I Cantori offered a typically adventurous and persuasively sung season opener Saturday night in Thorne Hall at Occidental College. Six contemporary works in all, two of them premieres, made up the vocal ensemble's program, which director Edward Cansino wryly dubbed "Night of the Living Composers."
Most fascinating among them was Joan La Barbara's "to hear the wind roar" for small vocal ensemble, a descriptive piece on the sensations of a first skiing experience. Using an array of extended vocal techniques--including rhythmic huffs, puffs and gorilla grunts, singing while breathing in and out, and an effect that sounded like a squadron of model airplanes--the textless work unwound with reverent solemnity, occasionally falling into cliche in its sentiment, but overall a forceful and aurally piquant statement.
Kazuo Fukushima's brief "Shizu-uta" for soprano, women's voices, flutes and harp, a simple yet ravishing setting of a Japanese legend blending traditional and modernistic styles, impressed deeply as well.
Enrique Gonzalez's "Me gustas cuando callas" for violin and soprano captured the stillness of Pablo Neruda's poem in spare, atonal counterpoint. Daniel Kessner's "Tre Solfeggi," a minimalist work for four voices, pulsed entertainingly.
The premiere of sections from Greg Fish's politically correct "Oratorio for a New World," in neo-Renaissance and neo-Indian styles with computer effects, seemed compromised by misgauged amplification: Its quick vocal trade-offs needed tighter control.
Cansino's own "Voyager," a kind of "Harold in Italy" through history, appeared to want it all ways at once. But its use of collage techniques and a cornucopia of instruments--from didjeridu to harpsichord--made glittering, exotic sounds.