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Grey: Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio

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Audio CD, March 31, 2009
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Song TitleArtist Time Price
listen  1. Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio: PrologueScott Hendricks10:16Album Only
listen  2. Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio: Scene 1Scott Hendricks13:46Album Only
listen  3. Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio: Scene 2Scott Hendricks 9:37Album Only
listen  4. Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio: Scene 3Scott Hendricks15:16Album Only
listen  5. Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio: Scene 4Scott Hendricks19:38Album Only

Product Details

  • Conductor: Christie
  • Composer: Grey
  • Audio CD (March 31, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos American Classics
  • ASIN: B001QUL700
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,509 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The Phoenix Symphony enjoys a long
history of premièring new works that
bridge gaps between Western art music
and Native cultures. Hailed as
'a master', Mark Grey 'is a composer as
well as a sound engineer, and what he is
up to has far-reaching implications for the
direction that classical music will take this
century' (Los Angeles Times). This
recording of Enemy Slayer: A Navajo
Oratorio is of the world première
performance of the first oratorio based on
an indigenous North American creation
story. 'Mark Grey's score is perfectly
crafted, impeccably paced, beautifully
scored' (The Arizona Republic).


Mark Grey (b. 1967) is relatively new to composing but has a solid résumé in what has become an allied field: sound design. After studying music at San Jose State University, majoring in composition and electro-acoustics, he began a career that has included collaboration with major West-Coast composers such as John Adams and Steve Reich. This involved designs for a variety of works, including two operas I've recently admired a great deal: Doctor Atomic and A Flowering Tree. He also collaborated in the production of the elaborate and heart-breaking audio track of names, messages, and remembrances for Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls and the sound installations for its performance. Grey's parallel composing career has produced works for the Kronos Quartet and for violinist Leila Josefowicz, among others. It also resulted in two orchestral works for the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra.

Enemy Slayer was written during Grey's Music Alive residency with that orchestra as part of their 60th anniversary celebration in 2007. The text is by Diné (Navajo) poet and Arizona State University professor of English Laura Tohe. It is the story of the healing of a Diné war veteran suffering from the trauma of combat after his return from a foreign war, most likely in the Middle East, though this is not explicit. It follows the outline of an ancient Navajo healing ritual, rooted in Navajo mythology, for the reintegration of warriors into oneness with themselves, their community, and a peaceful life. The language is direct, often quite beautiful, or decidedly unsettling: "Mothers' hopes wrapped in bloodied rags/the children lay like broken toys spilled on the streets/Red rags. Limbs and dreams rearranged by war/a sister recoils."

It is powerful stuff, much of it unforgettable once read. I wish I could say the same of the music. Mark Grey's score is far from negligible. It is well crafted, most effective in atmospheric moments such as the lovely prelude with the flute duet and several of the choral sections. It does not, however, consistently reflect the power of the libretto and too often is generic in its setting of the text when something more distinctive is needed. Mere volume is offered, and oddly stuttering melismas, and repetitions of words and phrases to express anguish, when the need is for something more tumultuous and expressive of the protagonist's crisis or more transformative and cathartic in his reclamation. Surely the vocabulary inherited by a 21st-century composer contains the means to express the agony and comfort of these words better than the unremitting earnestness offered here.

The performance itself is good. Scott Hendricks makes much of the possibilities the role offers with his resonant baritone and intense characterization. The 140-voice chorus is fine, but seems made up of a fairly large proportion of younger and relatively untrained voices. Their whitish sound has been mitigated by a softer recording focus--the sound of the orchestra is marginally sharper--but this exacerbates the chorus's tendency to swallow consonants. Though the work is sung almost entirely in English, the downloadable libretto is essential for understanding many of the words. Conductor Michael Christie paces the work with conviction and the orchestra plays well up to their reputation as a fine provincial orchestra. The sound provided by Meyer Sound, a California-based audio company more associated with theater and rock-concert sound production (and Mark Grey), has great bass and percussion impact, but washes much of the work in excessive and rather artificial sounding resonance.

The notes for this release suggest, obliquely, that Enemy Slayer is a Messiah for the present century. That hardly seems likely. However, this work does offer something important. On one level about a Navajo creation myth, Enemy Slayer is much more a statement on the crushing effect of war on many veterans and the spiritual healing that many need upon their return. The words are Navajo. The ritual of healing, the Anaa'jí, is Navajo, but the cries of pain are universal, as is the need of understanding and support of those who fight the monsters in our world. That the Navajo traditions include such a ritual suggests that we could benefit from greater sharing of their wisdom. If Enemy Slayer, as the Music Alive endorsement suggests, has begun a bridge between Western and Native American cultures, it has served a great purpose aside from any decision of musical worth that time imposes. That is enough to recommend it. Hózhô náhásdlîî dooleeã: Let peace prevail. -- Fanfare, Ronald E. Grames, Nov/Dec 2009

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Saul Morse on May 3, 2009
Format: Audio CD
I had the privilege to be one of the performers for Mark Grey's Enemy Slayer, both at the World Premiere in Phoenix and at the subsequent presentation at Chataqua in Colorado. As a performer I can say it was a challenging work, with only Ned Rorem's Pilgrim Strangers (most popularly performed by Chanticleer) as an equal in it's difficulty and emotional depth.

It is very rare to see the Navajo perspective represented in Classical performance, and the composition by Grey as well as the libretto by Laura Tohe very deeply reflect the values of the Navajo people and reflect the inner turmoil of Seeker as he returns from the war. In performance the musical score was richly accompanied by slides by Deborah O'Grady of native Arizona...adding to the extraordinary performance of Scott Hendricks.

Time will tell if the score stands the test of time, but as a performer of the piece I count myself to be richly blessed to have had the opportunity to perform this brilliant work. I certainly hope you will have the chance to experience this piece not only in the recording, but also in live performance as well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Erik North on July 5, 2010
Format: Audio CD
Up until now, no oratorio based on a creation story has had its basis in anything but the Holy Bible. Composer Mark Grey, however, with the help of a text written by Laura Tohe, a Navajo-born professor at Arizona State University, has changed all that with his 70-minute work "Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio", a powerful choral work based on an ancient Navajo legend of two heroes who, having vanquished the monsters who threatened their people, began having nightmares similar to any veterans coming home from a long and drawn-out war. Thus, while it may be based in Navajo legend and its choral text in the Navajo language itself, its essence is universal and spiritual: that of war sucking the life and soul out of all people, in what used to be known as battle fatigue, but which is known today as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Baritone Scott Hendricks sings the solo parts of this oratorio, while the Phoenix Symphony Chorus (under the direction of choral master Gregory Gentry), and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, led by current music director Michael Christie, provide stirring and sterling accompaniment. Not only is it rare to have the Navajo represented even in modern classical music, it is even more rare for much in the way of any Native American music from any of our thousands of tribes represented in modern music at all, except when it is integrated into film music, like in the scores of such Native American-themed films as A MAN CALLED HORSE or GERONIMO: AN AMERICAN LEGEND. All of those involved in this recording deserve plaudits for this recording, including the composer himself; and hopefully, because of the high quality of the recording here on the low budget Naxos label, "Enemy Slayer" will find a wide audience, initiating a greater fascination with the music of a group of people we have rejected and ostracized for far too long.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I attended _Enemy Slayer_'s premiere in 2008, and purchased the CD as soon as it became available. If Laura Tohe's heart-shattering libretto were sold as a published/separate work, I would buy a copy in a heartbeat. I feel similarly about most of Mark Grey's accompanying music. In this oratorio, flawless text and masterfully seamless scoring interweave -- synergistically, potently -- becoming a whole that is even more than the sum of its parts. While I agree (with the above-quoted reviewer) that this particular choir lacks much-needed articulation, and could have used a bit more precision/"crispness," I believe _Enemy Slayer_'s impact remains undiminished by such minor imperfection.

The music is richly evocative and inescapably moving, and at the same time, it keeps the story's intensity tightly harnessed; this is a perfect and respectful approach to bringing the heart/spirit of a Navajo work through a non-Navajo font. In so doing, Grey transcends both the multicultural mish-mashing so prevalent in the 1990s _and_ the regrettable caricatures/stereotypical "cultural motives" those '90s works were trying to overcome. Tohe and Grey together have produced a groundbreaking work that explores several angles of "what it means to be human," and this is done while retaining a "zero-hype" Navajo signature throughout. I am most thankful _Enemy Slayer_ has been brought to fruition through performance and recordings, and I hope it will be remembered and valued as the future of Western art music unfolds.

I "pre-ordered" _Enemy Slayer_ for myself, and since then, I've purchased it for friends. If its unique offering of storytelling touches you even half as much as it has me, you'll find the listening a valuable experience.
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