As the composer David Lang points out in his program note for “collected stories,” a fascinating series of concerts he has put together through the auspices of Carnegie Hall, music has long been called upon to help tell different kinds of tales. In planning this six-concert series, which opened on Tuesday night at Zankel Hall before a packed house, Mr. Lang was a far-ranging and visionary collector of stories.
In a bold pairing of medieval and modern works, Tuesday’s program, called “hero,” opened with the early music singer and consummate storyteller Benjamin Bagby performing his scenes from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem “Beowulf.” The evening ended with a complete rendition of Harry Partch’s genre-defying opera “The Wayward,” composed in the early 1940s, performed here by the Harry Partch Institute Ensemble on the actual, wondrously unconventional instruments that Partch built, now maintained at the institute’s headquarters at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
The “collected stories” series is clearly a personal project for Mr. Lang, who this season holds the Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall. The offerings range from Tuvan throat singing to a complete performance by the brilliant pianist Louis Lortie of Liszt’s “Années de pèlerinage,” a three-hour musical diary depicting Liszt’s years of pilgrimage; and from a 2008 work by Richard Ayres that incorporates yodeling to tell what happens to a plane crash survivor, to a piece by John Cage where stories are recited from random cue cards. When you think about it, don’t many life stories seem to unfold with randomness?