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Babel Vocal Ensemble @ Babeville

Sing a New Song

Babel is coming to Babeville.

Tony Arnold

No, not that Babel. The wildly successful series of readings by internationally acclaimed authors presented by Just Buffalo and Hallwalls over the last three years has proven to be so popular that it has outgrown its original home in Asbury Hall at Babeville, and finally migrated west to Kleinhans Music Hall, beginning with the appearance of Isabel Allende last Friday evening.

On Tuesday, April 28 at 8pm, the Babel Vocal Ensemble will make its Hallwalls debut at Babeville. Founded three years ago by its current director, soprano Tony Arnold, assistant professor of voice in the University of Buffalo Department of Music, Babel is an experimental vocal ensemble based at the university. “In past years, the ensemble has included both undergraduates and graduate students,” Arnold says, “but currently, all members of the group are either graduate students or faculty members at the university. While some of the members of the group are voice students, some are primarily instrumentalists, like Rin Ozaki, adjunct professor of percussion, or clarinetist Chris Culp, who is also the composer of In Search of Beauty and Apple Symphony, both works that we will perform.”

What excites Arnold is that the members generate all the ideas about what to perform, and how to perform it. “I think about myself as being primarily an advisor to the group. The members of Babel are very self-motivated, and they are lucky to be able to work with a very talented group of graduate student composers, with the skills to develop and rapidly change the kinds of material that Babel is able to bring into existence.”

Tony Arnold already had a very strong background in the performance of modern, contemporary, and new music when she first won over Buffalo audiences at the 2002 June in Buffalo Festival with an unforgettable performance of Bernard Rands’ Canti Lunatici. A winner of several prestigious competitions, Arnold has appeared with numerous new music groups and at new music festivals in both Europe and America. Performances by Arnold this month alone have included Bach’s St. John Passion with the Dayton Philharmonic, an appearance with the George Crumb Ensemble at Heidelberg University in Ohio, and her upcoming BPO debut in the orchestra’s premiere performance of Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang Symphony. Arnold also performed Hungarian composer György Kurtag’s Kafka Fragments with violinist Movses Pogossian at the University of California at Santa Barbara, a work recently recorded by them under the supervision of the composer and just released in a special DVD/CD set (Bridge 9270A/B).

While maintaining an active singing career as a soloist, she has also helped build an unusually strong voice program at UB during the last several years, along with her colleague, baritone Alexander Hurd. “We’ve both been here long enough, now, where we have had students go through our entire program, and that’s been a very gratifying experience for us.” In addition to Culp and Ozaki, the members of group are Amanda DeBoer, Diana Soh, Drew Burke, and Randy Andre, with special guests percussionist Bobby Fullex and dancer Laura Neese.

The works on the program are concept pieces, constantly refined by the performers that relay as much on choreography and acting, often in the tradition of the theatre of the absurd, as well as on the expressive powers of the human voice to achieve their dramatic effect. Apple Symphony, with both a pas de deux and a duel in which apples are actually eaten, or American Girls, by Diane Soh, based on the self-absorbed, stereotypically cell phone driven world of the “Like, you know,” Valley girl culture, are very funny. If, at the outset by Tom Stoll treats the human ability to network words, sounds and images on multiple levels, while John Bacon’s This is the Kali Yuga, based on a poem by Celia White, has an intensely ritualistic quality, emphasized by the chanting, singing, yelling and grunting of the four speakers. The program ends on a humorous note with Recital Rewind (R&R).

Admission to the event is free. For information, visit or call 854-1694.

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