Atlanta Chamber Players (pianist Paula Peace, flutist Christina Smith, and cellist Brad Ritchie) perform George Crumb's "Vox Balaenae" at Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern (May 22, 2012).

EARPIECE #16: Atlanta Chamber Players perform “Vox Balaenae” by George Crumb

Mark Gresham | 20 OCT 2022

Earpiece is a series of audio and video presentations curated by EarRelevant’s publisher and principal writer Mark Gresham.

This week Earpiece takes us back a decade to a concert by the Atlanta Chamber Players on May 22, 2012, at the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern.

That program included this performance of George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae (“The Voice of the Whale”) by flutist Christina Smith, cellist Brad Ritchie, and pianist Paula Peace.

SCPA_24-25 Subscriptions

As its name implies, Vox Balaenae was inspired by whale songs. In the late 1960s, George Crumb heard a marine scientist’s audio recording of the sounds made by the humpback whale. In 1971, Crumb drew on these sounds as the inspiration for the piece. Vox Balaenae has eight movements: a Vocalise (“for the beginning of time”), a Sea Theme followed by five variations, and a Sea Nocturne (“for the end of time”).

But why are the musicians wearing masks? The composer explicitly calls for them in the score. Crumb intended the masks to symbolize the powerful impersonal forces of nature by effacing the sense of human projection, allowing the piece to present itself as a force of nature.

View the video below. Note: YouTube videos are embedded in accordance with the YouTube TOS.

ATLANTA CHAMBERPLAYERS, 22 MAY 2012. Duration: 22:31

January 22, 2021
Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern
Atlanta, Georgia – USA

Christina Smith, flute; Brad Ritchie, cello; Paula Peace, piano.

George CRUMB: Vox Balaenae for Three Masked Players (1971)


Atlanta Chamber Players:


Mark Gresham

Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.