Saturday 17 July 2021

 

About today's concert: The composers and their music

 

Eric Whitacre: i thank You God for most this amazing day

In the composer’s own words:

"In 1999 I was commissioned by Northern Arizona University to write a set of choral works commemorating the 100th anniversary of their school of music. I chose three of my favorite E.E. Cummings texts and started writing.  i thank You God for most this amazing day, is such a beautiful and joyous poem that the music was at times almost effortless. 

The 2009 revised edition of i thank You God for most this amazing day replaces the original edition, published in 2000, which is no longer available. Page 12 has been exchanged at my request – the rest of the work remains as it was first published. The decision to rewrite a section of a work after publication has its own interesting story.

When I originally premiered i thank You God with Northern Arizona University back in 1999, I made a lot of changes during the few days I had with the choir before they first performed it. One section I didn’t change, and that I loved, was the text “now the ears of my ears awake, now the eyes of my eyes are opened.” For that first performance in 1999 it was just a simple chant-like round, and I felt that it elegantly set up the next section, a cluster-y meditation on the word “opened.” Then, literally the night before I sent back the final proofs for publication, I freaked. I thank You God was the third in a set of three pieces (the Three Songs of Faith), and it suddenly occurred to me that I could tie the whole set together by quoting the beginning of the first piece, i will wade out, at the end of i thank You God. So I quickly rewrote the “now the ears of my ears” section, echoing the first leaps in i will wade out, and sent it off to the publisher. I can remember feeling actual pride – a very ‘scholarly’ pride – for so brilliantly and effortlessly manipulating motivic material.

The piece was published, and a year later I hear the new version actually performed. I was horrified. Page 12 was ridiculously difficult, and I could see the otherwise excellent choir sweating just to make it sound natural. Much worse, though, was this: it completely masked the meaning of the words. The text just became lost in the ‘clever’ writing, and the most important sentence in the poem just vanished in a fog of academic writing and… pride.

I conducted that version for years, trying every way I could think of to make it work. It never did, not even once. So when it was going to be recorded by the British ensemble Polyphony, I sent them the original version of i thank You God. That’s the one they recorded, and that’s the one I’ll do from now until the end of time. It’s so much more simple, and humble, and to my ears, the meaning of the text now explodes off the page. It was a great lesson for me, and I think of those measures every time I start to ‘overthink’ while I’m writing.

So – if you are conducting or singing i thank You God for most this amazing day, please know that I am most happy to have found my way back to the original and true version in today’s 2009 publication."

 

i thank You God for most this amazing day

i thank You God for most this amazing

day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth

day of life and love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any-lifted from the no

of all nothing-human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 

e.e. cummings, 1894 – 1962

 

Taken from ericwhitacre.com/music-catalog/three-songs-of-faith

 

 

Morten Lauridsen: O magnum mysterium

The music of Morten Lauridsen occupies a permanent place in the standard vocal repertoire of the Twenty-First Century. His eight vocal cycles (Lux Aeterna, Les Chansons des Roses, Madrigali: Six ‘FireSongs’ on Italian Renaissance Poems, A Winter Come, Cuatro Canciones, A Backyard Universe, Nocturnes and Mid-Winter Songs on Poems by Robert Graves), instrumental works, art songs and series of motets (including O Magnum Mysterium) are performed throughout the world and have been recorded on over two hundred CDs, including several that received Grammy nominations. 

Lauridsen (b. 1943) served as Composer-in-Residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1995-2001 and is currently Distinguished Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. An award-winning documentary by Michael Stillwater, Shining Night – A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen, was released in 2012 (songwithoutborders.net). In 2006, Morten Lauridsen was named an “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2007 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest artistic award in the United States, by the President in a White House ceremony “for his composition of radiant choral works combining musical beauty, power, and spiritual depth”.

O magnum mysterium is a setting of a Gregorian chant for Christmas composed in 1994.  The work has been described as expressive ethereal sounds in imperturbable calmness.

O magnum mysterium,

et admirabile sacramentum,

ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,

iacentem in praesepio!

Beata Virgo,

cujus viscerameruerunt portare

Dominum Iesum Christum.

Alleluia!

 

English translation

O great mystery,

and wonderful sacrament,

that animals should see the newborn Lord,

lying in a manger!

Blessed is the virgin,

whose womb was worthy to bear,

the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Alleluia!

 

www.mortenlauridsen.net 

 

 

Lillie Harris: Margaret

Lillie graduated from the Royal College of Music in 2016, studying composition with Haris Kittos and winning the Elgar Memorial prize for her final portfolio. Musical from a young age, her interest in composing grew out of learning instruments, a flair for languages, and a love of creative writing; narrative ideas and complex emotions are often a core element in her compositions. Currently, she is particularly enjoying bringing her twin passions for text and music together in the form of new choral and vocal works.

Her pieces have been performed by ensembles including Ensemble Recherche, Psappha, the RSNO, LPO, NYCGB, and LSO, who commissioned her to write new pieces for their Elmer's Walk Under-5s concert in 2019. In 2017 she was awarded the Tenso Young Composers Award for her song cycle setting poems by August Stramm, and her piece Dormientes Bestia for paetzold and tape was in the winning programme in the RCM Contemporary Competition 2016. She was the joint-winner of echo vocal ensemble’s composition competition 2019 for her setting of an Alice Oswald poem, shortlisted for the London Oriana Choir five15 competition 2019 with her piece Frage, and two choral works written on the NYCGB’s Young Composer Scheme were released on NMC recordings in January 2020. In 2021, her new art song Kind Regards, with text by Laura Attridge, was premiered online by the Royal Opera House and a new choral work and trumpet fanfare were premiered at Cheltenham Music Festival through the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Emerging Composers programme.

 

From the composer:

“Much of the text for this piece is taken from a seventeenth-century memorial found in the church of St Mary the Virgin in Lewisham, south London, preserving the name of an otherwise unknown woman called Margaret who died in 1643.

The additional words – meadow-dwelling medica – are my own, with a play on the original meaning of Lewisham – dwelling in the meadows – and borrowing the term medica, describing a woman doctor, from the Record of Deeds of thirteenth-century Leominster in Herefordshire.

Discovering this inscription gave me a powerful sense of connection between the past and the present, almost as if Margaret were a modern woman out of time.  She seemed strong and capable, generous and respected in her community.  The fact that her second husband was pastor of Lewisham is perhaps the only reason we know of her and I wondered how many more ‘Margarets’ are out there, lost to history.  Not many will have merited a memorial, let alone a costly one chiseled in stone; yet without such a record we can never know.

Margaret is therefore composed in a deliberately hymn-like style in order to reflect not only her close relationship with the church, but also to express my own sense of reverence for her.  She was both ordinary and remarkable: a seventeenth-century female medical professional; I hope my piece is a fitting tribute to her memory.” 

Margaret Colfe’s Epitaph

Margaret first wife to Jasper Valentine,

after married 33 years to Abraham Colfe

pastor of Lewisham; having bene above 40

yeares a willing nurse, midwife, surgeon,

and in part physitian to all, both rich and poore;

without expective reward; and having left an

annuall guift of 20 shillings to the poore,

being neere 79 yeares old, was buried heere

the 19th of March Ano Domini 1643

 

www.lillieharris.com  

 

 

Philip Glass : Three Songs

Three Songs is a work for unaccompanied choir featuring settings of words by three different poets and songwriters.

Featuring There Are Some Men by Leonard Cohen, Quand Les Hommes Vivront D'Amour by Raymond Lévesque and Pierre De Soleil by Octavio Paz, these wonderful lyrics are matched by Glass's brilliantly unmistakable music.

Crouch End Festival Chorus recorded the Three Songs in 2010 and is delighted to be reprising them tonight.

 

There are Some Men

There are some men

who should have mountains

to bear their names through time

Grave markers are not high enough

or green

and sons go far away to lose the fist

their father's hand will always seem

I had a friend he lived and died

in mighty silence and with dignity

left no book son or lover to mourn.

Nor is this a mourning song

but only a naming of this mountain

on which I walk

fragrant, dark and softly white

under the pale of mist

I name this mountain after him.


Words by Leonard Cohen

 

 

Quand Les Hommes Vivront D’amour

Quand les hommes vivront d'amour

Il n'y aura plus de misère

Et commenceront les beaux jours

Mais nous nous serons morts mon frère


Quand les hommes vivront d'amour

Ce sera la paix sur la terre,

Les soldats seront troubadours

Mais nous nous serons morts mon frère


Dans la grande chaîne de la vie

Ou il fallait que nous passions

Ou il fallait que nous soyons

Nous aurons eu la mauvaise partie.


Quand les hommes vivront d'amour

II n'y aura plus de misère

Et commenceront les beaux jours

Mais nous nous serons morts mon frère


Mais quand les hommes vivront d'amour

Qu'l n'y aura plus de misère

Peut-être songeront-ils un jour

A nous qui serons morts mon frère


Nous qui aurons aux mauvais jours

Dans la haine et puis dans la guerre

Chercher la paix chercher l'amour

Qu'ils connaîtront alors mon frère

Dans la grande chaîne de la vie

Pour qu'il ait un meilleur temps

II faut toujours quelque perdants

De la sagesse ici bas c'est le prix


Quand les hommes vivront d'amour

II n'y aura plus de misère

Et commenceront les beaux jours

Mais nous nous serons morts mon frère

 

English translation:

When men live in brotherly love

There will be no more misery

And the good days will begin

But as for us, we shall be long gone,

my brother


When men live in brotherly love

There will be peace on Earth

Soldiers will be troubadours

But as for us, we shall be long gone,

my brother


Through the course of this life

Which we had to experience

In which we had to play a part

We were dealt a bad hand

When men live in brotherly love

There will be no more misery

And the good days will begin

But as for us, we shall be long gone,

my brother


But when men live in brotherly love

And there is no more misery

Perhaps they will think one day

Of us who are no longer my brother


Of us in bad times

In hatred and then in war

Looked for peace, looked for love

Which they will know my brother


Through the course of this life

To have a better time

There always have to be some losers

That's the price you pay for wisdom


When men live in brotherly love

There will be no more misery

And the good days will begin

But as for us we shall be no longer

my brother.


Words by Raymond Lévesque

 

 

Pierre de Soleil

La vie quand fut-elle vraiment notre

quand sommes-nous vraiment ce que

nous sommes

en vérité seuls nous ne sommes pas

nous ne sommes jamais sinon vertige

et vide


jamais la vie n'est nôtre

elle est aux autres

la vie n'est á personne

nous sommes tous la vie


pain de soleil pour les autres

tous les autres que nous sommes

sortir de moi me chercher parmi

les autres

les autres qui ne sont pas

si je n'existe pas

les autres qui me donnent existence

les autres qui me donnent existence


II n'y a pas de moi

toujours nous sommes nous autres

la vie est autres toujours la bas

plus loin hors de toi de moi

toujours horizon

hors de toi de moi toujours horizon

la vie quand fut-elle vraiment notre

quand sommes nous vraiment ce que

nous sommes

 

English translation:

When life was really ours

When are we really what we are

In truth as individuals we do not exist

We never exist except as dizziness

and emptiness


life is never ours

it belongs to others

life doesn't belong to any one

individual we are all life

we nurture one another

all the others whom we are

let me come out of myself

look for me amongst the others

the others who are not

if I don't exist

the others who give me existence

the others who give me existence


there is no Me

it is always Us

life is others always over there

further away beyond you beyond me

always on the horizon

beyond you beyond me always on the horizon

when life was really ours

when are we really what we are.


Words by Octavio Paz

 

www.philipglass.com  

 

 

 

Duke Ellington: Sacred Concert

Originally arranged for soprano, mixed choir and big band by John Høybye and Peder Pedersen. Newly edited and adapted for smaller band by Roland Perrin.

 

Russell Davies writes for London Jazz News:

In 1965, the Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco invited Duke Ellington to play a concert of sacred music in celebration of the newly-built edifice. Though Duke had no such programme ready-made, the request couldn’t have been better timed. Edward Kennedy Ellington was accustomed to an eventful career, but in the mid-sixties – the world’s and his own – events were crowding in on him oppressively. It was in 1965 that Ellington was controversially denied a Pulitzer Prize, on grounds widely assumed to be race-based, and the fact of this rebuff leaked into the press. His long-estranged but undivorced wife Edna was dying of cancer, and so was his beloved musical helpmeet, Billy Strayhorn. Mortality lurked, and Ellington was well aware that he had not lived a blameless life. Here was an opportunity to square his accounts with the deity.

But he was nothing if not a joyful sinner, so it was joy that chiefly animated his First Sacred Concert. By a huge stroke of luck, I saw this for myself, when the Duke accepted an invitation from Canon Hugh Montefiore, later Bishop of Birmingham, to stage the piece at Great St Mary’s, the Cambridge University Church, for a fee of $1000. It was a small venue by Ellington concert standards (1300 crammed-in tickets), and sitting in an aisle seat, I had the honour of seeing my foot tripped over by one of the greatest saxophonists in jazz, Johnny Hodges, on his way to the stage.

The atmosphere of that performance seemed be set by the oaken tones of Harry Carney‘s baritone sax, presaging a soloist who sang the opening four words of the Bible: “In The Beginning, God.” But those solemnities were only one component in what turned out to be – and remains, in the latter-day distillation of Ellington’s three Sacred Concerts – a potpourri of faith-based entertainments...

Read the full article here  

 

 

PERFORMERS:

 

Zoë Brookshaw – zoebrookshaw.com/biography 

Roland Perrin and the Blue Planet Orchestra – www.rolandperrin.com 

Crouch End Festival Chorus – cefc.org.uk/about-us

David Temple MBE  – cefc.org.uk/about-us/music-director