My concert companion, ACB, has kindly read my mind and already written everything I wanted to say about this exceptional show, a concert of Meredith Monk compositions performed by The M6, a group of ridiculously talented young singers, including Sid Chen of The Standing Room. ACB and I exchanged many astounded "did-you-just-fucking-hear-THAT" glances throughout the show, and shared an intense chat at intermission on the nature of virtuosity (which inspired this post). In this case, the tremendous virtuosity on display actually did hit home, in a thrillingly visceral way, because (A) it was fresh -- the extended vocal techniques Meredith Monk pioneered are still a long way from being tapped out, and (B) it was meaningful -- these songs require virtuosity, but they are not about virtuosity.
I'm no expert on Meredith Monk's music by any means -- I've heard a few things of hers before here and there (including a charming concert at BAMcafé a few years back with Theo Bleckmann and Gary Versace), but her stuff has never hit me as hard as it did last week. Tablet, especially, was fucking primal, an epic in some imagined pre-grammatical language.
Meredith Monk's music requires a significant buy-in from the audience, because if you're not familiar with her style, your first reaction is likely going to be "what in the hell is this -- early minimalism meets Shooby Taylor?" But the M6 singers were so committed to the music and so engaged in their roles that it was impossible not to get drawn into the world they were creating. The songs may not have words, but they do tell stories, and The M6 made these imagined narratives absolutely riveting.
Like ACB says, "I saw more true communication between people tonight than I’ve seen on many an opera/theater stage, where there are actual words in actual languages." I could say much the same thing about many, many jazz singers, who value making pretty sounds over singing the lyrics like you own them. Hell, even originals often come across like professional-but-indifferent covers.
On the way back to the subway, ACB suggested that if The M6 were to expand beyond their current mandate of representing Meredith Monk's music to include other composers, they have the potential to become the Eighth Blackbird of new vocal music. I concur.