Katrina Ballads is a collection of songs inspired by the tragic events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Scored
for five singers and 11 instrumentalists, the piece uses entirely primary-source texts to paint a rich musical portrait of that devastating and telling week in September 2005. The text-setting includes the words of
Barbara Bush, Dennis Hastert, Mary Landrieu, Kanye West, Anderson Cooper, and George W. Bush's
emblematic 'Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job,' as well as testimonies from survivors and relief workers. With this provocative and poignant material, New York composer Ted Hearne creates a cutting edge musical experience and a vivid look into America's darkest hours. The music is rhythmic, theatrical, and American to the core, possessing an edgy post-minimalist drive and a deep jazz influence. It is a moving experience, challenging us to remember and reflect upon our own history.
In the days following Hurricane Katrina, the world endured a media monsoon of horrific images in an effort to understand what went wrong in New Orleans. Anderson Cooper asked viewers to steel themselves to accounts of death and destruction because it was our duty to know what was going on. Composer Ted Hearne's treatise on the disaster demands something similar. By setting media-derived, post-Katrina soundbytes to a dizzying array of juxtaposed musical forms, Hearne creates a sonic narrative that taps into the fear, confusion and deep pain caused by the storm and by the George W. Bush administration s stagnating response. The disc opens with the piercing sound of Abby Fischer s mezzo-soprano shrilly announcing that New Orleans is sinking, her vibrato jarring your eardrums into high alert. Nathan Koci's horn takes center stage on track two, which plays out like the day after Katrina struck. A solo horn calls out, as if looking for survivors. The response is frantic, grim, high-pitched. The clash of metal on metal conjures a broken home s door; a man searches for his wife s body. In the next confluence of music and media clips, Hearne deftly continues to retell the story, but now his tone is one of appropriate mocking. Bush's infamous heck of a job, Brownie remark becomes surreal fodder for lyrics. Compositional feats aside, this is no bel canto. A slew of bleak soundscapes and dissonant refrains marshals so many negative emotions that you may not know if you should cry, scream or just turn the stereo off like the experience of watching the news right after Aug. 29, 2005. --DownBeat, Jennifer Odell, Feburary 2011
Like the Ground Zero chamber-music impromptus by Juilliard students during the September 11 rescue operations, composer Ted Hearne's Katrina Ballads is an act of artistic empathy. Whereas the former sought simply to offer solace, Hearne's song cycle serves as an exquisitely written, if caustic, reminder of the inert and fatuous responses by government officials in the wake of the hurricane. Fans of Antony and the Johnsons may hear parallels to the singer's high-frequency vibrato in mezzo-soprano Abby Fischer's arresting 'Prologue,' but with its cabaret-style vocals and politically charged libretto, Katrina Ballads resembles more of a Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht collaboration. For the text, the Chicago-born composer keenly includes only direct quotes taken from national media interviews, a decision that allows then Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, First Lady Laura Bush and the President to indict themselves far more damningly than any commentary might. 'Anderson Cooper and Mary Landrieu: 9.1.05' weaves a duet between the CNN interviewer's restrained vexation and the Louisiana senator's incomprehensible responses, underpinned by anxious eighth-notes on viola and cello. The interchange ends in an inextricable knot of piano, strings, electronics and flute every bit as baffling as the words. Hearne's greatest success lies in his interweaving of New Orleans brass, blues and gospel with phrases such as 'FEMA' and 'supplemental bill' in a manner utterly convincing and musically compelling. Amid an abundance of expertly composed numbers, a turntablist-like breakdown of George Bush's infamous line 'Brownie, you're doin' a heck of a job' stands out as a miniature masterpiece. --Time Out Chicago, Doyle Armbrust, November 2010
A remarkable, omnivorous musical masterpiece. --buzzine.com