MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

New from Sarah Kirkland Snider

When I was researching material for my cover story Secular Requiems for the recent issue of Chorus America’s magazine The Voice, I came across so many relevant contemporary compositions that it was painful not having the space to cover more of them.

The American composer Sarah Kirkland Snider‘s Mass for the Endangered offers yet another angle on the concept of a requiem, though it doesn’t use that term. Kirkland collaborated with the poet Nathaniel Bellows, who crafted a libretto juxtaposing parts of the traditional Ordinary Mass with elegiac meditations on our era of extinction and the threat humanity poses to the natural world.

“I wanted to open the gates in my mind between centuries-old European vocal traditions and those of more recent American vernacular persuasion, and write from a place where differing thoughts about line, text, form, and expression could co-exist,” says Kirkland.

Mass for the Endangered was commissioned by Trinity Church Wall Street as part of a project curated by Daniel Felsenfeld. It was premiered there in April 2018 and was recently released as a collaboration between New Amsterdam Records, which Kirkland cofounded, and Nonesuch Records.

The new recording features the English vocal ensemble Gallicantus and instrumentalists, with Gabriel Crouch conducting. Scored for SATB chorus, piano, string quintet, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, harp, and percussion, Mass for the Endangered is something of a departure for a composer whose aesthetic outlook has been characterized as “post-genre.”

Kirkland explains: “The origin of the Mass is rooted in humanity’s concern for itself, expressed through worship of the divine—which, in the Catholic tradition, is a God in the image of man. Nathaniel and I thought it would be interesting to take the Mass’s musical modes of spiritual contemplation and apply them to concern for non-human life—animals, plants, and the environment. There is an appeal to a higher power—for mercy, forgiveness, and intervention—but that appeal is directed not to God but rather to nature itself. As someone not traditionally religious who draws enormous spiritual and artistic inspiration from the natural world and is deeply concerned about climate change, the text spoke to me on a personal level.”

“[B]ecause of the global crisis we’re facing and the losses we’ve already suffered, the music can’t just be a celebration—it has to also be an elegy, and a plea. I tried to let the music acknowledge some of that, even in its most exuberantly joyous moments.” 

Filed under: choral music, new music

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