A Composer Plays with Space, Time, and Culture


Ken Ueno: Majel Connery (vocalist), Flux Quartet, Opera Cabal. National Sawdust, Brooklyn. 7.4.2017. (DS)

Ken Ueno – Aeolus (NY Premiere)

It was hard to tell where the sound was coming from or even what it was – dark, hollow, perhaps recorded, perhaps electronic. Turning to look behind the seated audience at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, I saw that it was coming directly from composer Ken Ueno, decked out in a black medieval-inspired robe-meets-spacesuit cloak, and holding a white megaphone to his mouth. As he walked around, he was filling the space with one of his signature sonic skills – this time, sonar clicking – that spread a wooden quality of reverb throughout the whole room. The Flux Quartet sat on stage in front of a video screen, meditatively waiting, between two unmanned standing microphones.

This was the beginning of Ueno’s new opera Aeolus, taking its name from the Greek mythological keeper of the winds. Vocalist Majel Connery of Chicago-based Opera Cabal would soon come to stand at one of the microphones – the other would always stand unused, abandoned. In a deep alto pop-oriented drone, that seemed to connect directly from her jaw to her ribs, she sang, “Myths,” becoming the futuristic chanteuse of this time-warping mythical opera.

Odysseus is a force, a character throughout this 90-minute journey, but he is never outright mentioned. Instead, his angst flows in a first-person narrative, through Connery’s vocals or Ueno’s voiceover poetic verse: “The winds that keep me from Ithaca are my own,” he proclaims. His journey might symbolize that which lives in all of us – yearning to connect yet only finding ourselves to blame for the isolation that abounds. As one pre-recorded phrase so poignantly delivers, with its mantel of self-reflective contemporary black humor, “I have no way of navigating between the silence of your texts.”

In his adept handling of all media, Ueno mixes every component of this work with finesse. Aeolus offers a balance between mesmerizing images of seascapes and dunes set to voice-over with quartet accompaniment. When electronically derived club-culture bass enters the soundscape, it’s as pointed as the textured string tones that intertwine with vocals. Midway, Ueno comes out in front of the stage to speak (not sing) rhythmically in a surreal mixture of lecture and pseudo-comedy routine, using his iPhone to command the beginning and end of pre-recorded percussion samples. It resembled an alien imitating a human stand-up routine with misfired drumming joke punctuations. Perhaps a take on the challenges of modern-day overcommunication – that leads to miscommunication.

As a composer, Ueno plays with the boundaries of space, time, and culture. These components create a unique three-dimensional effect that he laces together with musical techniques. While he calls Aeolus an opera, it could very well be a living sculpture or a poetic collage. Within this eclectic space of exploration (which includes throat singing) he produces songs like There is No One Like You sung by Connery, that you want to add to your soundtrack to reshuffle an evening after work. It is not only testament to his accessibility but also his wide range of musicality that he can touch the tastes of all his listeners.

Daniele Sahr

Print Friendly


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! I Musicanti’s Alexandra and the Russians at St Johns Smith Square in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • UPDATED! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Opera’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House Announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • NEW! Dénes Várjon Talks to Sebastian Smallshaw About Budapest’s Kamara.hu __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli is ‘Singing My Dreams’ at the Cadogan Hall in February 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Russian Ballet Icons Gala at the London Coliseum on 25 February __________________________________
  • NEW! Twelve Years of Celebrating Malcolm Arnold in Northampton __________________________________
  • NEW! What is the Critic’s Job? A Review of A. O. Scott’s Recent Book __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival in Yorkshire Lifts the Lid Off an English Treasury __________________________________
  • NEW! A FULLY STAGED PILGRIM’S PROGRESS IN ORLEANS, MA __________________________________
  • NEW! JIŘÍ BĔLOHLÁVEK (1946-2017) AND THE CZECH CONDUCTING LEGACY __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H