It's rare that I listen to a new work and immediately think of it as a classic, but I knew there was something extraordinary about David Lang's Little Match Girl Passion even from the initial moments. It is not an unusual reaction, as you'll read in the sampling of critical response I've included below. It comes as no surprise for a work that won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Music, and whose premiere recording, on Harmonia Mundi, won a 2010 Grammy Award.
Open Ears Festival is proud to bring a modern-day masterwork to the Waterloo Region; a wonderful opportunity to hear a major voice of our generation sung by the voices of our generation.
The simplicity of Lang's post-minimalist musical grammar, with its overlapping and repeating vocal lines floating above bare, reiterated chords and close harmonies made up of a scant few notes, heightens the impact of his contemporary morality play...I won't soon forget the poignant effect of the singers' pungent dissonances rising upward at "Eli, Eli" (words taken directly from the Bach passion), as the girl's life slipped away. Their gently chanted phrase "Rest soft," repeated over and over, closed the work with a benediction offering consolation unsullied by sentimentality.
-John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
But, in the emotionally charged, chorale-like interludes, Lang, like Bach, allows us to acknowledge and respond to the girl’s suffering; it is this unsettling alternation of styles that makes the work a masterpiece.
-Russell Platt, The New Yorker
...four voices weave faltering, closely overlapping fragments of text, leaving space for reflection while entrancing listeners with their chant-like delivery..Artful, sobering and somehow timely stuff.
- Kate Molleson, The Guardian
..a haunting and evocative hall of echoes. The heart-stopping "Have Mercy My God", for instance, is composed of just two minor chords, broken into five pitches each, which reiterate endlessly and tangle slowly at the edges...In its own quizzical, probing way, The Little Match Girl Passion is as much a devotional piece as the Bach Passion it is modeled on, and with it, Lang has produced the most profound and emotionally resonant work of his career.
- Jayson Green, Pitchfork
Voices intertwine, forming piquant medieval dissonances that ring against fields of luminous choral harmony. The atmosphere is at once knowing and pure, like a Pre-Raphaelite painting. Medieval counterpoint and Renaissance harmony hang in air, but so does the tang of today.
- Justin Davidson, New York Magazine