Alleluia – Algirdas Martinaitis (b. 1950)
Õnnis on Inimene – Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962)
Amen! Jesus Han Skal Råde – arr. by Henning Sommerro (b. 1952)
Kung Liljekonvalje – David Wikander (1884-1955)
I Katisma – Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016)
Unicornis Captivatur – Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978)
Telemark-springar II – Henrik Ødegaard (b. 1955)
Kylä Vuotti Uutta Kuuta – arr. by Janika Vandervelde (b. 1955)
I Denna Ljuva Sommartid – arr. by Anders Nyberg (b. 1955)
Kristallen den Fina– arr. by Peder Karlsson (b. 1963)
Bruremarsj – Jan Magne Førde (b. 1962)
Peze Café – arr. by Sten Källman (b. 1952)
Shall I Compare Thee? – Nils Lindberg (b. 1933)
Berusa Er – arr. by Sten Källman (b. 1952)
El Hambo – Jaakko Mäntyjärvi (b. 1963)
On Nordic music, guest conductor Joshua Habermann writes, “The cultures of the far north have a special affinity for choral singing. Perhaps this can be attributed to the long, dark winters, or to the emotional release it offers to the generally reserved peoples of the upper latitudes. Thanks to these societal factors, as well as generous government support, ensembles such as the Swedish Radio Choir and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir have come to represent the pinnacle of contemporary choral culture. Nordic and Baltic composers, inspired by the opportunity to hear excellent performances of their music, have turned to the choral instrument as never before, creating an extraordinarily rich repertoire, most of which has been written since 1960.”
Our program begins with Algirdas Martinaitis’ invocation, “Alleluia,” a meditation on a single primary word in the tradition of Randall Thompson. In this exultant piece, Martinaitis incorporates musical traits characteristic of his native Lithuania: repetitive rhythms and cross-rhythms, vocal imitation, and prominent intervals of a second—neighbor tones that create momentary dissonance. Beginning with a chant-like melody passed responsorially from soloist to ensemble, the piece builds to an elaborate, shimmering texture at once dynamic and trance-like. Long drones in the men’s voices underscore the timelessness of the text’s simple message of joy.
Baltic composer and folklorist Cyrillus Kreek collected and arranged hundreds of western Estonian and Estonian-Swedish folk hymns, religious folksongs with a distinctly local flavor. These melodies became the basis for Kreek’s compositional language, lending modal scales, speech rhythms, and expressive “spins, hooks, and ornaments,” as he called them. While low drone notes evoke a dark, medieval feeling in “Õnnis on inimene”—Psalm 1 of King David—the bright elegance of an Estonian folk melody brings complementary light. A repeated “halleluuja” refrain gives this psalm setting what one commentator calls a “determination to praise.”
The next set of pieces captures the stylistic diversity of Nordic composers. For “Amen! Jesus han skall råde,” Norwegian composer and folk/rock musician Henning Sommerro sets a rustic melody from Rennebu, a rural district in central Norway. The bright, unvarnished melody is the centerpiece of a stamping triple-meter dance; open-fifth drones evocative of regional fiddle technique complete the effect. As the women’s and men’s voices trade off the melody, one can imagine a lively couples’ dance unfolding. David Wikander’s melancholic setting of “Kung Liljekonvalje,” beloved in Sweden, offers a haunting contrast. A story of loss couched in Gustaf Fröding’s woodland imagery, “Kung Liljekonvalje” features a lyrical, elegiac melody rife with expressive leaps. Wilting, chromatic motion in the accompanying voices emphasizes the deep sadness of the poetry.
Preeminent Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara is known for the profound mysticism of his works. Raised Lutheran, Rautavaara was more drawn to the music and ritual of the Eastern Orthodox Church; he mused that a childhood visit to an Orthodox monastery “created the foundation for my later conviction of the existence of different worlds, different realities and different modes of consciousness.” Similarly, Rautavaara considered the Orthodox or Byzantine musical tradition to open doors to modern musical techniques. The First Katisma from Vigilia, a complete Finnish-language setting of the Vespers service, is replete with Byzantine musical gestures, from its chant-like opening melody to the chromatic scales employed in the accompanimental voices. The movement makes numerous references to the tripartite God: Rautavaara punctuates the traditional call-and-response intonation of the psalm with a threefold “Hallelujah” refrain, and embeds harmonic relationships of a third throughout the movement. The piece culminates in an ecstatic incantation of praise also based on thirds, affirming the text of the Doxology: “Glory to the Father, and the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.”
Former Phoenix Chorale Composer in Residence Ola Gjeilo has become one of America’s foremost choral writers. Known for a “lush, harmonious sound,” the Norwegian composer’s work, including Unicornis Captivatur, appears on the Chorale’s 2011 Naxos release, Northern Lights: Choral Works by Ola Gjeilo. Unicornis follows the legend of the unicorn, a mythical creature that was said to represent strength and purity in the Middle Ages. Gjeilo’s text, dating from the 1400s, captures the metaphorical relationship between the unicorn and Jesus through numerous resurrection stories; a joyous “Alleluia!” refrain relates Jesus’ death to the resurgent power of God. Evoking the timeless sounds of early music, Gjeilo deploys a chant-like melody, cadences on open fifths and octaves, and playful dance rhythms.
The next set on our program explores the rich Nordic tradition of bridal music. Oslo-born composer/arranger Henrik Ødegaard brings us a Springar dance from the Telemark region of Norway, an area known for its skiing and its famous playwright, Henrik Ibsen. This fun country romp features a plain-spoken text about marital life, set to the long-long-short meter of the traditional couple’s dance. St. Paul-based composer Janika Vandervelde selected the text for “Kylä Vuotti Uutta Kuuta” from a group of wedding songs in Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala. According to a ritual described in the poetry, a young bride is welcomed to her new home by the groom’s sibling. A simple folk melody—scarcely three notes in its first phrases—and an emergent accompaniment evocative of percussion or bells gives the piece a processional feel. Vandervelde creates a mood of anticipation by voicing the harmonies in inversion, in which the lowest voices do not always carry the foundational tone.
“I denna ljuva sommartid” is a beloved Swedish folk hymn which, as Habermann puts it, “uses simple means to portray the depth of feeling that northern peoples have for their precious, and all-too-brief, season of warmth and light.” Arranger Anders Nyberg draws the stately melody from the Dalarna region of central Sweden, and sets it in a poignant minor sound-world. Just as Nyberg’s setting suggests longing for the verdure of summer, Peder Karlsson’s “Kristallen den fina” deploys gentle chromaticism to illustrate longing for a distant beloved. In this arrangement for The Real Group, Sweden’s storied a cappella ensemble, Karlsson draws the men’s and women’s voices into a dialogue, set in a hauntingly beautiful jazz idiom.
Norwegian trumpeter and composer Jan Magne Førde closes our wedding set with “Bruremarsj,” a traditional bridal processional in which the choir imitates the ringing of bells and brass fanfares. The onomatopoetic text, common in Scandinavian vocal arrangements, communicates a joy and celebration beyond words. This processional was performed at the 2002 wedding of Princess Märtha Louise of Norway; the princess is a noted lover of Norwegian folklore and music.
Swedish composer, freelance musician, and world music enthusiast Sten Källman spent a year in Haiti as a young adult, an experience which led to extensive studies in the Caribbean throughout his career. Having fallen in love with the richness of Haitian culture, Källman has since sought to “embrace the music of both Haiti and Scandinavia, seeking the crossroads where all cultures meet.” “Peze Kafé” is a traditional text in Haitian Creole, an amalgam of French, Portuguese, and West African languages. Källman sets this story of everyday misfortune to a groove rich in the percussive cross-rhythms and vocal styling of the Afro-Caribbean tradition. Källman’s “Berusa Er” combines a Swedish translation of the sensual Song of Songs with a seductive Afro-Cuban musical idiom, complete with clave rhythms and winding chromaticism in the vocal lines.
Swedish composer Nils Lindberg offers a cool contrast to Källman’s Caribbean grooves, drawing from the world of vocal jazz instead. A Dalarna native who once arranged for Duke Ellington, Lindberg cites a tripartite influence of jazz, classical, and Swedish folk music in his personal style. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” from Lindberg’s Elizabethan suite O Mistress Mine, is a modern setting of Shakespeare which reflects Lindberg’s concurrent interests in the past and the present. He sets Shakespeare’s iconic sonnet in the sultry language of jazz, using close harmonies, extended chords, and blue notes to bring the timeless sentiment of the text to a fresh, contemporary setting.
Eclectic Finnish composer Jaako Mäntyjärvi is known for blending the silly and the serious, the accessible and the technical, and the old and the new. In “El Hambo,” a send-up of Scandinavian stereotypes, Mäntyjärvi takes a traditional Swedish dance usually in 3/4 time and adds two beats to the measure, in “something of a tribute to those folk musicians whose enthusiasm much exceeds their sense of rhythm.” According to the composer, the nonsense text should be delivered with “amusing imitations of… any Scandinavian language” and should evoke “the Swedish Chef in The Muppet Show,” all delivered “with a jolly Scandinavian smile.”
Notes by Kerry Ginger.
Program notes edited by Lies’l Hill.