New York Polyphony offers steely attention to detail

02.12.15
New York Polyphony
Richmond Times-Dispatch

 Do clothes matter in classical music?

Writing in The Washington Post in 2011, critic Anne Midgette seemed torn: “On the one hand, appearance has no bearing on how an artist sounds. On the other hand, appearance sends a message.”
 
And sometimes, that message is about music.
 
When the four men of New York Polyphony took the stage Wednesday evening at the Modlin Center for the Arts, they wore crisp shirts, tasteful ties and matching gray suits lined in brilliant, bullfighter red.
It was like welcoming a troupe of insurance salesmen, only to have them launch into disco dancing.
 
It also served as a metaphor for the group’s musical approach — steely attention to detail caging something wonderfully wild.
 
Polyphony is music-speak for the interweaving of multiple melodies, and polyphony from the Renaissance era is New York Polyphony’s bread and butter. It’s a demanding genre, requiring of its performers near-perfect unity of diction, timing and timbre.
 
But it also requires a judicious disunion: Unless each melody is allowed to go its own way, to pursue its own ends and wander as it wishes, the music can flatten, turning something live and kicking into background music for your Subaru.
 
New York Polyphony’s trick — and it’s a good one — is to be one and many at the same time — to remain alive to the possibilities of each individual melody while marching those melodies forward in lock step.
 
A red lining — in other words — in a gray suit.
 
Yet, the night’s most memorable moments occurred when the group departed from the program. A setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah by the Franco-Flemish composer Thomas Crecquillon was vivid and lush, with long melismas spelling out four letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
 

Read the rest of the review here