a little something extra

Monday, March 20, 2006

Cathedral Echoes

That's the name of the concert -- three performances of the same program, in two different locations -- that the Pacific Chorale is presenting. We did the first performance last night, in the newly built Performing Arts Center at Cal State Fullerton. Our conductor is in his last year of teaching there, about to retire. It's very nice that this outside chorus, which he has shepherded for 34 years, got to perform in the spiffy new concert hall just after it opened, while he's still there full time.

Then tonight, we did the second performance, at the Basilica of the Mission of San Juan Capistrano. Where Meng Hall has unforgivingly lovely acoustics, the Mission has acoustics that will cover a multitude of sins. Vexingly, we actually sang better in the second performance. Still, both were good. The final performance will be a week from tonight, again at the Basilica.

I thought I would share our program of music. It's all a cappella, and all sacred music of one kind or another.

We start with John Rutter's "Come Down, O Love Divine," which is not as loud and boisterous as one might expect from Rutter. It's the first of our double-choir pieces, followed by...

Felix Mendelssohn's Kyrie in C minor, for double choir plus a quintet of soloists. I love that our quintet includes an African-American bass, Anglo tenor and soprano, and altos from China and Korea, respectively. Welcome to California!

The Kyrie begins what our conductor calls an "eclectic missa brevis," meaning he's pulled each movement of the Mass from a different composer in a different style and era, and he's skipped the Credo (hence, "brevis").

The Gloria is probably the most difficult piece we're singing. It's by a contemporary Norwegian composer named Lars Edlund. It starts with a fiendishly difficult tenor solo, then goes to as many as 16 separate voice parts. Plus spoken stuff, in rhythm. And deliberate quarter-tones. Oy vey.

As a palate-cleanser after that, we have Schubert's "Heilig, heilig, heilig," as simple as a hymn tune.

Then for good measure we do another Sanctus and Benedictus, composed by William Walton.

And we finish this section with an Agnus Dei by Samuel Barber -- it's the music of his now-famous Adagio for Strings, set for chorus. I love the Barber, but it's incredibly clear that he was never a first alto. My section has to sing as low as F sharp three ledger lines below the treble staff, and as high as the A above the staff.

We come back from intermission and sing Tchaikovsky's Cherubic Hymn. I was embarrassed to discover that when I sang the same text with another chorus some time ago, we pronounced some of the language incorrectly.

Then comes one of my favorite pieces on the program, Healey Willan's "An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts." Every time I look at the music I think "I'm having an apostrophe!" and have to chase Smee out of my head. But then we get on to the music and I'm fine. This Apostrophe requires a large choral force, and happily, we've got one. Again it's divided into two full choirs, but it also calls for two "mystic choirs," small ensembles of five to seven voices. Very pretty stuff.

Then another palate cleanser, this one a very simple contemporary composition called "Sing Me To Heaven." The composer's name is Daniel Gawthrop. We've sung this piece many times, but tonight in the Basilica it coalesced and stood out as strikingly lovely.

The final section of the concert addresses the American hymn tradition -- first with a Shaker piece arranged by Robert Shaw and Alice Parker. The hymn is "Saints Bound for Heaven."

At this point the women take a break and the men sing a Sacred Harp tune, "The Morning Trumpet." Then the men stand down and the women sing "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" by Thomas Dorsey. We reunite and a wonderful soprano soloist pops out for "I Wanna Be Ready," the first of two truly old-fashioned spirituals, this one in a traditional setting.

We finish up with "My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord," in a high-energy arrangement by Moses Hogan, whose massive talents were taken too soon -- he died before his 50th birthday.


At 9:53 AM , Blogger Erin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:53 AM , Blogger Erin said...

Do we have a prayer of ever hearing this astonishingly awesome program on a recording?

At 11:28 AM , Blogger meeegan said...

Alas, I haven't heard any plans to record it. I'll poke around a little on the Web tonight, though, and see whether I can find other recordings of these pieces that are listenable on line.

At 11:28 AM , Blogger meeegan said...

And just in case anybody worries -- Erin's comment accidentally got published twice, so I removed one copy of it.

At 12:08 PM , Blogger Quev said...

Wow, that's a great program! "Saints Bound for Heaven" is a great, rollicking old hymn, as is "Morning Trumpet." Both are frequently called at Sacred Harp singings.

Although not an alto, I sympathize with your plight on the Barber. But still -- what an amazing arrangement of an amazing piece of music. Every time I hear that choral version of the Adagio, I get chills.

At 11:01 AM , Blogger meeegan said...

I had never heard it in a choral arrangement, just its original string self. You're right, it's breathtaking!

And I do think of you each time we get to the Sacred Harp part of the lineup.


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