The Hildegurls are devoted to the
music of a 12th-century abbess, but these are no singing nuns.
the Hildegurls, a quartet of contemporary composers based in New York, have
left the convent behind and are heading toward the unconventional in their
adaptation of "Ordo Virtutum," the electronic-music entry in this year's
Lincoln Center Festival.
"Ordo Virtutum" was written by Hildegard von Bingen,
the forceful German abbess and accomplished plainchant composer whose 900th
birthday is being observed this year. Her "play of the virtues" portrays
the Soul's struggle to reject the Devil's lures and to embrace Humility,
Chastity and a dozen other wholesome characters. The musical drama is one
of the earliest examples of a morality play and possibly the first opera.
While Eve Beglarian, Lisa Bielawa, Kitty Brazelton and Elaine Kaplinsky
respect Hildegard's musical genius and celebrate her proto-feminist status,
their "Ordo Virtutum," which opened Wednesday and will be performed again
Friday and Saturday, is hardly a reverential reading.
We're not early-music practitioners," Brazelton said in a recent telephone
"We have our trouble with her," Bielawa added. "It's not as if
we all want to be like her. We've gotten to know her pretty well, and none
of us really feel like she'd be our best friend."
Dividing the work into
four acts, each Hildegurl applied her individual sensibility to one of the
sections, preserving Hildegard's melodies and the Latin text but reinterpreting
the music through modem ears -- and with modern technology. Although the
women are singers and instrumentalists who perform "Ordo Virtutum" live,
trading roles as they go, soundtracks and other devices are used to amplify
Brazelton, for example, used CMIX, a program developed in the early 1980's
to manipulate sound files on IBM mainframe computers. When assembling
her section, she found she was forced to squeeze 45 minutes of songs
by virtuous characters into her allotted 15 minutes of time.
She recalled, "I didn't dare edit this gorgeous stuff, so I stacked
them up, one on top of another.