Musical Shares: Sidney Chen

Sidney Chen

Photo courtesy of Sidney Chen

Sidney Chen is a member of Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble, and will perform in her newest music-theatre work On Behalf of Nature here at the Center on May 4. He is a founding member of The M6, a vocal sextet dedicated to Monk's music, and also works as the Artistic Administrator for Kronos Quartet.

Sidney also took the time to compile a playlist of some of his favorite music. Click here to listen to it, and keep reading for his commentary on his selections.


Gotham Lullaby is one of Meredith Monk's most well known pieces, from 1975. In its original version she sings it while at the piano, but longtime Monk admirer and fellow vocal explorer Björk has reinterpreted it in this version with the Brodsky Quartet.

Courant is one movement of Caroline Shaw's 4 Pieces, which was just awarded this year's Pulitzer Prize in Music. At 30 years old, Shaw is the youngest recipient of the music Pulitzer and one of very few women composers to receive the honor. She wrote the piece for her a cappella vocal octet Roomful of Teeth, and uses a number of vocal techniques for expressive effect. Tanya Tagaq, who performs Surge, takes the traditional technique of Inuit throat singing, which is usually done with two women, and re-conceived it for solo performance. Shaw in turn took that and re-imagined it in the context of a vocal ensemble. 

Malo Selo is a Bulgarian song sung here by two women from Kitka, a women's vocal octet based in Oakland that specializes in Balkan singing techniques. Recently Kitka worked with Monk on a program dedicated exclusively to her music. Also from the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, is Amy X Neuburg who samples herself and creates loops live in concert, building songs layer by layer. Every Little Stain starts with a sample of her brushing her teeth.

Theo Bleckmann was a longtime member of Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble, and has recorded a number of solo albums. This Woman's Work is from his recent CD of songs by Kate Bush.

The Kronos Quartet has been visiting the Center regularly for several seasons now, and I've been lucky to get to know the Center by traveling here with them many times as an administrator. The Beatitudes is an arrangement of a choral piece by Vladimir Martynov. Kronos performed it here as part of the Awakening program in the Kay Theatre, where Meredith Monk & Vocal Ensemble will be performing On Behalf of Nature on Saturday, May 4.

Beware, Verwoerd! is by Vuyisile Mini, an activist and composer of South African freedom songs. This song in Xhosa, sung by Miriam Makeba, is directed at Hendrick Verwoerd, one of the architects of the Apartheid system. We cannot leave is the final movement of a piece called privilege by New York-based composer Ted Hearne, written for Volti, a San Francisco vocal ensemble that performs new music exclusively. Hearne sets the translation of a South African anti-Apartheid song titled As' Kwaz' uKuhamba.

I spent the first two weeks of April in Denmark performing David Lang's the little match girl passion, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. Lang sets Hans Christian Andersen's story about a young girl abandoned by society who freezes to death in anonymity, and juxtaposes it with his own translations in contemporary English of texts from Bach's St. Matthew Passion. Paul McCreesh's recording of the Bach uses one on a part, which allows for the very emotional texts to be delivered personally, even in the choruses. Lang wrote Death Speaks as a companion piece to the little match girl passion, and a recording by Shara Worden, Owen Pallett, Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner was just released this week. In Death Speaks, Lang combed through all of Schubert's songs and identified instances where the character of Death speaks in first person directly to the listener, and translated them into contemporary English.

This recording of Deep River is sung by the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, a San Francisco native who battled cancer for several years and passed away in 2006 at the age of 52.

I've finished off this playlist of a 1987 recording of Meredith Monk performing her solo Do You Be. Not very much of her extensive discography is available on Spotify, so I hope you'll check out some of her other CDs as well!

Listen to Sidney's playlist

To listen, open the playlist in your Spotify player, or if you're already logged in to Spotify, use the Spotify widget below. You need a Spotify account to listen to this playlist. To open a free account, visit Spotify's website.