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Review: Roomful of Teeth Stretches for a Piano Premiere

A musical week that began on Monday with displays of extended instrumental techniques, in the New York Philharmonic’s Contact! concert at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, wound down on Thursday with a show of extended vocal techniques, by the ensemble Roomful of Teeth at Zankel Hall.

Roomful, an a cappella octet founded in 2009, is a veritable repository of such practices, using amplification and close miking to artistic effect. Its guiding philosophy was summed up by its artistic director, Brad Wells, in a preconcert discussion at Zankel: “Voices can do so much more.”

More of what? The sky may be a limit, maybe not.

Roomful’s great showpiece is the Partita for 8 Voices, a four-movement work by one of its members, the alto Caroline Shaw, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for music. The Pulitzer citation aptly described some of the techniques involved: “speech, whispers, sighs, murmurs, wordless melodies and novel vocal effects.” It could have added grunts, rasps, throat singing and even a sort of winding twang suggesting a jaw harp.

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