MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Seattle Pro Musica’s 50th-Anniversary Season: Opening Concert

UPDATE: If you are interested in catching the Oct 15 concert after the fact, you can sign up for the livestream version, as it’s available on demand after the concert. No charge for the stream, you just need to sign up in advance of the concert.    https://seattlepromusica.thundertix.com/events/200774

Has it really been a half century? Seattle Pro Musica, one of the gems of the Puget Sound’s cultural life and of the contemporary choral scene in general, celebrates its 50th anniversary this season with a set of programs superbly curated by artistic director and conductor Karen P. Thomas.

The opening act is on Saturday, 15 October, at Seattle First Baptist Church. Titled My Heart Be Brave, this concert also inaugurates SPM’s New American Composer Series and features composer Marques L.A. Garrett. 

The program presents four choral works by Garrett, including the world premiere of Madrigal, commissioned by SPM, which sets poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Marques will be in residence with the ensemble the week before the concert and will also appear in a pre-concert talk with Karen Thomas.

Also on the program are works by Lili Boulanger, Samuel Barber, Joel Thompson, and Rosephanye Powell.

This five-concert series celebrates the milestone anniversary with commissions and Seattle residencies by five exciting BIPOC composers from across the country.

Marques is an Assistant Professor of Music in Choral Activities at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is an accomplished vocalist, composer, and active researcher specializing in traditional music of the African diaspora, as well as contemporary choral music by Black composers. For his commissioned work, Marques has chosen Dunbar’s evocative text asking to “teach this tongue the singer’s soulful art.”

Here’s the full lineup for My Heart Be Brave:

Madrigal by Marques L.A. Garrett (b. 1984)

Loch Lomond arr. by Jonathan Quick (b. 1970)

Reincarnations: The Coolin by Samuel Barber (1910-1981)

Hold Fast to Dreams by Joel Thompson (b. 1988)

My Heart Be Brave by Marques Garrett

Mis en inimene by Pärt Uusberg (b. 1986)

To Sit and Dream by Rosephanye Powell (b. 1962)

Till I Wake arr. by Marques Garrett

Hymne au Soleil by Lili Boulanger (b. 1893-1918)

Sing Out, My Soul by Marques Garrett

Complete SPM season listing:

New American Composer Series

Oct 15, 2022 – 7:30 pm

Seattle First Baptist Church

Featuring composer-in-residence Marques L.A. Garrett

Oct 29, 2022 – 4:00 pm and 7:30 pm

CABARET – Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue

SPM’s greatest cabaret hits

Nov 12, 2022 – 7:30 pm

Seattle First Baptist Church

Featuring composer-in-residence  Melissa Dunphy

Dec 10, 2022 – 3pm and 7:30 pm

Bastyr Chapel, Kenmore

Featuring composer-in-residence Sruthi Rajasekar

Dec 17, 2022 – 7:30 pm

Seattle First Baptist Church

Feb 11, 2023 – 7:30 pm

Seattle First Baptist Church

Featuring composer-in-residence Saunder Choi

March 25, 2023 – 7:30 pm

Seattle First Baptist Church

Featuring composer-in-residence Jerod lmpichchaachaaha’ Tate

Grand Finale Concert

May 20, 2023 – 8pm

St James Cathedral

Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor

Ethel Smyth’s Mass in D

Filed under: choral music, music news, Seattle Pro Musica

Seattle Pro Musica: love came down

Immense gratitude to Karen P. Thomas and Seattle Pro Musica for an inspired performance last night at Seattle First Baptist Church. These holiday concerts mark their return to live singing for the first time in about two years.

The beautifully curated program featured a thoughtful menu of new choral pieces in a wide range of styles, interspersed with gems by Josquin des Prez in honor of the 500th anniversary of his death. Even singing with special masks, the chorus — performing in its various subgroups and in the larger, full-strength ensemble — filled the space with Seattle Pro Musica’s signature clarity, fullness of color, and meaningful expression.

Personal highlights of this program: Welsh composer Paul Mealor’s moving setting of the e.e. cummings poem i carry your heart, which carried the audience away with its sublime, vulnerable honesty and directness; Afro-Brazilian composer José Mauricio Nunes Garcia’s elegantly voiced setting of Domine Jesu; and First Nations composer Andrew Balfour’s Qilak, an a cappella ode to nature that uses harmony and the resources of the singing voice with great imagination to depict the awe-filling vastness of the Northern landscape.

The program contains many other epiphanies. Seattle Pro Musica will perform a live broadcast this evening at 7.30pm PST (available online thereafter until 31 December). We all need such uplifting experiences more than ever.

love came down

by Christina Rosetti

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Stars and angels gave the sign.
Alleluia. Gloria in excelsis Deo.*

Worship we the Godhead,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Alleluia. Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and love to all,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Alleluia.

*Hallelujah. Glory to God in the highest.

Filed under: choral music, recommended listening, Seattle Pro Musica

Some Concert Recommendations

Here are two high-quality programs coming up in the Seattle area, which I highly recommend:

Seattle Pro Musica is returning to live performance at last, and they’re doing so with a characteristically fascinating and thoughtful program curated by SPM artistic director and conductor Karen P. Thomas called love came down. The choices feature mostly new music by BIPOC composers from the US and Canada, as well as works by Josquin des Prez to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his death.

love came down takes place at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm on December 11 at the Chapel at Bastyr University, and at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm on December 18 at Seattle First Baptist
Tickets available at https://www.seattlepromusica.org  or by at 206-781-2766.  
The performance will also be available by streaming on December 19.

Complete list of the repertoire with comments from SPM below.*

Pacific MusicWorks presents Fiesta de Navidad, a diverse program of festive holiday music from the Missions and Cathedrals of Latin America. Artistic leaders Stephen Stubbs, Tekla Cunningham, Henry Lebedinsky, and Maxine Eilander will be joined by vocalists Danielle Reutter-Harrah, Tess Altiveros, Laura Pudwell, and Pablo Bustos as well as Antonio Gomez on percussion and and Alexandra Opsahl on cornetto/recorder. December 11 at 7.30pm at Benaroya Hall; December 12 at 2pm at Epiphany Church in Seattle. Starting December 22, you can also purchase access to virtual on demand here. Mask and proof of vaccination required.

Program for love came down with Seattle Pro Musica:

Qilak by Andrew Balfour (Canada, b. 1967)
First Nations composer Andrew Balfour expresses his
wonder at the vast expanse of sky and the shimmering of
sun on snow as seen during a visit to Baffin Island in
northern Canada. Sung in Iniktitut and English.

Love came down at Christmas by Eleanor Daley (Canada, b. 1955)
This beautiful setting for tenors and basses of the beloved
poem by Christina Rosetti provides the title for our concert.
Sung in English.

Domine Jesu by José Mauricio Nunes Garcia (Brazil, 1767–1830)
This Afro-Brazilian composer wrote the first Brazilian opera,
as well as hundreds of choral and orchestral works.
Sung in Latin.

I carry your heart by Paul Mealor (Wales, b. 1975)
One of the most-performed of living composers today, Paul
Mealor explores the extremes of vocal range in this tender
setting of a poem by E. E. Cummings. Sung in English.

O magnum mysterium by Brittney Boykin (US, b. 1989)
A contemporary setting of this traditional Christmas text by
the Atlanta-based composer, conductor, and pianist B.E.
Boykin. Sung in Latin.

Ave verum, Gaude virgo mater Christi, and Ave Maria by Josquin des Prez (France, 1450–1521)
Three exquisite motets by the acclaimed Renaissance
composer who influenced generations of composers after
him. Josquin’s fame led Martin Luther to exclaim: “He is the
master of the notes.” Sung in Latin.

Star has come by Roderick Williams (UK, b. 1965)
An exciting piece that uses swooping choral glissandos
(glides from one pitch to another), written by the celebrated
Welsh-Jamaican composer and baritone. Sung in English.

When the earth stands still by Don Macdonald (Canada, b. 1966)
“Come listen in the silence of the moment before rain comes
down. There’s a deep sigh in the quiet of the forest and the
tall tree’s crown. Now hold me. Will you take the time to
hold me and embrace the chill?” Sung in English.

Epiphany Carol by Alexander L’Estrange (UK, b. 1974)
The lyrics by Joanna Forbes L’Estrange implore us to protect
the earth by giving not gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but “a
present for the future.” Sung in English.

Ave Maria by Nathaniel Dett (US, 1882-1943)
A richly chromatic setting by the famed Canadian-American
Black composer, pianist, conductor, poet, and music
professor. Sung in Latin.

In silent night by Mitchell Southall (US, b. 1922)
A gentle, reflective piece by this little-known AfricanAmerican composer, who was born in the South and
later migrated to Canada. Sung in English.

Filed under: choral music, Pacific MusicWorks, Seattle Pro Musica

Voices of Silicon Valley: On Stockhausen’s Stimmung

Sunday at 5PM PST, the Voices of Silicon Valley present a discussion of Stockhausen’s landmark work Stimmung.

Distinguished African American composer and media artist Pamela Z and Voices of Silicon Valley (VOSV) Artistic Director Cyril Deaconoff will discuss its cultural context, Stockhausen’s influence on the French spectral school (Gerard Grisey in particular), and the learning process and technique used by VOSV.

This discussion will be presented on VOSV’s Youtube channel here.

The 17-minute presentation was originally recorded for the digital Gala/ Orpheus album release party on 15 November 2020. After the re-broadcast this Sunday, it will stay on Youtube and may be viewed later. Stockhausen’s Stimmung appears on VOSV’s album Voices of Our Time, which features the first recording of this work by an American group.

Filed under: choral music, Karlheinz Stockhausen, music news

Damien Geter’s Cantata for A More Hopeful Tomorrow

Following the premiere of Damian Geter‘s short film Cantata for A More Hopeful Tomorrow last November, The Washington Chorus has now made the audio recording available to download and/or stream via multiple platforms. 

The Washington Chorus is among the first choirs in the country to release a recording that was produced 100% remotely – all choral singers along with guest soloists Aundi Marie Moore (soprano) and Seth Parker Woods (cello) recorded their parts from home during the pandemic. Complete list of streaming platforms.

Influenced by stories of hope and the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on the Black community, The Washington Chorus and Artistic Director Dr. Eugene Rogers commissioned composer Damien Geter and Emmy award-winning filmmaker Bob Berg both from Portland, Oregon, to produce a short music film that premiered in November 2020. The work features soprano Aundi Marie Moore, cellist Seth Parker Woods, and over 100 singers of The Washington Chorus.

“It was important for The Washington Chorus to step forward with musical space for reflection, healing, and hope amidst the COVID-19 global health pandemic and America’s long overdue reckoning with historic racial injustices,” says Stephen Beaudoin, TWC Executive Director.

Filed under: American music, choral music

Seattle Pro Musica Offers Comfort and Joy

Fire up Seattle Pro Musica’s YouTube page and be treated to some Comfort and Joy on 12 and 13 December at 7:30pm and 4:00pm PST, respectively. Each concert will include an accompanying live chat.

This virtual-concert format is a first for Seattle Pro Musica. Comfort and Joy features over 60 singers who were recorded individually in their homes, the results being blended together by SPM’s expert musicians.

Seattle Pro Musica is one of my very favorite choral organizations, and artistic director, composer, and conductor Karen P. Thomas has put together a characteristically thoughtful, artful program combining traditional carols with some lesser-known pieces and a new work by the American composer Marques L. A. Garrett: My Heart Be Brave, a 2018 composition setting poetry by James Weldon Johnson that is intended as an ode to social justice.

Also on the program: Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols and Fantasia on Greensleeves; Gustav Holst’s In the Bleak Midwinter in an arrangement by Karen Thomas; 16th-century Spanish composer Matheo Flecha’s Ríu, ríu, chíu; Star of Wonder by Terre Roche of the Roche Sisters; Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse Devo (from All-Night Vigil ); Ding! dong! Merrily on High by Thoinot Arbeau (born Jehan Tabourot; France, 1520–1595); Gloucestershire Wassail; and Franz Xaver Grüber’s Silent Night.

Comfort and Joy will close with a holiday carol sing-along led by conductor Karen P. Thomas and featuring Seattle Pro Musica singers, with Dwight Beckmeyer at the keyboard.

Also note: Seattle Pro Musica is one of the 17 Seattle-based performing arts organizations participating in the virtual This Is Beethoven Festival (16-19 December) and can be heard on the program of Thursday night, 17 December (8-10pm PST). It’s a neat program juxtaposing three composers who, like Beethoven, were overtaken by deafness in their later years: including Ethel Smyth. She is represented by her March of the Women (1911), which became an anthem of the women’s suffrage movement.

Filed under: choral music, Christmas, Seattle Pro Musica

Deep Listening with Arvo Pärt

The best-of lists for a worst-of year are being finalized all around. One sure contender is this remarkable collection of choral music by Arvo Pärt from Gloriæ Dei Cantores.

The Cape Cod-based choir, which is led by Richard K. Pugsley, has a deep affinity for the Estonian composer. Each member of the choir has participated in study projects on Arvo Pärt’s style and his approach to text setting.

Gloriæ Dei Cantores’  repertoire includes larger Pärt works such as Passio and the Stabat Mater as well as the less frequently heard L’abbé Agathon and Berliner Mass. The recording is rooted in their experience singing his music in worship, on tour, and as part of an extensive concert series at their home, the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts. 

The recording offers a powerful sampling of the range of Pärt’s choral writing, including his settings of Salve Regina and Nunc dimittis. L’abbé Agathon “sets the scene of an ancient 4th century story of the chance (or was it?) meeting of the hermit Agathon and a leper. After several testings of the hermit’s patience and his generosity, the leper reveals himself to be an angel, and blesses the hermit Agathon, and goes on his way. “

The exuberant Peace Upon You, Jerusalem and the Magnificat are juxtaposed with Pärt’s unforgettable setting of the sorrowful Stabat Mater, the culminating work on this collection. Originally commissioned to mark the centenary of Alban Berg’s birth in 1985, the piece was expanded in a new version that premiered in 2008.

“Music is my friend, ever-understanding. Compassionate. Forgiving, it’s a comforter, the handkerchief for drying my tears of sadness, the source of my tears of joy,” says the composer. These six selections span a large part of Pärt’s career and encourage a state of deep listening, far past the poisonous noise of the year now coming to a close.

Filed under: Arvo Pärt, choral music, recommended listening

Tuning Up to Stockhausen’s Stimmung

Today (Sunday November 15) at 5 p.m. PT, Voices of Silicon Valley is having a free virtual gala/album launch party on their YouTube channel to celebrate the release of their recording of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s 1968 milestone Stimmung (Orpheus Classical).

Voices of Silicon Valley collaborated in 2017 with two of the original six members of the Stockhausen group Collegium Vocale, bringing this avant-garde milestone to the San Francisco Bay area for the first live performance there in three decades.

The new recording also includes works by Cyril Deaconoff. Joined by mezzo-soprano Leandra Ramm and Edwin and Diane Bernbaum from Vital Arts, the launch event includes the premiere of a new video production titled Searching for a Perfect Harmony. It features interviews with the Stimmung singers and artistic director Cyril Deaconoff, whose new choral works and string quartet are also featured on the album. 

They will discuss the multicultural and global impact of Stimmung with the composer, performer, and multimedia artist Pamela Z and will highlight recent VOSV projects: the Ghost Ship Memorial concert and the Sugihara Project, which honors the Japanese diplomat who saved thousands of Jewish refugees during WWII.

Filed under: choral music, Karlheinz Stockhausen

Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow

On Saturday evening at 7:30pm ET, the Washington Chorus presents the world premiere of Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow, an innovative and timely work by Portland-based composer Damien Geter and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Bob Berg.

Commissioned by the Washington Chorus in response to stories of hope and the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on the Black community, Cantata for a More Hopeful Tomorrow involves both a new score and a new film that was created as a collaboration between Geter and Berg.

The premiere will be streamed live on the Vimeo platform via TicketSpice and will thereafter be available via Vimeo+ on demand and other streaming services.

According to the ensemble’s website, this film-cantata “tells the story of one individual’s journey as he grapples with recovery from COVID-19: a journey from despair and hurt to redemption and hope” and features a score “influenced by Bach, modern music, and traditional spirituals.” Soprano Aundi Marie Moore will join the Washington Chorus as soloist, with Eugene Rogers conducting.

I wrote about Damien Geter in my cover story on “secular requiems” for the Summer 2020 issue of Chorus America’s Voice Magazine.

Filed under: African-American musicians, choral music, commissions, COVID-19 Era

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR