9pm, Friday July 5th, Church of San Materno, Maccagno, Italy

An intriguing start to the SoundSCAPE festival concert series, flautist Lisa Cella presented a single, hour-long solo work, A Liturgy of Hours by American composer Stuart Saunders Smith. It was both curious to hear this work and dubious that it could hold my attention for an entire hour, and found myself surprised. Not only was my attention firmly held, the piece is stunning both on form and content, reducing the hour of performance into what felt like twenty minutes at the most.

Though the transparent opening is not the most promising moment, the piece unfolds into a meditative arc, juxtaposing occasional flurries with generally spacious writing. Towards the half-hour mark, the flautist begins also to sing, an effect that carried beautifully in the resonant church space. Cella’s mastery of this was absolute, allowing the audience to relax into the wash of sound created.

The work concludes with a short recitation:

My life, a mere breath
The first, is breath.
The last is breath.
In between we continue, breath in our moments, in this our moment
While darkness is my companion, I woke the earth of the heart.

This final utterance asked more questions than it answered, forcing us to examine the interplay of simplicity and complexity in the work, as well as our own understanding of exactly what it was all supposed to mean. A stunning piece, and a genuinely sparkling performance!

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