Verdigris, Dallas’ innovative choir, is all about pushing the boundaries of choral music. Last year, the group brought in more than $375,000 when it sold an NFT featuring music by Texas-born composer Nicholas Reeves. In its latest mix of technology and music, Verdigris presented Friday night at Moody Performance Hall a space-themed program, called “The Big Bang.”

In three works by living American composers, performed without pause, the choir was accompanied by slowly shifting images of outer space, shown on an onstage screen. The images were produced by an artificial intelligence system and designed by Fort Worth-based artist Pindar Van Arman. Recurring visual motifs included stars, strange symbols and colorful galaxies.

The subtle changes in the art complemented the slow pace of Michael Harrison’s Just Constellations. Unfolding in four sections, named after the four seasons, the 20-minute piece is built on sustained, wordless pitches and explores gradual shifts in harmony. The experience grew wearing over time because of the similarities between the sections.

Related in spirit, but more varied and engaging, was Kile Smith’s The Consolation of Apollo. In seven movements, over 35 minutes, it alternates selections from a 6th-century philosophical text by Boethius, a Christian scholar, and transcript communications from a television broadcast of the Apollo 8 mission, the first to orbit the moon and return to earth.

Wide-open sonorities evoke the awe of seeing earth from space, with crotales (a kind of pitched percussion) adding peals of brightness. In a passage about the sun, the music frolics with spring-like joy, propelled by bass drum hits.

At the emotional heart of the work, Smith sets the first ten verses of Genesis, about the creation of the earth, which the Apollo 8 astronauts read during the broadcast. Along with the reflective and luminous music, the artwork changed more quickly, seemingly cycling through previous images from the concert.

Verdigris, Dallas’ innovative choir, mixes AI and music in ‘Big Bang’ concert
Artistic director Sam Brukhman leads the Verdigris Ensemble in concert at the Moody Performance Hall in Dallas on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

Sandwiched between the two longer compositions was a 5-minute peaceful work by Cristina Spinei. Called Lucis, it was commissioned by Verdigris, and was given its world premiere. Wordless melodies emerged from different voices, before receding into the textures. Particularly affecting were the sopranos’ ethereal lines floating over held bass notes.

Led by Sam Brukhman, the choir’s artistic director, 16 area singers offered cohesive and committed performances. Their dynamics ranged from whispered intimacies to full-blooded fortissimos.

But the concert was hampered by logistical issues. Preconcert commentary began 10 minutes late, and went on for too long. Maddeningly, the program notes didn’t give any insight into Spinei’s work, nor did anyone discuss it in any detail. It would have also been helpful for audiences to provide a printed text or supertitles for Smith’s piece, where the luxuriant settings often made it impossible to understand the words.


Repeats at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Moody Performance Hall, 2520 Flora St. $30.

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