MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

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

iSing Silicon Valley

An impressive debut album from iSing Silicon Valley: titled Here I Stand (and released by Innova Recordings), this collection celebrates “the power of girls to change the world as they raise their voices in remembrance, in strength, and in the pure, shared delight of coming together to sing.”

The ISing ensemble, founded in 2013 and consisting of more than 300 singers from grades 1 through 12 in Silicon Valley, has collaborated with the likes of Meredith Monk as well as Voces8 and Cappella SF.

Here I Stand highlights iSing’s commitment to presenting newly commissioned works and premieres. iSing Artistic Directors Jennah Delp-Somers and Shane Troll conduct, with accompanists Anny Cheng and Anna Khaydarova and guest artists Emily Botel (violin), Ron Ho (violin), Lesley Robertson (viola), Warren Wu (cello), Kent Reed (percussion), and Meredith Clark (harp).

TRACK LISTING

1. Only in Sleep, Ēriks Ešenvalds

2. Ave Generosa, Ola Gjeilo, Ave Generosa

3. In Your Light, Daniel Elder (arr. iSing commission, 2019)*

4. 365, Daniel Elder (arr. iSing commission, 2019)*

5. Never Shall I Forget (Nos. 1-3), Adam Schoenberg (iSing commission, 2019)*

6. Like a Singing Bird, Bob Chilcott

7. Birds’ Lullaby, Sarah Quartel

8. Salut Printemps, Claude Debussy

9. Here I Stand, Karen Linford (iSing commission, 2016)*

10. Sing, PinkZebra (iSing commission, 2018)*

11. Grow Little Tree, Andrea Ramsey

* World premiere recording

Filed under: choral music, music news

Damien Geter’s African American Requiem

Learn more about composer (and bass-baritone and actor) Damien Geter‘s remarkable new work, An African American Requiem, in my cover story for the current issue of Chorus America’s The Voice, which explores this and other examples of “secular requiems” by contemporary composers (starts on p. 26).

The world premiere by Portland’s Resonance Ensemble, which commissioned the work, was originally scheduled for May but had to be postponed because of the pandemic. Resonance now plans to give the premiere on 22 January 2021.

Filed under: African-American musicians, American music, choral music, new music

Morten Lauridsen’s Homecoming

Here’s a profile of the composer Morten Lauridsen I wrote for this weekend’s Seattle Sings Festival. The choral festival pays homage to Lauridsen on its Friday evening program:

As a musical ecosystem, the Pacific Northwest is acclaimed for the range and diversity of the choral ensembles that flourish here. Not nearly as well known is the fact that one of the most significant and popular living choral composers, Morten Lauridsen, makes his home in the region as well — and has transformed his love of its natural beauty into compositions that are sung around the world…

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Filed under: choral music, Morten Lauridsen, profile

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