Boston Secession

Asymmetry Music Magazine

Surprised by Beauty: Minimalism in Choral Music

Kirk Udvardi
June 28, 2008

Surprised by Beauty: Minimalism in Choral Music is the second studio recording by the remarkable choral ensemble, Boston Secession. They have been under the direction of Jane Ring Frank since 1996 offering uniquely themed programs filled with diverse repertoire from the 12th century to the present. Personally, as a fan of recent music, when I see names on their recordings like Edwin London, Gavin Bryars and William Duckworth and an upcoming concert featuring the music of J. S. Bach and Alfred Schnittke, I’m instantly interested.

What makes Boston Secession stand out among other choral ensembles is their masterful use of English-styled straight-toned singing. The clarity and precision with which they approach both pure harmonies and dissonances is chilling. There is a purity here that I doubt could have been conceived by none other than the composers themselves. As I listen I find myself constantly breathing with the ensemble and anticipating each new sound and where it finally resolves. This is riveting music by thoughtful performers.

Equally thoughtful is the choice of texts. The lyrics for Gavin Bryars’ And so ended Kant’s traveling in this world (1997) comes from an 1827 biography of the philosopher called The last Days of Immanuel Kant. The Beatitudes (1990) by Arvo Pärt comes from the Sermon from the Mount (Matthew 5: 3-12) that is delicately supported by pipe organ throughout until…well, I don’t want to give it away. Boston Secession’s resident composer, Ruth Lomon’s offering, Transport (2006) part of her oratorio Testimony of Witnesses (set for a full premiere in 2009), draws from poetry written by holocaust victims and survivors. Lomon’s work paired with Bryars makes for provocative, multi-faceted listening and thinking.

I’m concerned that when browsers see ‘Minimalism’ in the title of this recording they may immediately assume the big ‘M’ of the Glass/Adams camp. This is Minimalism as it should be – carefully chosen materials concisely arranged so that you are aware of detail and nuance, not pointless shifts in endlessly repeating patterns. These works offer sounds that combine purity and dissonance which is exquisitely presented through the quality of the performers and the clarity of the recording.

The CD is priced at $18 (including shipping) and may be purchased online by visiting Boston Secession’s web site at or by calling 1-800-BUY-MY-CD.

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