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Reiko Füting Juxtaposes Musical Antecedents in distantSong

January 8, 2019

What’s particularly impressive about distantSong, six compositions by Reiko Füting, is that so many references converge in music that still has a strong sense of itself.

Füting, who was born in 1970 and is on faculty at Manhattan School of Music, here explores many themes: timbre, quotation, memory. The title track — sinking, singing, sounding: distant song, for vocal quartet and ensemble — has a slow and multilayered ceremonialism that reminds me of Anna Thorvaldsdottir. In another work, Füting’s combination of Baroque period instruments with 21st-century techniques cleverly mirrors the opposing choirs in the Heinrich Schütz piece on which it’s based.

This music also features text by Hannah Arendt and others, in whisperings that pan in and out of earshot. Other tracks reference Debussy and the Renaissance composer Jacques Arcadelt. There’s a lot of “why” behind each piece, and the listening experience is rarely light.

For me, the most immediate work is mo(nu)ment for C, for the ensemble loadbang (baritone, trumpet, trombone, and bass clarinet). Terse oscillating motifs create a vibrant ostinato for fragments, in English, German, and French, that reference the rallying cry for freedom of the press after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack. But there’s no Charlie here — only endless, playfully self-conscious iterations of “I am.”

At the ends of several pieces, source material — or something like it — finally reveals itself. Are these Baroque-sounding polyphonies a culmination, a return? Füting’s work doesn’t suggest a single reading.

Take the crooning, capricious eternal return (Passacaglia). The unexpected duo of soprano (Corrine Byrne) and trumpet (Andrew Kozar) play in taunting heterophony, one voice just slightly behind the other. The text, from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, can read as demoralizing: All human actions are destined only to repeat, ad infinitum. But the music is cheerful in its resignation.

Rebecca Wishnia recently earned her master’s degree in violin from UC Santa Cruz, where she studied with Roy Malan. A passionate chamber musician, she has performed in a variety of ensembles around the Bay Area, in addition to studying and teaching chamber repertoire at festivals each summer.

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