Howard and I saw this show at Zankel Hall on 5/2/15. Remember last December I saw Meredith Monk’s *On Behalf of Nature* at BAM? I’m a huge Monk fan from way back - - Howard introduced me to her music, and I was over the moon to see that Carnegie Hall was presenting a concert of her music on the weekend Howard was in town for the Wooster show.
The first half was music she had written between 1967 and 1993, the second half was music she’s written in this century. She opened the program singing four pieces alone. She’s 72 years old and still in complete command of her instrument, it was breathtaking and inspiring to hear her singing so beautifully. She sang the first song and said, “Gosh, it’s dry in here, does anyone have any water?” Howard and I were sitting pretty close to the stage, and were both tempted to run up to her - - but an usher beat us to it. Plus, how would she feel about Howard giving her sparkling water? Her third piece might have been revised to have humming, clicking, AND burping. And I can only imagine how she would feel about my Hello Kitty water bottle.
She made the cutest comment after her second piece - - she introduced it saying she had written it when she was living in the Mexican desert, and the music is meant to evoke that landscape. It did, there was a bewitching hush in the audience. At one point during the piece, very quietly, a subway rumbled by beneath us. It didn’t disturb the performance, it just added a little something extra. She laughed as we wound up our applause to that song, saying, “Great, a subway going by in the Mexican desert. Very evocative.”
The next set started with a duet for her and Katie Geissinger. This will be difficult to explain, but it was incredibly erotic. Meredith is very short, probably under five feet tall. Katie is about 5’ 8”, so she towers over Meredith. Meredith looked up at Katie with her goofy grin, the grin of a noble fool. Katie looked down on Meredith with warmth and something beyond warmth. The eroticism was at its hottest with the low, quiet, moaning sounds that Katie made, alternating with more typical singing. The whole effect was indecent! It felt so intimate, it felt intrusive that I was there watching them.
The first half ended with a performance of her masterpiece, *Dolmen Music*, written in 1979. This is one of the greatest pieces of music I’ve ever heard, it is a miracle. It’s written for six singers (three women, three men) and cello. I heard a performance of it about ten or twelve years ago by a group of young singers she put together to learn her music, and I didn’t think I’d ever get another opportunity to hear the piece live. The performance we heard at Zankel Hall was even more extraordinary, because it featured many of the singers on the original recording, most especially Andrea Goodman. Goodman has never had what I would call a pretty voice, and her voice has gotten a little creaky over the years, but her shivering poltergeist solo was incredible.
The second half consisted of pieces she’s written since 2001. And it was awful. I’ve never witnessed such a mixed bag in my life: the first half was endlessly thrilling, brilliant, unique. The second half was dull, derivative (of herself), and dippy. Howard had the best explanation: her older music is spare and lean, the voice of the performer and the structure of the music draw you in. The newer music uses more instruments, and it doesn’t work - - Howard says it’s like she’s filling in the blanks, and the blanks are part of what makes her music so fascinating.
Howard’s friend Sidney Chen sang in *Dolmen Music* and in a few pieces on the second half - - he works down the street from Howard’s bakery in San Francisco, they’ve struck up a friendship. He sang beautifully and is a gorgeous man. We hung out at the stage door after the show, we hoped we’d see him, and he must have snuck out before we got there.
Howard friended Naaz Hosseini on Facebook, she was another of the singers in *Dolmen Music*. We ran into her on our way out - - she was speaking with someone else, we waited our turn, and Howard said, “Hello Naaz, we’ve met on Facebook, I’m Howard Ryan.” She said, “Are you THE Howard?” Howard nearly passed out! We talked with her for a few minutes, we gushed all over her. She was maybe the most thrilling singer we heard all night, she blew me away.