Live: Emotional ins and outs with Lion and the Lamb in Durham | Music

Live: Emotional ins and outs with Lion and the Lamb in Durham

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  • File photo by D.L. Anderson
Ari Picker: Lion and the Lamb
Duke's Nelson Music Room, Durham
Saturday, March 28, 2015

“In like a lion, out like a lamb” goes the saying about the month of March. This March ended with both in a way, thanks to the premiere of Ari Picker’s Lion and the Lamb in Duke’s Nelson Music Room. The new composition by the man once behind chamber pop outfit Lost in the Trees wove together Picker’s background as a Berklee-educated composer and the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. The performance, the piece's second, offered a breathtaking exploration of isolation.

Nelson Music Room generally hosts small, formal chamber concerts. With a capacity of 300, it was completely full for Saturday’s performance. The space suited Lion and the Lamb perfectly, as it offered an intimate physical setting for a piece that digs into similar emotional confines. The floor seats—on the same level as half of the ensemble— filled before the elevated galleries on either side of the room, which offered an excellent vantage point. The New Music Raleigh string quartet, pianist Jesse Kapsha and French horn player Michael Hrivnak commanded the stage, perched a few inches over their  cohorts.

Rilke’s The Book of Hours formed the foundation for the lyrical elements of Lion and The Lamb. While most of that work tackles issues of spirituality and detachment from God, it’s not exactly religious poetry. Still, more often than not, Lion and the Lamb suggested church, albeit one for the uncertain. In “You Are The Quietest,” for example, the lines “For all things sing you, at times we can hear you” felt like a proper hymn, resonating through the room’s high ceilings. “Panther” doubled down on the spooky church sensation, with Skylar Gudasz’s voice transforming Rilke’s words into a stunning aria. Toward the end, the song yielded to jazzy percussion, with Matt Douglas’ saxophone pushed into the front. Subtle shifts between jazz, classical and sacred music felt natural.

The best moments came unexpectedly, as when the music swelled to new emotional peaks in “Beauty No. 2 (Lion and the Lamb).” It felt like someone had put into sound the very feeling of self-doubt. Somehow, the sensation was comforting. 

The arc of Lion and the Lamb moved quickly. I felt like I’d just fully settled in when I realized the program was nearly halfway over. Bowerbirds' Phil Moore opened the show with a short set of solo songs under the name Island Dweller. I still listen to the 2012 Bowerbirds record The Clearing a few times a month; hearing Moore’s voice in person instead of through my stereo made me realize how much I miss that band. Even with a late start and that opening, the whole event was over by 9:30 p.m  As much emotional ground as Lion and the Lamb covered, it felt like there was still so much left to unpack. 

At the end of the night, I was surprised at how emotionally exhausted I felt. I hadn’t expected Lion and the Lamb to be such a roller coaster, but the heaviness delivered a welcome catharsis, too.

Lion and the Lamb, "Panther"

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