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High Concepts

Feldman and O’Hara’s “Three Voices”

Kayleigh Butcher is a founding member of former High Concept Labs Sponsored Artists Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. They perform Morton Feldman’s Three Voices on Thursday, August 6 at HCL

Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman

Three Voices is a sublime piece that both mesmerizes and stupefies. 

The length, the tunings, the melismas, textures, the range, the relentlessness—it’s challenging in a way that is unlike any other piece in the unaccompanied solo voice repertoire, and certainly in ways that Quince could not have foreseen.

This piece was written initially for one singer to perform with two looming, black loudspeakers performing the other vocal lines rather than three live singers.

Frank O'Hara

Frank O’Hara

Feldman wrote the piece in memoriam to Frank O’Hara, a NYC poet who was very good friends with Feldman. O’Hara was a prominent figure in “The New York School” of poets and was very inspired by music, dance, and painting (specifically the Abstract Expressionists of the 1950s and 60s) and it came through in his poetry. Here’s a link to more of his poetry.

Feldman and O’Hara were life-long collaborators, dedicating multiple pieces to each other, including the poem referenced in Three Voices. O’Hara died very early in life (at age 40), and this piece serves as an ode to him. The loudspeakers that are typically used in a performance by one singer represent looming, black tombstones peering over the singer’s shoulders to the audience to remind us that death is ever-present.

The work is mostly sung without text, however the few fragments of text that you do hear come from O’Hara’s 1957 poem Wind. Here it is in its entirety.

to Morton Feldman

Who’d have thought
                                       that snow falls
it always circled whirling
like a thought
                          in the glass ball
around me and my bear

Then it seemed beautiful
snow whirled
                          nothing ever fell
nor my little bear
                                bad thoughts
imprisoned in crystal

beauty has replaced itself with evil

And the snow whirls only
                                               in fatal winds
                                               then falls
it always loathed containment
I love evil

(CP 269)


Quince performs a program that includes Three Voices at High Concept Labs on August 6, 2015. For more information about Quince, visit quince-ensemble.com.

Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble
Thursday, August 6
7 PM / $10 Students, $15 General
High Concept Labs
2233 S Throop St, Chicago, IL



One thought on “Feldman and O’Hara’s “Three Voices”

  1. Reblogged this on Anthony Donofrio and commented:
    Kayleigh Butcher’s excellent post about Feldman’s Three Voices, being performed this Thursday at High Concept Laboratories by Quince.

    Posted by donofriomusic | August 3, 2015, 4:44 pm

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