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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Amy X Neuburg Displays Rare Talent at Turner Hall

Classical Review

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Amy X Neuburg's unique combination of talents was on advantageous display at the Present Music concert on Saturday evening at Turner Hall. I don't know of another composer/poet/soprano like her. Though many artists in every genre aspire to individuality, few fit that definition as surely as does Neuburg.

Neuburg's poetry, on which her songs are based, is substantial, literate, witty and stylish. Some of her poems would be complete on their own, without musical settings. They undeniably come to life in her compositions, which combine voice and live instruments with recorded and overdubbed loops. The loops sometimes function as decoration, sometimes as background harmony, and sometimes as structural essentials. Neuburg's strength is the traditional core to her compositions. She has the rare gift of setting words to music in a satisfying way that completes both literate and musical components.

Neuburg, who sings all her compositions, has an uncommonly versatile, excellent voice of unusual range, seamlessly mixing styles. She is a coloratura soprano who can move into the cool, breathy sounds of jazz, to theatrical belting, to high classical riffs. We are accustomed to the tradition of singer/songwriters in popular styles, showing the revealing, intimate connection between singer and song. Neuburg achieves this in her sophisticated, contemporary classical genre. At various times I heard other voices vaguely echoed in her performances: Jan DeGaetani, Cleo Laine, Joni Mitchell, Rufus Wainwright, Barbra Streisand. You could also hear a little of the Sprechstimme style of something like Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire.

In nine songs her performances and material were constantly fascinating. A high point was “Shrapnel,” the warmest and most direct of the songs performed, telling of scattered pieces of emotional identity, with the loops of her voice creating lush harmony. Neuburg's songs were accompanied by piano (Cory Smythe, playing wonderfully though the mix on the piano was too loud), or in new arrangements with ensemble, created for this concert. The musicians of Present Music (Eric Segnitz, Zhan Shu, Erin Pipal, Adrien Zitoun, William Helmers, Terry Smirl) gave dedicated exactness and flair to the songs, as is always and reliably the case.
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