The Wail of the Voice!

In 1971 Penn faculty composer George Crumb wrote Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) for three masked players: electric flute, electric cello, and amplified piano. The piece has become a classic of 20th century music. “The work was inspired by the singing of the humpback whale, a tape recording of which I had heard two or three years previously," says Crumb, a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the most recognized composers of our time. "The masks, by effacing the sense of human projection, are intended to represent, symbolically, the powerful impersonal forces of nature (i.e., nature dehumanized).”

In March 2012, as part of its new Public Lives of Music series of musical events and lectures, the music department presented a concert called The Wail of the Voice!, a punny tribute to Crumb’s piece and contemporary music. The concert featured music by Penn composers—emeritus, current faculty, and alumni. Of course, the centerpiece of that inaugural concert was Vox Balaenae.

Now an annual event, the music department presented the second Wail! concert in January in Rose Recital Hall. This concert featured String Quartet No. 8 by Pulitzer Prize-winner and Emeritus Professor of Music Richard Wernick. It was performed by the Daedalus Quartet, Penn’s ensemble-in-residence.

An excerpt from String Quartet No. 8 by Richard Wernick, performed by the Daedalus Quartet:

String Quartet No. 8 (excerpt)

Other works performed were In Search of Planet X by Matthew Schreibeis (Gr’2008), and works by current Penn faculty: the piano trio Fantasy-Variations by James Primosch; The Space Between, for string quartet, by Anna Weesner; and The Flight of the Red Sea Swallow, for flute and piano, by Jay Reise. All performers in the concert are currently teaching in the College House Music Program.

Listen to excerpts from the other pieces on the concert below:

In Search of Planet X by Matthew Schreibeis (Gr’ 2008)

The piano trio Fantasy-Variations by James Primosch

The Space Between for string quartet by Anna Weesner

The Flight of the Red Sea Swallow for flute and piano by Professor of Music Jay Reise

The third annual Wail of the Voice! concert will take place in spring 2014. It will be free and open to the public.

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