Rose Hegele and Sarah Cahill Double Bill at the Center for New Music

As the world eases back into participating in live music, we regain the chance to discover hidden musical gems in our lives. What once was almost commonplace now feels decadent. On the evening of July 16, 2022 at the Center for New Music in San Francisco, itself a hidden gem, soprano Rose Hegele and pianist Sarah Cahill gave a now luxurious, intimate double recital. The Center for New Music seeks to cultivate and sustain a new music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area, giving concerts and providing a library, workspace, and rehearsal space for artists, scholars, and enthusiasts of contemporary music. The small performance venue is technologically advanced, with high quality sound, acoustics, and lighting. 

Rose Hegele noted that she designed her program to reflect the human experience, beginning with creation and ending with deep introspection or death. While each piece Hegele sang tended to have its own narrative arc, her programming elegantly supported this larger storytelling. She began with an arrangement of “Light” from Creation Oratorio by Sabrina Peña Young for solo voice and pre-recorded electronics. Hegele’s clear and stately soprano contrasted the electronic accompaniment, which evoked 1970s sci-fi film scores. In Ruby-Throated Moment by Emily Doolittle, Hegele deftly navigated the balance between expressing a text by Rae Crossman about the flight of a hummingbird while singing a difficult melody, bringing unity to what might otherwise feel like two disjunct ideas. Hegele accompanied herself in June by Melissa Dunphy, using a series of melodic and percussive gestures that she vocalized and looped live.

Rose Hegele--Photo by Brandon Vick

Rose Hegele–Photo by Brandon Vick

The climax of Hegele’s program was Ololyga by Kamala Sankaram. Per the composer, the piece is a response to the United States presidential election of 2016 and the “historic silencing of women,” an idea that continues to be relevant to us years later. Using a range of extended vocal techniques and Meredith Monk-style non-languaged syllables, Sankaram asks her singer to express anger and frustration on microtonal oscillations and vocal wiggles between dissonances. Particularly suited to performing this style of music, Hegele easily controlled the flexibility of her voice, swiftly switching between registers and vocal styles. In both Ololyga and  Manual for the Use of Wings by Gilda Lyons, Hegele demonstrated an acute understanding of the performance space, finding the spatial ring and achieving multiple vocal overtones.

Throughout her program, Hegele brought her audience along on a musical journey – and we believed her. Hegele’s vocal intensity and musical interpretations convince her listeners of the message, even if the music is challenging; she makes easy work of difficult music, allowing these pieces to truly be understood.

During the second half of the evening, Sarah Cahill, a 2018 American Composers Forum Champion for New Music, began her program with Piano Poems by Regina Harris Baiocchi, noting that the piece is based on haiku poetry and its poets. Four vignettes comprise the piece, all musically influenced by jazz idioms that appear as blues scales and syncopation, while cadential focus and negative musical space within each vignette creates a sense of anticipation and inevitability. Cahill was a sensitive interpreter of these almost vocal pieces, highlighting the musical gestures that show the narrativity of each piano poem and illuminating the expressivity of the potentially stagnant instrument. 

Sarah Cahill--Photo by Christine Alicino

Sarah Cahill–Photo by Christine Alicino

Aida Shirazi’s Albumblatt is, per Cahill, “different on every piano.” The piece is an exploration of the timbral capacity of the instrument, played on the keys and inside the piano on its strings. Cahill not only highlighted the contrast between timbres, but also allowed the ring of convergence to resonate in the space. Cahill concluded the evening with She Dances Naked Under Palm Trees by Theresa Wong, who was in attendance. Wong explained that the commission for Cahill is based on a Nina Simone song and feminine self-realization, and the piece encapsulates the complex range of emotions that comes with discovering one’s own feminine power. After a passage of a sensual enlarged tango, Wong uses a series of glissandi, tempo shifts, and motivic phasing to portray a sense of transformation, while an underlying drone suggests a certain ancientness. Cahill played declaratively and resolutely, while retaining a gentleness that evoked peace and self-preservation.

While the dual recital at the Center for New Music was almost casual in its intimacy, Hegele and Cahill presented poignant, beautifully performed, important works of contemporary music. In the unpretentious venue, the audience and performers seemed to relinquish the traditional pageantry of concert behavior while remaining gracious. With hope, this shift in decorum will become a trend, as experiencing new music in this way makes art more accessible and approachable to new and experienced listeners eager to enjoy live music again after a long hiatus.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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