Donald Rosenberg
February 1, 2011
Musical works are often analysed and described in architectural terms, but how many are actually about architecture? Steven Mackey’s Dreamhouse takes up the subject with explosive and ethereal imagination. Scored for vocal quartet, electric guitar quartet and orchestra, the piece is a rumination on the design and construction of the eponymous house, complete with Architect as speaking and singing narrator. Mackey’s mastery of musical styles, from oldest to the most recent, allowed him to fill his three-part extravaganza with a cavalcade of disarming and jolting sonic ideas. The electric guitars occasionally rock and thunder, but they’re also used for subtle colouristic effect. An artillery of percussion instruments adds phantasmagorical shadings. The composer wrote the text with Rinde Eckert, the performance artist who here also inhabits the role of the Architect. Mackey states in a programme note that he isn’t concerned if some of the words aren’t comprehensible. Their incorporation in overall textures is more important, as the music makes clear in the way voices and instruments meld and diverge, with spellbinding impact. The nods to Renaissance music, rock and jazz add timeless appeal to the narrative, which builds to a trance-like culmination: the repetition of an enchanting theme on the words, “I’ll build you a dreamhouse, where you can live, where you’ll be safe.” But Mackey and Eckert’s creation suggests such a place doesn’t exist in our turbulent world. The recording features conductor Gil Rose, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Synergy Vocals, Catch Electric Guitar Quartet and Eckert in a performance of volatile and luminous beauty. - Donald Rosenberg © Copyright 2011 Gramophone