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Hotel Elefant showcases music as a medium for 21st century storytelling

By Jacob Slattery, 16 September 2014

In a program entitled speakOUT, Hotel Elefant, a new-composer collective, performed musical narratives ranging from horseback riding in Northern Iran to the public suicide of a Pennsylvanian State Treasurer. Combining seasoned chamber musicians, new works, and a cabaret-style venue, Hotel Elefant delivered an evening of captivating music as a form of storytelling.

Beginning with featured Iranian-born composer Sahba Aminikia, the stage took fire with spirited viola soloist Kallie Ciechomski, in a piece entitled Shetābān (In Haste). Rhythmically driven with Persian harmonies, Shetābān is reminiscent of a dance by Stravinsky or Bartok and alludes to the music of the horse-riding Iranian-Kurdish people of Northern Khorāsān, highlighting the viola's percussive edge in combination with aggressive foot-stomping from the soloist.

Following in more austere manner, This Will Hurt Someone by Matt Marks sets the pre-suicide speech of former Pennsylvanian State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer to Broadway-esque song. The work, arranged for voice, piano, ukulele and strings, maintains a conventional songwriting format, and begins with a languid ukelele in detached arpeggios, providing a compassionate yet hypnotic palette. The vocal line, sung here by the composer himself, takes the lyrics verbatim from the politician's speech from his final press conference moments before he placed a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Straying away from violent tone painting as we might have heard 150 years ago from Berlioz (the nightmarish beheading in Symphonie fantastique), Marks offers a sympathetic account of Dwyer's suicide without sadomasochism or condemnation. The piece respectfully ends as the vocalist searches the crowd for his colleagues just seconds before chaos and shouting would ensue.

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