"Drama is part and parcel of what I compose," states Byron Au Yong, a Seattle composer whose work elegantly mingles folk elements with theatrical staging and an astute ear for the avant. His expert use of traditional instruments–shakuhachi, koto, er-hu, and especially percussion like shamisen, rattles, and taiko drums—along with vocal techniques from China and Japan defiantly dispels the fumbling tokenism of the "exotic" that bedevils so many composers.
Several years ago at the Esoterics' performance of Au Yong's Tian wen ("Questions of Heaven"), I was enchanted by the slow movement of the singers who circulated around a church altar while chanting an irregular, yet soft, vocal line. It was meditative music without the mush and just a hint of muscle.
Au Yong's most recent work, Surrender, is a mini-cantata that audaciously requires 24 singers to perform tai chi movements while singing texts by Aaron Jafferis and Lao Tzu, originator of Taoism. Steeped in musical theater, Au Yong told me recently, "I'm interested in site-specific performance, how sound moves physically through a space. Surrender is about connecting singing to the rest of the body."
Au Yong's Surrender shares a program stuffed with premieres and other new pieces inspired by Taoism, including Linda Waterfall's Songs from the Dao de jing; "Meditations of Li Po" by the Minneapolis-based Stephen Paulus; from Gitanjali in which Robert Moran sets poems by Rabindranath Tagore; "Supreme Virtue" by New York City Opera's resident composer Mark Adamo; and Three Chinese Poems by Swedish composer Karl-Erik Welin. Does any other group in town perform as much new music (and do it well) as the Esoterics? Nope. CHRISTOPHER DeLAURENTI
The Esoterics sing Sat Aug 13 at 8 pm (St Joseph's Church, 732 18th Ave E, 935-7779) and Sun Aug 14 at 3 pm (Holy Rosary Church, 4139 42nd Ave SW, 935-7779), $10–$20.