One thing’s for sure: David was in a VERY bad way when he wrote Psalm 55. The verses teeter between despair and outrage, recounting in painful detail the insult and injury of betrayal. Norwegian composer Andrew Smith resists the violence of the language in his setting of Psalm 55 however. His interpretation is contemplative, evoking the cool objectivity of Gregorian chant. Only in brief solo interjections—which materialize from within the ghostly, undulating textures—does the Psalmist’s anguish ever bubble to the surface. It’s a clear eyed, unsentimental take that is reinforced by Smith’s icy harmonic language.
Psalm 55 is an adaptation of a 5-voice work Smith composed for New York Polyphony and mezzo soprano Ebba Rydh to accompany a multidisciplinary performance project called Notatar for eit Rekviem (Notes for a Requiem). Developed for the 2011 Vestfold Festspillen, Notatar for eit Rekviem was a dramatic adaptation of a novel by Odd Klippenvåg about Don Carlo Gesualdo, the notorious composer most famous for (allegedly) murdering his wife and her lover. Verses of Psalm 55, set by Smith, were inserted between spoken monologues, solo dance interludes, and five motets written by Gesualdo himself. Despite the need to integrate seamlessly with both the staged dramatic elements and the tormented harmonic language of Gesualdo’s motets, Smith succeeded in creating a setting complete unto itself.
New York Polyphony is very excited to be giving the revised version of Andrew Smith’s Psalm 55 its U.S. premiere on Friday, June 13, 2014.
The performance is part of the 2014 Early Music Festival New York City.
Image of Andrew Smith © Acis Productions Ltd.