Seven Responses

Seven Responses

An exercise in re-membrance
Caroline Shaw
Hans Thomalia
Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen
Anna Thorvaldsdottir
David T. Little
Santa Radniece
Lewis Spratlan
The Crossing
International Contemporary Ensemble
Donald Nally
Catalog Number: 
new classical

Philadelphia, PA

Release Date: 
Feb 3, 2017
Liner Notes: 
2 CD
One Sheet: 

A substantial double album that never loses sight of the human voice at its heart, Seven Responses from Philadelphia’s superlative choir, The Crossing, began as a project to explore the topic of suffering. Seven extraordinary composers were asked to respond to one of the cantatas of Dieterich Buxtehude’s 1680 oratorio, Membra Jesu Nostri (The Limbs of Jesus). Performed by The Crossing and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the resulting pieces are diverse and uniquely personal yet together create a whole body of work that has an uncanny logic and leaves a powerful impression. One to remember.

Hailing from Denmark, Latvia, Germany, Iceland and the USA and including two Pulitzer Prize winners (Caroline Shaw and Lewis Spratlan), the composers have produced works that cover a broad swath of styles. Hans Thomalla calls on the wind instruments to play multiphonics, blurring our perception as the choir shimmers around their distorted pitches, while Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s piece moves from violent string effects to prayerful contemplation in a fully synthesized color palette.

David T. Little creates a sonic bath of low, reverberant tones and chants, broken by the hammering of brake drums and the power of an electric guitar and drums piercing the mystical atmosphere. And Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen -- who passed away just two days after the premiere of his “Ad cor” -- crafts three movements that come together, overlap, and form a whole in the final movement, in an astonishing amalgamation of form and content.

Lewis Spratlan teams with poet Paul Kane to create a modern cantata that recalls Ancient Greek tragedy in its treatment of the chorus and soloists. Here, ICE is lush and descriptive, providing the aural backdrop on which the story of the suffering, dying earth is played out in lyric, sometimes sorrowful, at other times exhilarating, colors. Hope, warning, and lament, all wrapped in his facile, powerful musical language.

The Crossing is a professional chamber choir conducted by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music. Consistently recognized in critical reviews, The Crossing has been hailed as “exquisite” (The New York Times, 8/16), “cutting-edge” (Q2 Music, 7/16), and “indisputably genuine” (The Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/16). Formed by a group of friends in 2005, the ensemble has since grown exponentially and “has made a name for itself in recent years as a champion of new music” (The New York Times, 2/14).




Shaw closes the suite with "i will hold you," a movement of beauty and solace, stillness and luminous swells of interlocking choral parts, all propelled by softly plucked strings. Near the end, she quotes Buxtehude's tender refrain, "In media manuum tuarum" (In your hands). With the words "I will hold you" repeating, the song acts as musical balm for suffering. If we're in pain, no matter whom we are or what our religious convictions might be, we all need to be held tightly. "They could be the words of Christ," Shaw writes in the booklet notes, "or of a parent or friend or lover, or even a nation." [FULL ARTICLE] - Tom Huizenga


"(Caroline Shaw's) To the Hands is a fairly compact suite of six small chorales on texts of her own device. This was, for me, the highlight of this collection but there is so much to admire here. I also greatly enjoyed Anna Thorsvaldsdottir’s Ad genua/To the knees with its non-stop beauty tinged with mystery. David Little’s dress in magic amulets,dark, from My feet is highly impressive but is also, arguably, the most unnerving and foreboding of the works present with a reliance on a lot of open harmonies and drone-like writing... these composers also very successfully met the mood and intent of this project and left a strong impression. Factor in the superb and dedicated playing of the very fine International Contemporary Ensemble. I was really impressed with this collection." [FULL ARTICLE] - Daniel Coombs


“The album is characterized by a mournful stillness, as piece after piece seems to struggle against the passage of time itself with a sheer, glacial slowness of motion. Hans Thomalla's I come near you and Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Ad genua/To the knees seem to time-stretch, passing Baroque dissonances into collisions of ear-bending drones; Dog Days composer David T. Little's dress in magic amulets, dark, from My feet evokes the sludge of doom metal with acoustic voices and instruments.

Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen's Ad cor stands out—mercurial, facetious and cynical, yet oddly moving—stands out from the earnest program, as does the dense dramatic cantata, Common Ground, by the American composer Lewis Spratlan.

The ethereal My soul will sink within me, by the Latvian composer Santa Ratniece, pushes the choir to its limits over the course of one long, sweeping movement, while To the Hands, by Spratlan's fellow Pulitzer laureate Caroline Shaw, offers an intense intimacy. With its short loops of material and subtle shifts of tone, it sounds almost private, like a bedroom demo recording extrapolated to majestic proportions—but it also, like so much of the music on this album, suggests a deep understanding and appreciation for the solemn 17th-century cycle that inspired it.” [FULL ARTICLE] - Daniel Stephen Johnson



“The Crossing’s performances are superbly articulated, with the accompaniments from the International Contemporary Ensemble splendidly realised. A fascinating programme that I will return to.” [FULL ARTICLE] - Guy Rickards



“Each composer was given the latitude to work with his or her own librettists, resulting in a great variety of treatments. Consider Ad cor, by the late Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, where mockery is the aspect of the crucifixion addressed: the composer sets fragments of text like "I laugh at you mockingly." The composers come from many countries, but the program is framed by works of two Americans, a hot newcomer, Caroline Shaw, and a veteran, Lewis Spratlan, whose text is ecological in orientation. Shaw's work merges Baroque, medieval, and minimalist strands in a wholly novel way, with passages that almost seem to quote Philip Glass but diverge in ultimate effect. With some space available on both CDs, the compilers might have included the Buxtehude in at least excerpted form in order to show something of the stimulus for the contemporary composers. But this is an entirely novel work, quite convincingly performed by the musicians who commissioned it.” [Full Article] - James Manheim



"The performances are all excellent. The Crossing dives right in to this repertoire, singing it with style and understanding. They’re joined by members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, who provide shapely, understated accompaniments. In all, this is a powerful, moving, and thought-provoking demonstration of new music at its best." [FULL ARTICLE] - Jonathan Blumhofer


“The answers provided by the composers were summoned to unprecedented levels: artistically (both from the point of view of the music from that of the texts) interesting and original, humanly touching and profound. At more intimate compositions, in which the singing of polyphonic voices or unison is drawing relax emotional scenarios where the pain is channeled into the intimate beauty paths...Seven Responses - as the title of this unmissable double CD from Innova - questioning, surprise, shock, fascinate: an opportunity not to be missed for anyone looking for rewarding and challenging experiences in the world of contemporary music, to which The Crossing is providing valuable contributions.” [FULL ARTICLE] - Filippo Focosi



“There is no question as you listen as to where the stylistic contemporaneousness resides: it is decidedly not a serialist or atonal realm of the last century, though there are at times bold modernisms to be heard. It is a tonal, sound-color oriented development that embraces the ancient and the modern in a newfound synthesis that appeals while it dishes out a wealth of musical nutrients.” - [FULL ARTICLE] - Grego Edwards