[CONCERT REVIEW] Exhilarating World Premiere Inspired By Yale Composer, Nobel Laureate, and Bird DNA

Composer Julian Darius Revie, organist Chelsea Chen

Composer Julian Darius Revie, organist Chelsea Chen

Australian-Canadian composer Julian Darius Revie’s world premiere of Arise had New Yorkers spellbound at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue last Saturday.

This new work sets out to give a fresh voice to the extinct Kauai O’o bird, the last one of which was recorded in 1987 as a male singing his mating song. Geneticists were recently able to sequence DNA from a Kauai O’o museum specimen, and in collaboration with the late Nobel laureate Yale biochemistry professor Thomas Steitz, Revie has devised a system to translate genetic sequences into musical notes.

Internationally renowned organist Chelsea Chen premiered the new work as part of the dedication series for the new $11 million Miller-Scott organ by Dobson organ builders at St. Thomas Church, New York City.

Arise is gripping and imaginative, yet esoteric. It consists of the interplay between the "sound" of the bird's own genetic code, the recorded birdsong, and music derived from this song, believed to have been sung by the very last one of its species.

Near the end of the work, the music converged in an upward and overwhelming spiral that left one breathless with almost every organ stop pulled, but immediately dissipating to calming nature-driven sounds. As if faint and in the distance, they became more prominent. Before one knew, it sounded as if the audience was in a forest or other-worldly paradise of birds softly chirping. This seemed to drive home the zeitgeist of Arise—a pantheon of sophisticated, heart-pounding, breathless expression.

Credit is certainly due to organist Chelsea Chen’s riveting and spellbinding performance of this masterpiece.

The concert also included Chen’s original work, Taiwanese Suite, and works by Bach, Messiaen and Ad Wammes, as well as Max Reger’s thrilling Chorale-Fantasy on Halleluja! Gott zu loben, bleibe meine Seelenfreud.

Chen’s playing is fluid and precisely executed with an enormous range of expression that left one’s heart racing — not only in Arise, but in her own creative renderings of these Taiwanese folk songs for organ. It was particularly special to hear her interpretation of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532, in which she delivered a magnetic performance.

Learn more about Julian Darius Revie and Chelsea Chen.