “a stunning artistic achievement, combined Spanish text with indigenous instruments and rhythms”. It led to album sales numbering in the millions internationally. Ramírez once told The Jerusalem Post how Misa Criolla was inspired by a visit to Germany after World War II. While there he had an encounter with a group of nuns, which led him to consider writing “a spiritual piece”. This would eventually become the Misa Criolla.

The program was most interesting, including a couple of pieces by the superstar contemporary choralist Eric Whitacre. The snippet above is from Cloudburst — which features a wonderful ending wherein the performers click their fingers to render rain. The last pitter pats are uncanny, but I idiotically pressed the wrong button and lost the moment. See Whitacre’s own version, which, with 160 singers, looks and sounds overdone to simple old me — go to 6:00 to hear the finger rain begin.

Second lastly, here are a couple of sketches of the percussionists brought together for the day by the conductor. They included Alex Pertout (“who is a bit of a legend and well known around town, I was thrilled to have him there,” Raiskums told me) who played the Argentinian drums. I thought he was simply fantastic — not least because he manifested this beatific calm. If one can play drums gravely, he did. He’s the bald feller.

And lastly, here they are doing Steve Reich’s ingenious Clapping Music, performed, surprise, only with hands. There are many versions you can watch: here is the polished auditorium version by GVSU New Music Ensemble; the very spare 2-man version at the Uni of Texas; an amazing version done by jugglers pelting balls rhythmically against the floor; and my favourite — watch Angie Dickinson slap and punch Lee Marvin as orchestrated by Reich; it’s reductive but this version is also the clearest exposition of the pattern (you gotta see the ending).

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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