Classical Music

Kinetic Ensemble Tiptoes Outside Its Sanctuary

Alexandra Smither, soprano, joins with Kinetic Ensemble to explore the relationship between love and fear.
Alexandra Smither, soprano, joins with Kinetic Ensemble to explore the relationship between love and fear. Photo by Ruta Kuzmickas
Kinetic Ensemble is keeping the artistic vibes moving with its season-closing concert, Beyond the Sanctuary Walls, which features the world premiere of the program’s title work as well as works by Clara Schumann and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. on May 26 at the MATCH.

The program brings together several special connections, most notably the trio of artists who will perform the title piece: soprano Alexandra Smither, double bass player Charles Paul and composer Theo Chandler. All three are graduates of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, although their enrollment was staggered so not all attended simultaneously. The three connected in mid-2017 as fellows at the Tanglewood Music Center, the famed summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its training academy.

While there, Smither listened to Chandler’s art and was captivated.

“I heard his music, and it was the best music I've ever experienced,” she said. “We became really fast friends, and he wrote me a song that summer. He's been writing for me ever since.”

Chandler's writing for Smither clocks in around one piece per year since the pair first met, and it has made them grow only closer as they've gotten to know each other.

“He seems like he's very quiet, but he has this bubbling interior. These sounds and this whole sonic world that exists inside him comes bubbling out in his music,” Smither said of Chandler’s work for her. “Now, as one of his really good friends, it's so exciting because I see so much of him coming out in his music. He's a very supportive composer. He writes very thoughtfully for the voice, and he knows my voice really well.”

Of course, Paul completes the third part of the trio, and Smither has glowing adoration of their collaborative energy.

“Bringing the gang back together is so much fun, because there's this trust and comfort. Those two qualities are what allows you to explore things you otherwise wouldn't be able to do,” she said. “I'm really excited to sing with Chuck, because I trust him and his musicianship. I'm really excited for the playful things we can do together.”
click to enlarge
Paul Charles' skills on the double bass will leave audiences mesmerized.
Photo by Lynn Lane
The main piece, “Beyond the Sanctuary Walls,” is an exploration of the relationship between love, fear and vulnerability. The “sanctuary” refers to like special places of beauty and safety, and to extend beyond them inherently implies trekking to an outside world of the potentially dangerous and unknown.

“The piece takes a journey from the sanctuary to beyond and then back to a more expansive sanctuary by moving beyond fears and living with a love-filled view of life,” Smither explained. “…and it is just so lush and lyrical. It's really satisfying to listen to.”

Performing this work, especially considering the ensemble operates sans conductor, is no easy task, but Smither is steeling herself for the job.

“If I'm going into something without a conductor, I want to be absolutely bulletproof,” she said. “I remember a teacher once told me if someone shook you awake in the middle of the night and said you have to perform right now, you have to be that ready that you could do it. That's the bar I'm holding myself to.”

To pull it off, Smither is sticking to the adage that practice makes perfect.

“I do all the things I would normally do. I practice the piece in different ways so it's locked in different parts of my brain,” she described.

The process is grueling.

“I'll practice just the text. I'll practice the text out of time. I'll practice the text in time. I'll practice just the melody without the text in time. I will study the full score so I know all the parts so that I'm really locked in to the other people in the ensemble. I'm listening to the recordings of myself practicing so I can catch little things,” she detailed. “I’m trying it from every single possible angle so that no matter what happens in performance, there's always going to be some part of my brain that knows exactly what's going on.”

The completed product is one Smither believes will be well worth the effort.

She said, “Opportunities for music making that leave people feeling transformed and filled are really important. I hope people come and can relax and be a part of that because it's going to feel very good – like a bubble bath for everybody.”

Kinetic Ensemble presents ‘Beyond the Sanctuary Walls’ at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 26 at the MATCH, 3400 Main. For tickets or information, visit $10 - $30.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd