Friday, October 27, 2017

RITUAL: Music from sacred tradition



BYRD ENSEMBLE, directed by Markdavin Obenza

SERIES #1
RITUAL: Music from Sacred Tradition

SATURDAY
OCT 28, 2017 at 8:00 PM
St. James Cathedral
804 9th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104

Buy Passes

PROGRAM

BYRD: Magnificat (Great Service)
PÄRT: Tribute to Caesar (1997)
TAVENER: Funeral Ikos (1981)
STRAVINSKY: Отче наш (Our Father) (1945)
BYRD: Domine quis habitabit

intermission

PALESTRINA: Magnificat primi toni a8
BARBER: Agnus Dei (1967)
GIBBONS: Hosanna to the Son of David
TAVENER: The Lamb (1982)
BYRD: Ad Dominum cum tribularer

This program explores sacred music from the Eastern and Western Christian traditions featuring Anglican and Catholic motets by Renaissance greats—Byrd, Palestrina, and Gibbons—complemented by the Eastern style of Tavener, Stravinsky, and Pärt. All of the composers, with the exception of Palestrina, Barber, and Gibbons, endured an incredible spiritual struggle; Byrd's longing for the return of Catholicism in Protestant England, Pärt's musical soul searching through periods of contemplative silence, Tavener's conversion, and Stravinsky's return to the Russian Orthodox faith no doubt had a spiritual effect on their musical output. Despite the fact that the motets were written over the span of 500 years, each one of these masterpieces shares a profound sacred ethos that transcends time.

England endured religious and political turbulence in the 15th and 16th centuries. Composers had the difficult task of adjusting to whatever musical style the church was enforcing at the time. None was better than Thomas Tallis, teacher of William Byrd (1540–1623), who composed competently under four successive monarchs. Luckily for Byrd, the situation in England had settled somewhat by his tenure. Byrd’s main challenge was composing for a Protestant church as a devout Catholic. The new Protestant service demanded that the music clearly communicate the meaning of the text. Composers often used chordal textures and set text in the vernacular to fulfill the new musical demands. The Catholic tradition favored slightly more complex music set to Latin texts and a polyphonic texture. Byrd’s music struck a unique balance between the two traditions, though many believe that his music reflects his desire for the return of Catholicism in veiled terms. Byrd’s Magnificat comes from his setting of the Great Service—the Anglican celebration of Matins, Evensong, and Communion. While the piece is “great” indeed, in the 16th century “great” did not mean excellent, but “large.” Stylistically, the Magnificat is a perfect example of a balance of the two traditions—a predominantly polyphonic texture with deliberate use of homophonic moments to bring out the message of the text in English.

We hear Byrd’s genius at the young age of 19 or 20 when he wrote the two magnificent psalm motets which conclude each half of the program, Domine quis habitabit and Ad Dominum cum tribularer. Domine, a setting of Psalm 14, only survives in a single source from the 1590s in score format instead of in partbooks, unusual at the time. The motet is scored for nine voices with three bass parts of equal ranges. The opening minor 6th interval is exotic, and the rest of the motet continues mostly in imitation, maintaining a dense, polyphonic, nine-part scoring throughout. Ad Dominum, a setting of Psalm 120, is scored for eight voice parts. Like Domine, Ad Dominum continues in straightforward polyphonic fashion but with an incredible gathering of momentum for a powerful ending on the text: “With those who hate peace I was a peacemaker: when I spoke to them, they battled me without cause.”




For six years in a row, Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) has been given the title of the “world’s most-performed living composer.” What preceded his success was a long musical and spiritual struggle that began at an early age. After some time experimenting in neoclassical styles, Pärt decided to use Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique and serialism in his compositions—this displeased the Soviet establishment enough to ban his early works. Pärt, not pleased with his output, went into several periods of contemplative silence, during which he studied choral music from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. His biographer, Paul Hillier, says, “He had reached a position of complete despair in which the composition of music appeared to be the most futile of gestures, and he lacked the musical faith and willpower to write even a single note.” Pärt spent years immersing himself in Renaissance vocal music and, more generally, Western music. Out of this period of musical soul-searching came what he calls his “tintinnabuli style” where one or more instrumental or vocal parts, basically melodic in construction, are placed against one or more additional parts projecting arpeggiations of a major or minor triad, the latter evoking “tintinnabulation” or the ringing of bells. Tribute to Caesar (1997), a setting of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, shows only subtle hints of the tintinnabuli technique.

John Tavener (1944–2013) was raised Protestant, but was interested in Catholicism. He eventually joined the Russian Orthodox Christian faith, where he developed his own unique composition voice as an Orthodox composer, employing a slow, almost minimalist unfolding of melodic material. Tavener’s Funeral Ikos is a setting of text from the Orthodox service for the burial of priests. Tavener’s interest in chant is obvious in the unmetered solemn verses, but the “Alleluia” refrain is distinctly his. The Lamb (1982), a short carol based on a poem by William Blake, was composed in one afternoon and sent to the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge to be included in their annual Lessons and Carols service. The music is built on a simple melodic idea (opening G-B-A-F#-G) and its inversion (G-Eb-F-Ab-G), resulting in a remarkably spare, but bleak sound. Contrasting the melodic inversions are homophonic statements that sound comforting and melancholic in comparison—reminiscent of the “Alleluia” refrain in Funeral Ikos

Igor Stravinsky's (1882–1971) ballet music made him an international star. By the 1920s, his compositional style shifted from the “primitive style” of the ballet music to neo-Classicism, a style more tightly controlled and harmonically grounded. He once said “the more constraints I put on myself, the freer my compositions.” Shortly after World War I, Stravinsky underwent a religious re-conversion. As a boy, Stravinsky rejected the Russian Orthodox church, but in September 1925 Stravinsky reports to have experienced a miracle. While playing his own sonata one evening, he felt a miraculous healing of a painful abscess. On Easter the following year, Stravinsky rejoined the Orthodox faith, which fueled his choral compositions to the end of his life. One of the first pieces he wrote following his recommitment to the church was a four-voiced choral setting of the prayer Отче наш (Our Father), composed in 1926 to commemorate his return to the Orthodox Church. Stravinsky wrote the first version of this motet in Church Slavonic, the Russian Orthodox dialect that he considered the true "language of prayer." The piece is barely a minute and a half in performance and was intended for the Orthodox liturgy. Stravinsky maintains a strong sense of a tonal center throughout, while deliberately avoiding functional harmony, characteristic of the neo-Classical style. Strong beats of the text always fall on downbeats within the shifting metric patterns.

Italian composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525–1594) was the most important composer of the Counter-Reformation. He was probably a choirboy at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and later served there as maestro di cappella for ten years from 1561. Palestrina’s Magnificat primi toni for eight voices was copied into a large choirbook for the papal choir around the late 1580s and was not intended for public use. He composed the work for two choirs, which come together rarely for maximum impact; such as “omnes generationes” (all generations) and for the end of the work. Unlike Byrd’s setting of the Magnificat, Palestrina’s setting was not composed for Anglican Evensong, but rather for use in the Catholic office of Vespers.

Samuel Barber (1910–1981), the only American representative of the program, is best known for his Adagio for Strings from the second movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11. In 1967, Barber composed Agnus Dei, a choral arrangement of the Adagio. Many describe the eight-minute work as an example of  sentimental Romanticism, teasing out incredible servings of nostalgia. One can detect a faint essence of the Renaissance in the melismatic texture (many notes on one syllable), interweaving of contrapuntal lines, and through the ebb and flow nature of the piece.

English composer Orlando Gibbons’s (baptized 1585–1625) Hosanna to the Son of David is a jubilant setting of the Gospel story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Christ is taking possession of his kingdom, with crowds of children waving palm branches, crying "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Hosanna, an anthem for six voices, may have originally been composed for a ceremony associated with the English monarchy. The exuberant music and the textual allusion to Christ the King would have justly honored a divine ruler.

- Markdavin Obenza

***

Described as “pure and radiant” (Gramophone), “immensely impressive” (Early Music Review), and “rich, full-voiced, and perfectly blended” (Early Music America), the Byrd Ensemble is garnering international acclaim for its performances and recordings of chamber vocal music, particularly Renaissance polyphony. The Byrd Ensemble, directed by Markdavin Obenza, is a Seattle-based professional ensemble made up of 10 to 12 singers from the Pacific Northwest. The group presents its annual concert series at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. The Byrd Ensemble is a nonprofit organization.

Since 2004, the ensemble has performed in the greater Seattle area and has toured across the United States, presenting concerts for the Gotham Early Music Scene in New York with Peter Phillips (director of the Tallis Scholars) and the Boston Early Music Fringe Series. In 2014, the Byrd Ensemble was one of sixteen groups—the only ensemble from the United States—chosen to sing at the London International A Cappella Choir Competition and worked with Peter Phillips, Mark Williams, and John Rutter, who described the ensemble as “a fine group that has achieved an enviable standard of tuning, blend, and ensemble.” The Byrd Ensemble presents an annual subscription series at St. James Cathedral in Seattle and regularly performs in Portland, Oregon.

The Byrd Ensemble became part of the Scribe Records label in 2011 and has since produced six records—four of which feature Renaissance polyphony— and have been reviewed by major early music publications: Early Music America, Gramophone and Early Music Review. Our Lady: Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks (2011) featured reconstructions by musicologist Nick Sandon of music by lesser-known English Renaissance composers—Pasche, Merbecke, and Ludford—and included two world-premiere recordings. In the Company of William Byrd (2012), Music for the Tudors (2015), and Music of the Renaissance: Italy, England & France (2016) featured more mainstream Renaissance composers Tallis, Sheppard, Byrd, and White. In 2014, the Byrd Ensemble was included in the international edition of Gramophone Magazine for its recording of works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.
​​
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR MARKDAVIN OBENZA has dedicated his career to music. In addition to the Byrd Ensemble, Markdavin is also Director and founder of Seattle-based chamber choir Vox16 and Producer for Scribe Records, an independent record label. He is an active freelance singer who performs with the Byrd Ensemble and has performed with the Tudor Choir, Early Music Vancouver, and members of the Tallis Scholars. He is the Director of Choral Music at Trinity Parish Church in Seattle, WA.





Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Putting some English on it

Marian Motets: Gabriel Jackson and the Renaissance 
Saturday, Oct 7 at 7:30pm
Trinity Parish Church
609 8th Ave
Seattle, WA 98104

Buy tickets here. $10-20
Save $3 by purchasing in advance






Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962) - To Morning (2007)
Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) - Videte miraculum
Jackson - Ave Maria (2004)
John Tavener (1944-2013) - Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (1986)
William Cornysh (1465-1523) - Salve Regina
Jackson - Salve regina 2 (2004)
Jackson - Song (I gaze upon you) (1996)

This program fuses the old with the new, featuring Marian motets by English Renaissance masters Thomas Tallis and William Cornysh placed next to contemporary composers John Tavener and Gabriel Jackson.

Typically an all-English program would suggest an in-depth exploration of a very specific style—not this time. The composers may all have come from England, but their music draws inspiration from outside of Western music. Renaissance greats Tallis and Cornysh are exceptions to this, and their inclusion showcases the epitome of the English choral tradition, a kind of benchmark against which to measure their contemporaries.

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)
Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) is regarded as perhaps the most important composer in the Tudor period. Not only did Tallis compose under four successive monarchs (Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I), but he was capable of writing brilliantly in whatever musical style England was enforcing at the time. Videte miraculum is a responsory (alternating full choir and solo group sections) sung at Candlemas (The Feast of the Purification) and depicting the birth of Jesus.  The six-part motet is based on chant, sung by the tenor part in long notes. The choir chants a responsory Psalm verse after the motet, repeats part of the motet, sings the "Gloria Patri," and then closes the piece by singing the end of the motet again.
William Cornysh (1465-1523)

William Cornysh (1465-1523), a true Renaissance man, was a composer, dramatist, actor, and poet. He is known for his contributions to the Eton Choirbook, a collection of English motets compiled between 1500-1505. The beautifully illuminated manuscript contains 93 of the most virtuosic, florid, and complex motets in all the Renaissance. Each motet is substantial, at least 15 minutes in duration, based on text dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Salve Regina, a Marian antiphon, was one of the most popular texts for musical setting in Tudor England. Cornysh composed the motet for the men and choirboys who sang before the king. Cornysh’s setting for five voices is regarded as one of the best works from the Eton Choirbook, and it is what inspired Gabriel Jackson’s Salve regina 2.

John Tavener (1944-2013)
John Tavener (1944-2013) was raised Protestant, but interested in Catholicism. He eventually joined the Russian Orthodox Christian faith, where he developed his own unique composition voice as an Orthodox composer, employing a slow, almost minimalist unfolding of melodic material.  Tavener’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis
 were commissioned by Stephen Cleobury and the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and was first performed in King’s College Chapel in 1986. Tavener borrows  the use of a drone underneath a melody from Greek Orthodox music. In the Magnificat, an Eastern Orthodox hymn or “troparion” is inserted after each verse of the text, and each iteration of the melody is sung in richer scorings than the previous time, culminating in a sonorous, full-voiced refrain for the troparion. The Nunc dimittis is melodically simpler and mellow in comparison but enjoys the same colorful sound.

Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962)
Gabriel Jackson (b. 1962), the main course of this program, is one of Britain’s most popular contemporary composers.  Jackson is known for his choral liturgical pieces, which are sung by Britain’s leading cathedral and collegiate choirs. He evokes a variety of styles to create a distinctly modern sound, parts of his music referencing Josquin, Tavener, and even Stravinsky. Jackson, the son of a clergyman and former chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, grew up in the Anglican church; however, he doesn’t consider himself to be a conventional believer—somewhat unexpected, considering his liturgical music output. Salve regina 2 is one of his most substantial compositions and  harks back to the Renaissance, specifically Cornysh’s Salve Regina. Jackson captures the florid and ornate nature of Cornysh’s setting and goes a step further, sprinkling in subtle, Stravinsky-like rhythmic textures underneath smooth chordal writing. Structurally, both settings are similar, the text “Salve” functioning almost like bookmarks denoting the end of one section and the beginning of the next. Jackson makes use of a compositional technique from 16th- century English church music called the “gimel.” The gimel indicates that a single part divides to showcase complex and interesting part-writing. In Salve regina 2, the gimel involves two solo sopranos and two altos singing the text “Lady! thy goodness.” The effect is heightened with a change of meter and language. Ave Maria (2004) is another demonstration of Jackson’s contemplative style through the setting of this popular text. Upper and lower voices are in a musical conversation throughout the piece while navigating through unexpected changes in key and texture, typical of Jackson’s style. Two shorter pieces, To Morning (2007) and Song (I gaze upon you) (1996), demonstrate Jackson’s sensitivity to text by capturing the rhythmic nature of poetry for a timeless, yet effective, expression of the text.




Monday, September 11, 2017

Vox16 call for compositions for concert and possible CD recording




Vox16, a Seattle-based chamber choir that performs a cappella vocal music, is looking for new compositions to include in their program featuring local composers, Locally Sourced, on April 7, 2018 at Trinity Parish Church and for a potential CD recording project (of the April program). Submissions are due November 15.

GENERAL GUIDELINES

  • 4-7 minutes
  • a cappella
  • Does not exceed 16 parts (preferably up to SSAATTBB)
  • Moderate difficulty or easier
  • Has not been performed in a concert setting or recorded
  • Audio file (midi or singers is welcome, but not required)
  • All are welcome to submit

THEME

Submissions should have some relationship to (or draw inspiration from) early music. This can be reflected in the sound, construction, style, subject, sacred text, text painting, texture, and mood. (Does not have to be sacred)

Examples:

  • Set to sacred text and/or have some liturgical purpose.
  • Achieves a contemplative mood.
  • Deliberate use of homophonic vs polyphony textures
  • Text painting
  • A modern madrigal
  • Based on chant

*Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, Markdavin Obenza, markdavin@vox16.com

COMPENSATION

There is no monetary compensation.

Composers will be invited to work with Vox16 during a rehearsal for approximately 15 minutes and will receive a video recording (and professional audio recording) of their piece.

Example:



CD RECORDING PROJECT

Once the submissions have been selected, we will launch a fundraising campaign to raise money (approximately 4K) for a CD recording project of the "Locally Sourced" program with the selected compositions.

If the CD project is funded, the recording sessions will take place in January 2018 and will be released at the concert on April 7, 2018. Composers will receive 10 complimentary CDs.

HOW TO APPLY

Please email Markdavin Obenza at markdavin@vox16.com with a PDF of your music and a brief description about its relationship to early music.

Submissions are due November 15, 2017 

Will announce selections first week of December.




Monday, August 7, 2017

Pre-Order "Flemish Masters," sung by the La Maison Verte International Vocal Ensemble



PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY OF THE INTERNATIONAL VOCAL ENSEMBLE OF LA MAISON VERTE's CD: FLEMISH MASTERS. 

PRE-ORDER DEADLINE: September 1, 2017

RELEASE DATE: October 1, 2017

UPDATE: The new release date will be November 1, 2017

$15.50






TRACKS

GOMBERT: Lugebat David Absalon
JOSQUIN: Absalon fili mi
LASSUS: Missa super Bell' Amfitrit' altera
LASSUS: Laudate Dominum
BYRD: Quomodo cantabimus
de MONTE: Super flumina Babylonis
CLEMENS: Ego flos campi
MOUTON: Nesciens mater

SINGERS

Directed by Markdavin Obenza

Soprano
Julia Baker 
Beck Laxton
Marilyn McAdoo 
Margaret Obenza
Ruth Schauble 

Alto
Doug Fullington 
Jessica Gibbons 
Lauren Kastanas 
Jessica Martin 
Linda Sabee 

Tenor
Christopher Currie 
Tim Gallagher 
Rich Greene
Jim Howeth 
William Thompson 

Bass
T.J. Callahan
Kieran Cooper
Brent Eller
Charles Flory 
Nick Leitch 



Monday, May 29, 2017

Audition for Vox16's 2017-2018 Season!



We are pleased to announce auditions for our upcoming 2017-2018 season. We are looking for singers of all voice parts. Interested singers must sign up by June 28th. 


2017-2018 SCHEDULE More information about repertoire here

#1: MARIAN MOTETS
Sat Oct 7 at 7:30pm
Trinity Parish Church 
609 8th Ave
Seattle, WA 98104

Renaissance and contemporary settings of Marian motets. Featuring England's finest composers Cornysh, Tallis, Tavener, and Jackson.

Rehearsals
Mon Sept 25 at 7pm-10pm
Tues Oct 3 at 7pm-10pm
Wed Oct 4 at 7pm-10pm

#2 POSSIBLE RECORDING PROJECT (Pending funding)
January 2018

I would like to record a CD of new choral music in January featuring the selected compositions for the April 7 concert (to be released at that concert). A fundraising effort will be announced in the next few weeks to raise money for the project. 

Interested composers should contact Markdavin at markdavin@vox16.com 

#3: LOCALLY SOURCED
Sat April 7 at 7:30pm
Trinity Parish Church 
609 8th Ave
Seattle, WA 98104

New music from local composers

We are looking for composers to submit new compositions for this program. Compositions will be included in the CD project in January (pending funding) which will be released at this concert.

Rehearsals
Mon March 26 7pm-10pm 
*This rehearsal will be canceled if we record in January 2018
Wed April 4 at 7pm-10pm
Fri April 6 at 7pm-10pm


AUDITIONS
Interested singers are required to sign up for a 10-minute audition slot on one of the following dates:

Saturday, July 1, 2017, 2pm-6pm
Saturday, July 8, 2017, 2pm-6pm

Location:
Trinity Parish Church 
609 8th Ave
Seattle, WA 98104


Interested singers must sign up by June 28th. 

Singers are required to learn a part of their choice on Lobo's Versa est in luctum and will sing their part with five other singers on the other parts. There will also be a short sight-singing component. 

Singers will be evaluated on the following skills:
1. Execution of Assignment  (25%)
2. Tone Quality (25%)
3. Intonation (20%)
4. Ensemble skills (singing with others) (20%)
5. Sight-singing (10%)



COMMITMENT 
Singers are expected to attend all rehearsals and concerts during the 2017-2018 season. 

FEES
Singers pay no fees and are paid a small honorarium. Singers will be entitled to 1/20 of net revenues (ticket sales minus expenses - (sheet music, program printing, building use fee, etc.) This has typically amounted to about $40-$50 per concert and is paid two weeks after each concert. 

If the recording project is funded, singers will receive a fee for each recording session.

ABOUT VOX16
Vox16 is a professional chamber ensemble of sixteen singers dedicated to performing unaccompanied choral music from the Renaissance period to the 21st century. An exciting new presence in Seattle’s vibrant choral community, Vox16 was founded in 2015 by director Markdavin Obenza and is part of the Byrd Ensemble's Professional Choral Affiliates Program.



DIRECTOR MARKDAVIN OBENZA has dedicated his career to music. In addition to Vox16, Markdavin is the Artistic Director and co-founder of the Byrd Ensemble, a Seattle-based early music vocal group, and Producer for Scribe Records, an independent record label. He is an active singer and has performed with the Tudor Choir (US) and members of the Tallis Scholars (UK), in addition to the Byrd Ensemble. He is currently the Director of Choral Music at Trinity Parish Church (Seattle, WA). 



Thursday, April 27, 2017

Minimalists or not?



Vox16 presents MINIMALISM: MUHLY, GORECKI, AND PÄRT

SATURDAY, April 29th at 7:30pm
Trinity Parish Church
609 8th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104

SUNDAY, April 30th at 3:00pm
Faith Lutheran Church
9041 166th Avenue NE
Redmond, WA 98052

GORECKI - Totus tuus
MUHLY - Lord heare my prayer instantly
MUHLY - In One Place
MUHLY - Pater Noster
MUHLY - Recordare Domine
DUGGAN/LYLE - O sacrum convivium
PÄRT - Seven Magnificat Antiphons
PÄRT - I am the true vine
PÄRT - Magnificat
MALLONEE - O Lux


TICKETS
Save $3 by purchasing your tickets in advance
General Admission: $20
Seniors (65+): $15
Students: $10

Purchase tickets here. Your tickets will be emailed to you. Use your receipt as your ticket, or pick them up at will call.

*******

I can see my music theory professor now, cringing that I’ve labeled Pärt, Górecki, and Muhly as minimalists—this is understandable. Traditionally, we think of Terry Riley, Steve Glass, and John Adams as pioneers of the minimalism movement, so using the same label for the composers on this program warrants some explanation—just because the music contains repetition doesn’t mean it is minimalist!

Minimalism began post-World War II as a response to expressionism. Musically, it was a reaction against the prevailing musical aesthetics—atonal and mathematically generated music by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and the like. Minimalism was a movement to reduce music to its most basic elements. American composers Riley, Glass, and Adams led the new style and paved the way to new music based on patterns and extreme repetition. It would not be unusual to encounter a piece based on one pattern and hear it evolve only slightly over the span of twenty minutes.

Repetition and patterning is an important part of the music of Pärt, Górecki, and Muhly; however, their compositional style is not a reaction against expressionism, but instead emerged in a unique and individual way. Nor is their music committed to patterns and repetition to the same degree. Pärt is perhaps the most dedicated ‘patterner,’ but he is quick to break those patterns if it creates unwanted harmony. So, if they aren’t minimalists, how do we describe their style? Some call Pärt and Górecki ‘mystic minimalists’ or more pejoratively ‘pop minimalists.’ Neither of these labels seem to carry the significance their music deserves, so I hope the purists will bear with me while I include them in the minimalist camp for this program.

Arvo Pärt

For the sixth year in a row, Arvo Pärt has been given the title of the “world’s most performed living composer.” Pärt, born in 1935, is an Estonian composer of classical and sacred music. A prolonged struggle with Soviet officials led him to emigrate with his wife and their two sons in 1980. He lived first in Vienna, where he took Austrian citizenship, and then relocated to Berlin, Germany in 1981. He returned to Estonia around the turn of the 21st century and now lives alternately in Berlin and in Tallinn.



After some time experimenting in neoclassical styles, Pärt decided to use Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique and serialism in his compositions—this displeased the Soviet establishment enough to ban his early works. Pärt, not pleased with his output, went into several periods of contemplative silence, during which he studied choral music from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. His biographer, Paul Hillier, says, “He had reached a position of complete despair in which the composition of music appeared to be the most futile of gestures, and he lacked the musical faith and will-power to write even a single note.”

Pärt spent years immersing himself in Renaissance vocal music and more generally Western music. Out of this period of musical soul-searching emerged a unique compositional style that informed his music beginning in the 1970s—tintinnabuli (bell-like). The tintinnabuli style is a simple compositional technique that allows for a limited number of harmonies. Imagine the harmonies generated by playing a major scale in the left hand and an arpeggio on the right.

The Seven Magnificat Antiphons (1988; revised 1991), marks only the second time that Pärt set a German text. Perhaps the fact that it was commissioned for the Radio Chamber Choir in Berlin, a group whose broadcast performances reached audiences far and wide, suggested that the vernacular language would be the most appropriate choice. Each of these texts, in its normal liturgical context, functions as the antiphon to one iteration of the Magnificat, sung at Vespers on each of the seven evenings preceding Christmas Eve. In Pärt’s composition, these texts are set simply as a series of seven movements.

Pärt’s Magnificat, composed in the tintinnabuli style, employs drones. The solo Soprano part, singing only the pitch C,  provides the tonal center for the piece. Pärt’s setting of the Magnificat, though length and repetition, establishes a sense of timelessness. The half-step dissonances sprinkled throughout alongside the sonorous harmony immediately pull us into a state of contemplation and introspection.

I am the true vine was composed in 1996 for the 900th anniversary of Norwich Cathedral in England. Written for unaccompanied voices, the work offers a twist on Pärt's tintinnabuli technique. Syllables of text are dispersed among the parts in such a way that each part is often often completing another part’s sentence or word. Also, the distribution of the melody among the parts—Bass to Soprano back down to Bass—resembles the vine depicted in the text.

Henryck Mikolaj Górecki (b. 1933) was born in south west Poland to two talented amateur musicians. Musically, the boy developed late, and he enrolled at the conservatoire in Katowice at the age of 22 to study composition. Górecki’s work was not always met with praise. At the 1967 Cheltenham Festival his Refrain (for which he received a prize in Paris) was described: "Players can bang and blow and scrape repeated notes as they wish. The experiment might better have been conducted in private." In London 1978, his music was dismissed as "crude, agitated, often loud and violent". Yet, almost in parallel, Górecki had begun working in a style that could not be more different. His Symphony No 2 (Copernican), from 1972, began a transition towards a more consonant language.

“I think about my audience, but I am not writing for them. I have something to tell them.”
 -Górecki

Górecki was a pioneer of modernism in his own country, but, like Pärt, adopted a more pared-down, minimalist style and focused on writing religious music. Totus Tuus was performed at Pope John Paul II’s third visit to Poland, his homeland, in 1987. The outdoor masses were attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Totus Tuus sets a brief prayer to Mary, the patron saint of Poland. Górecki delivers a wonderfully simple but prayerful work for such an occasion.

American composer Nico Muhly (b. 1981) has worked with pop/rock and classical genres. Muhly, only in his mid 30s, is quite the hot contemporary artist. He has worked with Björk and Philip Glass and has composed for the Paris Opera Ballet. Muhly’s sacred music draws from two styles: American minimalism and the Anglican tradition.

Nico Muhly

Muhly’s choral pieces are rarely performed and have not been recorded. Recordare Domine, written for the Tallis Scholars and Peter Phillips, is most unlike the others and favors a more dissonant sound. Pater Noster, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer, draws inspiration from Stravinsky's unaccompanied sacred music, notably his setting of the same text. Lord Heare My Prayer Instantly showcases Muhly’s almost incessant use of triplets in a duple meter, which permeates much of his choral music. Unlike Recordare, Lord Heare and the other choral works on the program  are mostly diatonic and feature repeated musical figures. In One Place, a Pentecost Antiphon, incorporates freely sung text; the overall effect is meant, I assume, to depict the apostles speaking in tongues in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We invited composers to submit music that would pair well with the program. We are happy to present two works: Caroline Mallonée’s O Lux, and John Duggan and Teena Lyle’s O Sacrum Convivium (world premiere performance).

Caroline Mallonée (b. 1975) has been performed internationally, including New York City at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, Tribeca New Music Festival, and the Cambridge Summer Music Festival (UK) and has been broadcast several times over National Public Radio on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion.” Dr. Mallonée holds a Ph.D. from Duke University, a Master’s degree from the Yale School of Music, and a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. O Lux is an imitative motet celebrating light. The downward contour represents the light streaming in; the rising line that follows it, the light that raises one's spirits. It was commissioned by the Friends School of Baltimore to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the school’s founding.

John Duggan (b.1963) was a chorister at Westminster Cathedral and studied music at Keble College, Oxford. He is an experienced live-sound and recording engineer in both popular and classical fields. He has written a large body of work for choir, both sacred and secular, including a number of settings of the soldier poets of World War I. He was Creative Arts Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford (2012–15) and is currently composer-in-residence at Leeds Cathedral in West Yorkshire. His music is published by Novello and Shorter House.

Teena Lyle (b.1963)  is a percussionist, keyboard player and singer who has worked with many artists including Bob Dylan, Placido Domingo, Robbie Williams, and Gloria Gaynor. She is best known for her touring and recording work with Van Morrison. Alongside her performing, she is developing a career as a composer, artist, and teacher.

The text to O Sacrum Convivium, often attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, illuminates the pivotal role of the Eucharist in Christian life—from the Last Supper, the mystery of Easter unfolds. The sharing of bread evokes the Passion of Christ, the glory of his Resurrection, and the promise of an eternal feast. The power of this imagery lies in the way in which sharing, receiving, passion, grace, and glory intermingle as the divine ingredients in a timeless, celestial banquet. In writing this piece together we wanted to create a beautiful tableau, a piece that arches over performers and listeners like the stone spans of a medieval cathedral, like a field of flowers opening in a time-lapse sequence. The effect is like the gentle roll of waves, where the power builds invisibly in the undertow and then breaks upon the shore of our hearing.

Pages