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PROGRAM

Me-Na-Ri – Hyowon Woo

Ye-Jaliya-O – Joan Szymko

Psalm 150 – Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

This Wonderful Feeling – Joan Szymko

Saboo
In My Quite Place
Purple Night

Curse Upon Iron (Raua needmine) – Veljo Tormis

Clapping Music – Steve Reich

French Choruses from “The Lark” – Leonard Bernstein

Spring Song
Court Song
Soldier’s Song

Percussion Selections featuring Dr. Sonja Branch

Cloudburst – Eric Whitacre

Arirang – Hyowon Woo

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Me-Na-Ri – Hyowon Woo

Arirang – Hyowon Woo

Hyowon Woo, one of South Korea’s most prominent composers, is the resident composer for the Incheon City Chorale. Her Me-Na-Ri is a striking work for three choirs, soloist, and percussion, in which all the singers perform while moving throughout the concert space, creating a constantly shifting palate of overtones and colors. Me-Na-Ri is subtitled “Space Music” (perhaps “spatial” would be a more literal description), and the antiphonal performances swirl around the listener as if ringing back from distant valleys. The performers spend the majority of the piece chanting “arirang,” which is itself the name of a mountain pass, the title of Korea’s most beloved folk song, a word without meaning, and yet a word filled with deep but inexpressible meaning. The folk song Arirang, in itself so iconic that it is considered the nation’s unofficial anthem, exists in many different regional variations. One interpretation of the song is that of a young woman waiting for her sweetheart to return from war; another is that the singer is bewailing her unrequited love. Sang-Heui Lee, a professor at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, also provides some additional historical context: “Korea has suffered from over 500 foreign invasions because of its geopolitical factors. For the countless battles, fathers, sons, and lovers had to leave their beloved ones. It is a sad song. However, the word ‘sad’ does not represent all the implicit meanings. In Korean, it is ‘Haan’, which is a mix of resentment, sorrow, regret, etc. So, for Koreans, especially for those who live in foreign countries, the song reminds us not only of the sadness, but also homesickness, family…”

Psalm 150 – Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s endlessly inventive music is the product of an endlessly questing mind. An accomplished but largely self-taught composer and a professional Finnish-English translator, his many other interests include computers, wine, heraldry, English literature, and, as demonstrated here, the old English art of change ringing. Change ringing, which dates back to the late 16th century, requires special bells that are mounted in such a way that they can be swung 360 degrees (rather than simply being struck), one person per bell. Bells are rung in a specific order, or “change,” which involves ringing each bell once, and not again until the next change has begun – but each bell will then be rung in a different order. Depending on the number of bells, the number of permutations can be vast, and if you have a ringing with more than 5,000 sequential changes with no renditions, you have a “peal.” Beyond this, you can have a ringing “method,” in which adjacent pairs of bells change places in the ringing order. (Alternatively, you can have “call-change ringing,” in which the leader calls out the changes as they happen, instead of a pre-ordained “method.”) The “minor” refers to the method for six bells (other methods, for five, seven, and eight bells respectively, are “doubles,” “triples,” and “majors,” but here Mäntyjärvi adds a tenor bell which doubles the C octave), and “Kent Treble Bob Minor” goes through 120 of the 720 possible permutations. (I have a strong suspicion that one actually has to do this to understand it!) As an accompaniment to the choir, Mäntyjärvi designates seven singers as “bells” that continually “ring” syllables that together form the text “Laudate Dominum” (“Praise the Lord”), the opening text of Psalm 150 – as is typical in change ringing, the “bells” open ringing “rounds,” or descending scales, before the changes begin. He describes this piece as having a “vaguely Minimalist, slowly shifting texture” that should form the impression of “an endless song of praise.”

Curse Upon Iron (Raua needmine) – Veljo Tormis

The test of Raua needmine (Curse upon Iron) is based up on the 9th rune of the Kalevala, Finland’s mythological creation story and national epic, compiled/composed by Elias Lönnrot from ancient poems passed down by oral tradition and woven into a comprehensive series of cantos which recount the exploits of Finland’s earliest heroes, Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen, ad Lemminkäinen. The Kalevala’s runes begin with the Origin Spells, which a sorcere would intone to rule an element (such as The Fire, The Iron, The Projectiles, The Nine Diseases, The Wolf, The Rock, etc.), and therefore negate whatever damage or woulds it might have inflicted, since knowing how a thing was created leads to power over it. Thus, we learn that the different forms of Iron — wrought iron, steel, and iron ore — came from the breast milk of The Maidens of Iron during the Dream Time. But as has been the case with so many of nature’s innocuous gifts, iron has been put to evil use — from the earliest simple hacking tools to today’s weapons of mass destruction. The eerie and powerful setting by Veljo Tormis — who is probably second only to Arvo Pärt as Estonia’s premiere composer — captures not only the primitive mysticism with the hypnotic ostinatos and the thump of the drum, but also the nerve-wracking horror of the screeching sirens of war.

Clapping Music – Steve Reich

American composer Steve Reich is one of the pioneers of minimalism, a compositional technique wherein repetitive rhythms and/or harmonies very slowly morph throughout the duration of a piece, creating music with subtle, hypnotic, and at times almost indiscernible variations. His work has been enormously influential, and The Guardian has lauded him as one of “a handful of living composers who can legitimately claim to have altered the direction of musical history.” One of the techniques that characterizes his music is “phasing,” which he described in an interview with Rebecca Y. Kim: “Phasing is a word that I coined, but all it really refers to, is a variation of canonic technique. ‘Phasing’ is simply a canon using a short melodic pattern, as opposed to an extended melody, where the rhythmic distance between the first voice and the second is flexible and gradually changing.” Clapping Music, however, while related to this technique, isn’t truly “phasing,” since the rhythms themselves are not flexible, although it certainly seems to create the effect. The two musical lines begin in unison – however, while one holds steady, the other maintains the same rhythm but gradually shifts by one half-beat every few bars, so that the voices slowly move out of sync and then very gradually find their way back to the unison.

French Choruses from “The Lark” – Leonard Bernstein

  1. Spring Song
  2. Court Song
  3. Soldier’s Song

Jean Anouilh, whose mastery included the light touch of farce, sordid naturalism, and existential angst, was one of France’s great playwrights, and one of Europe’s most successful. His self-described categories include his pièces noires (grim and stoic), pièces roses (lighter comedies), pièces brillantes (witty and glittering), pièces grincantes (corrosive and grating, although some of his more bitter comedies find a home in this genre), and pièces costumées (history plays), where he falls his L’Alouette (The Lark), a tale of Joan of Arc. Anouilh’s play was first adapted into English by Christopher Fry, but Lillian Hellman’s adaptation has generally eclipsed that earlier version. Hellman – caustic, belligerent, uncompromising, and aggressive – was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and her biographer William Wright observed succinctly that “the theme of a woman [Joan] being coerced by the state to testify to things she was unwilling to say had a rather direct connection with Hellman’s own experience at the time.” Leonard Bernstein, who also collaborated with Hellman on the libretto for Candide, composed three French and five Latin choruses to be performed as incidental music in The Lark (he liked the music so much that he eventually adapted much of it for his Missa Brevis). The French choruses represent Joan and the cheerful, confident soldiers as they march to their holy war; the Latin choruses represent the English inquisitors who imprisoned and executed her (and created a martyr and a saint thereby). Joan of Arc’s story is well known and well documented, of course: the peasant Maid of Orleans whose visions from God enabled her to lead the French armies to victories in the Hundred Years’ War that ultimately paved the way for the coronation of the Dauphin, Charles VII, thereby finally settling the disputed succession for the throne. Joan herself preferred to be called Jehanne la Pucelle, which is, in face, how she introduced herself to the Dauphin when she erringly picked him out of a crowd of strangers (La Pucelle is usally translated “the maiden,” but it can also be translated as “the virgin” – appropriate, given Joan’s vow of chastity at the age of thirteen). When she was finally captured, the English – despite her brilliant and eloquent self-defense, which neatly flummoxed her interrogators on several occasions – condemned her for heresy and had her burned at the stake. After the war, she was cleared of guilt in a posthumous retrial authorized by the Pope, becoming a powerful symbol for the Catholic Church, and was officially canonized in 1920. Anouilh himself summed up this extraordinary warrior child beautifully: “You cannot explain Joan, anymore than you can explain the tiniest flower growing by the wayside. There’s just a little living flower that has always known, ever since it was a microscopic seed, how many petals it would have and how big they would grow, exactly how blue its blue would be and how its delicate scent would be compounded. There is just the phenomenon of Joan, as there is the phenomenon of a daisy, or of the sky, or of a bird. What pretentious creatures men are, if that’s not enough for them.”

Cloudburst – Eric Whitacre

Eric Whitacre’s striking piece, Cloudburst (set to a text adapted from Octavio Paz’s The Broken Water Jar), uses a host of special effects and varied instrumentation to depict a sudden rainstorm. It can perhaps be best described in his own words: “The Cloudburst is a ceremony, a celebration of the unleashed kinetic energy in all things. The mood throughout is reverent, meditative and centered. This does not imply solemn of calm; it simply means the performer must take the spiritual journey with total respect for the power of the water and profundity of the rebirth.”

– Kathryn Parke

The program notes for our concerts are written by a great friend of Charles Bruffy and the Chorale, Kathryn Parke.  A soprano who specializes in early music, she taught for many years at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg Kansas.  In addition to performance and research, her musical interests include composition and arranging, and her pieces have been performed by the PSU Choirs, the Early Music Consort of Kansas City, and several District Honor Choirs.  She has written the liner notes for the majority of the Chorale’s recent CDs.