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PROGRAM

With A Lily in Your Hand – Eric Whitacre

This Marriage – Eric Whitacre

Village Wedding – Sir John Tavener

Lullaby from “The Garden of Paradise” – Shawn Crouch

A Child’s Prayer – James MacMillan

Cassandra Ewer, soprano / Danya Tiller, soprano

MLK – words and music by U2, arr. Bob Chilcott

Andrew De Valk, tenor

Song for Athene – Sir John Tavener

Dark Night of the Soul – Ola Gjeilo

World premiere; Ola Gjeilo, piano / Alison Chaney, soprano / Michelle Mitchell, violin / Laura Speck, violin / Allyson Wuenschel, viola / Clara Lee, cello

Noche oscura del alma – Carlos Surinach

Nocturnes – Morten Lauridsen

Sa nuit d’ete

Soneto de la noche

Sure on this Shining Night

Joshua Hillmann, piano

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With A Lily in Your Hand – Eric Whitacre

This Marriage – Eric Whitacre

Eric Whitacre is one of the most prominent names in choral music today, highly sought after as a guest clinician and conductor. In 2000, he became the youngest composer to be honored with the Raymond Broch commission from the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), and his many honors include the ASCAP Harold Arlen Award, the Richard Rodgers Award, and awards from The Barlow International Composition Competition and the American Composers Forum.

With A Lily in Your Hand is the second of Whitacre’s Three Flower Songs. According to the composer, the piece contrasts two elemental ideas, the lyrical murmuring of Water juxtaposed with the glittering, vibrant sparkle of Fire. The poem is by Federico Garcia Lorca, one of Spain’s most important poets and dramatists. He was a member of the Generacíon del 27, a designation that in its strictest sense is applied only to an influential group of prominent Spanish authors of the early 20th-century, but in a broader, more practical sense included musicians and artists. Lorca grew particularly close to the filmmaker Luis Buñuel and the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. He was himself a talented musician as well as a poet, playing the piano and guitar, as well as writing for the stage, acting, and directing. As a member of the leftist elite (and as a homosexual), he found himself on the enemies list of the Falangists (a political movement similar to Facism) during the Spanish Civil War, and was summarily dragged into a cemetery outside Granada and shot by the General Franco’s Nationalist Militia. His grave has never been found.

Whitacre’s primary musical language is distinctive and immediately recognizable, built on unconventional chord progressions and tonal clusters. This Marriage is a notable departure from that style, however, built largely in primary triads gliding smoothly along the staff. The result of a commission by the chorus of Azusa Pacific University, it is dedicated to Whitacre’s wife, Hila, as a “small and simple gift” for the seventh anniversary. The text is by the 13th-century Persian poet, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, more commonly known in the Western world as Rumi (because he lived for most of his life under the Byzantine Sultanate of Rum, or Roman Anatolia, now in modern-day Turkey). An ecstatic mystic and philosopher, he became known far and wide as a masterful teacher and religious scholar, and his writings are still widely regarded as the best introduction and guide to Sufism, which focuses on peace, tolerance, love, and service. Because Rumi believed that one could best reach God through music, poetry, and dance, he and his followers spent much time dancing the sama, the spinning dance in which the dancer symbolically turns toward Truth and Love, in an imitation of the planets as they orbit the sun. After his death, Rumi’s son, Sultan Walad, formalized his father’s philosophy of the sama by founding the Mawlawiyah Sufi Order (called the Mevlevi in Turkey), more commonly known in the western world as the Order of the Whirling Dervishes.

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Village Wedding – Sir John Tavener

Song for Athene – Sir John Tavener

John Tavener claims a direct lineage from Renaissance composer John Taverner, although the family shed an R somewhere along the way. He burst into public fame in 1968, when The Whale and In Alium were first performed, and the next year The Beatles signed him to their newly formed Apple label. In 1969 he became Professor of Composition at Trinity College and Britten invited him to write an opera for the Royal Opera House – and all at the tender age of 25. Although he was raised Presbyterian, he converted to the Greek Orthodox church in 1977, which he described as a “homecoming.” Since then, his music has focused more on liturgical use and flavored by the mysticism of the doctrines. In an interview with the BBC, he described the difference between Western and Eastern music: “This [Eastern music] is music which both excites me musically and also leads me somewhere, takes me somewhere. So much Western music is created in this world and leaves you in this world. The music of the East is perhaps written not so much with the world in mind, and it certainly takes you somewhere else.” Village Wedding is based on the poetry of Angelos Sikelianos, with insertions from the Orthodox Wedding Service, and Tavener points out that the whole tone of the poetry “shows that everything in the natural and visible world, when rightly perceived, is an expression of a supernatural and invisible order or reality.” Song for Athene was written in memory of Athene Harriadis, a young family friend who was killed in a cycling accident. The text is taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Orthodox Funeral Srevice. Song for Athene was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana, accompanying the cortège as her coffin was carrried from Westminster Abbey.

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Lullaby from “The Garden of Paradise” – Shawn Crouch

Shawn Crouch has received numerous awards and accolades from such prestigious institutions as The American Academy of Arts and Letters, ASCAP, Meet the Composer, and as the inaugural recipient of the Dale Warland Singers Commissioning Award given by Chorus America and the American Composers Forum. However, I suspect it will always be hard to top the encomium he received from Anthony Tommisini of the New York Times, who categorized his music as “gnarling atonal energy.” Crouch is also actively involved as an educator, having served for several years as director of the Hunter College High School Chamber Choir. He is now the Director of Education for the professional choir Seraphic Fire in Miami, Florida. Lullaby is taken from The Garden of Paradise, which was commissioned by Chanticleer. The remarkable poetry is the work of Sgt. Brian Turner, a soldier who spent tours of combat in Iraq and in Bosnia-Herzegovina. His debut book of poems, Here, Bullet, was awarded the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award, the New York Times “Editor’s Choice” selection, the 2006 Pen Center USA “Best in the West” award, and the 2007 Poets Prize. The riveting poems veer from the horrific, as in the harrowing account of the suicide of a fellow platoon member, to the bittersweet, as exemplified in Lullaby, in which a father tries to cushion his young son from the brutal realities of war.

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A Child’s Prayer – James MacMillan

Cassandra Ewer, soprano / Danya Tiller, soprano

James MacMillan is one of Scotland’s most prominent composers. He grew up in a musical household, and, like most teenagers, played in a local rock band. However, he also developed a deep love for traditional Scottish folk music, and still performs on occasion with the Whistlebinkies. His music has been championed by many of the world’s greatest conductors, including Leonard Slatkin, Mstislav Rostroprovich, and Sir Colin Davis, who requested that MacMillan composer for his 80th birthday. The result, a joint commission by the London Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was a new St. John Passion conducted by Davis for its world premiere. MacMillan was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2004. His music is shaped by his empathy with and compassion for those who live under political persecution. As a devout Catholic, he has been strongly influenced by Liberation Theology, and many of his compositions focus on the unjustly oppressed. A Child’s Prayer was composed to honor the victims of Scotland’s worst school shooting, when a lone gunman killed 16 elementary school children and one adult at the Dunblane Primary School in 1996.

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MLK – words and music by U2, arr. Bob Chilcott

Andrew De Valk, tenor

Bob Chilcott, for twelve years a member of The King’s Singers, retired from that group in 1997 to devote himself to composing, and has built for himself an equally illustrious solo name in that field. MLK is his arrangement of the haunting and lovely ballad in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by the Irish band U2, always known for its social conscience. It was written by their lead singer Bono (it purportedly came to him one day while he was vacuuming) for their 1984 album, The Unforgettable Fire, and was one of the songs they chose for their half-time show for Super Bowl XXXVI, when they paid tribute to those lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11.

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Dark Night of the Soul – Ola Gjeilo

World premiere; Ola Gjeilo, piano / Alison Chaney, soprano / Michelle Mitchell, violin / Laura Speck, violin / Allyson Wuenschel, viola / Clara Lee, cello

Norwegian Ola Gjeilo is now a resident of New York, where he maintains an active schedule as a composer and performer, both as a solo pianist and as a member of the eponymous Ola Gjeilo Group. His own music (he received his Master’s in composition from Juilliard, where his work won several prizes) is a synthesis of jazz, classical, and folk music, and his list of commissions is already impressive, including pieces for Phillip Brunelle, Ensemble Mendelssohn, Con Amore, and the renowned soprano Barbara Bonney. Gjeilo serves as Composer-in-Residence for the Phoenix Chorale during the 2009-10 concert season. Dark Night of the Soul was commissioned for Charles Bruffy and the Phoenix Chorale by Gunilla Luboff, the widow of renowned choral director and arranger Norman Luboff. Its text is by St. John of the Cross, a 16th-century Spanish priest, reformer, and mystic. Together with St. Teresa of Ávila, he founded the order of the Discalced (“Barefoot”) Carmelites. Although he was canonized in 1726 and is now named as one of the 33 Doctors of the Church, he managed to fall afoul of the Church hierarchy in 1577, however. He was imprisoned in deplorable and sadistic conditions for nine months, but the heavenly visions granted to him during that time led to some of his most exquisite poetry. The Dark Night of the Soul was written soon after his escape, and describes the journey of the soul as it leaves its earthly prison and travels toward reunion with God.

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Noche oscura del alma – Carlos Surinach

Noche oscura del alma is a very different setting of St. John’s Dark Night of the Soul. Catalan composer Carlos Surinach (the name was originally Suriñach, and concert posters in Spain still generally identify him that way) studied in Barcelona, Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Berlin, where he studied briefly with Richard Strauss, and immigrated to the United States in 1951, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1959. He received England’s Bax Society Medal for Non-Commonwealth Composers in 1966, and was made a Knight Commander of the Order of Isabella I of Castille in 1972. His fame rests on his reputation as a conductor as well as a composer, and he is particularly noted for his dance scores, having received commissions from the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Paris Opera, Antonio y los Ballets de Madrid, and the Joffrey Ballet. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to allow him to speak for himself, from a 1987 interview with Bruce Duffie: “Quoting Cervantes, the great Spanish writer, he said, ‘If you are born Italian, you sing; if German, you play; if Spanish, from the moment you are out of the womb, you want to dance.’ It turns out that my music, even the most serious pieces, all suggest, in some say, dance.”

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Nocturnes – Morten Lauridsen

Sa nuit d’ete

Soneto de la noche

Sure on this Shining Night

Joshua Hillmann, piano

Morten Lauridsen is a native of the Northwest, where he spent his formative years in Portland, Oregon before migrating to California for his collegiate training at the University of Southern California. He joined the faculty of USC in 1967, later serving as Chair of the Department of Composition from 1990- 2002, and also served as Composer-in-Residence of the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1994-2001. He is one of the best-selling choral composers on record, and his music has been championed by some of the field’s greatest names, including Robert Shaw and Dale Warland. In 1998, the Los Angeles Master Chorale received a Grammy nomination for their disc Lux aeterna, which is devoted to Lauridsen’s music. His set of three Nocturnes came about when he received the ACDA’s Raymond W. Brock Memorial Commission in 2005. The text of the frankly sensual Sa Nuit d’Été is by Rainier Maria Rilke, considered one of Germany’s greatest modern poets. He had an unhappy childhood – his mother made him wear a dres and called him “Sophia,” to cope with the loss of a daughter – and his father, who had separated from his wife, sent him to a military school, where Rilke was truly a fish out of water. He was deeply influenced by Russian mysticism, and he in his turn had a lasting influence on such later poets as Sidney Keys and W. H. Auden, as well as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Although he had many relationships with women, none of them were sustained with any deep closeness for a long period of time. “Never forget that solitude is my lot,” Rilke stated candidly in a letter. “I implore those who love me to love my solitude.” The tender Soneto de la noche sets a poem by Pablo Neruda, the noted Chilean author and diplomat. He began writing poetry as a teenager, and began to publish during his college years. The government took notice of his work and rewarded him with several honorary consulships. The Spanish Civil War turned him into an ardent Communist and admirer of Lenin, and later he became a fervent Stalinist. Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, although his political activism made that a hard-won fight and a very controversial decision. The text Sure on This Shining Night is no doubt best known in its setting as a solo song by Samuel Barber. The poem is actually stanzas 6-8 of a longer work, Description of Elysium, by James Agee. His work has been more respected since his death than during his lifetime, but he had a very impressive and varied career as a poet, author, journalist, film critic, and screen writer. He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for his autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family, which grew from his father’s death in a car accident when Agee was six years old. His name is listed as screenwriter for two extremely admired films from the 1950s, The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter (although Charles Laughton made so many emendations to the script that scholars now argue as to exactly how much of it should be credited to Agee). One of his most wrenching projects was his journey, along with photographer Walker Evans, documenting the hardscrabble lives of Southern sharecroppers during the height of the Great Depression, which became the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

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Program Notes by Kathryn Parke.