There's always more to the music besides what we hear. Behind every composition are stories about people - us - and our relationships with each other and with the universe itself. With that in mind, we share Rick Kvam's program notes for the upcoming concert. We look forward to seeing you there!
Ola Gjeilo is a Norwegian composer and pianist who studied at Julliard and the Royal Academy of Music in London before settling in New York City. He has won numerous compositional prizes, and has served as composer-in-residence for the professional British singing group, Voces8. An album of his music recorded by the Phoenix Chorale was named best Classical Vocal CD of 2012 by iTunes. Ola explains that the text for Northern Lights, from Song of Solomon, is a “piece about…a terrible, powerful beauty…. Looking out from the attic window in Oslo, over a wintry lake under the stars, I was thinking about how this beauty is so profoundly reflected in the northern lights, or aurora borealis….It is one of the most beautiful natural phenomena I’ve ever witnessed, and has such a powerful, electric quality.”
Sara Teasdale was a sickly child growing up in St Louis, home-schooled for that reason until age 9. As a young woman, she had numerous suitors, including fellow poet Vachel Lindsay, but she eventually married a successful businessman, with whom she was miserable. Sara won a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry in 1918, and wrote Stars in 1926. Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds’ numerous orchestral, chamber and choral works have been widely celebrated and performed around the world. Although he enrolled in music schools from age six through eighteen, he then studied for two years at seminary before obtaining advanced musical training in composition. Ēsenvalds describes his choral style as “vertical,” concentrating primarily on harmonies rather than melody. His gorgeous setting of Teasdale’s poem was written for the Salt Lake Vocal Artists in 2012.
Ballade to the Moon
Daniel Elder was born in Athens, Georgia in 1986 and studied music at the University of Georgia and Westminster Choir College. He has said his compositional roots spring from his performance experiences as choral singer and band member in school. His is primarily known as a choral composer whose works have been widely heard and performed, and memorably recorded by the Eric Whitacre Singers and the Westminster Choir. Elder himself wrote the text for Ballade to the Moon, drawing inspiration from the 14th Century ballades (hence the title) of poet/composer Guillaume de Machaut.
We beheld once again the stars
Z. Randall Stroope
Born in New Mexico in 1953, Zane Randall Stroope studied voice at University of Colorado and conducting at Arizona State University, and he is currently Director of Choral and Vocal Studies at Oklahoma State University. In 2004, Stroope was selected by the American Choral Directors Association to write the prestigious Raymond Brock commission, performed at all the regional conventions that year. He chose lines from the final canto to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, creating We beheld once again the stars, a lovely, soaring work for double choir, concluding with the very last line of Dante’s masterpiece, “Quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle” (thence we came out, and beheld once again the stars).
Tagore’s Lost Star
world premiere, commissioned to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Andy and Allie Good
Born “up north” to a musical family, Carol Barnett studied composition at the University of Minnesota with Dominick Argento and Paul Fetler. Carol’s finely crafted and imaginative choral works, including her big “hit,” The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass, have won a huge audience nationally and beyond. She served for many years as composer-in-residence for the Dale Warland Singers.
Carol’s explanation of her new creation, Tagore’s Lost Star:
When Rick Kvam suggested a setting of “Lost Star” by Bengali poet, novelist and educator Rabindranath Tagore, I welcomed the opportunity to explore the sound world of Northern India with its characteristic strict patterns of scales (ragas) and beats (talas). My text is an adaptation of Tagore’s own English 1915 translation, and I have borrowed characteristics from two ragas to portray the beginning of the world (rag Hindol: 1 3 #4 6  1) and the late-night murmuring of the stars (rag Jhinjhoti: 1 2 4 5 6 1 b7 6 5 4 3 2 1). Rhythmically, the first stanza is set in the Rupak tal — a 2-bar 7/8 pattern — and the last stanza employs the Dadra tal — a 2-bar 3/4 pattern.
Choose Something Like A Star
Randall Thompson was a thoroughly American composer who studied at Harvard and Eastman, then taught at Curtis, University of Virginia, and Harvard. Although he wrote three symphonies, two string quartets and an opera, he is best known for his choral music, and especially for his Alleluia, written at the request of Boston Symphony music director Serge Koussevitzky, and his Frostiana collection, written in 1959 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts (the composer conducted the “bicentennial chorus” of community members, and the poet was present). For the final movement, Thompson set Frost’s magnificent poem from the 1947 Steeple Bush collection, Choose Something Like A Star. Thompson creates a stately processional over a steadily thrumming piano accompaniment, a perfect choral embodiment of a text that calls us to “a certain height.”
The stairs behind the sky
René Clausen was raised first in California, then transplanted to Iowa as a young boy, where he attended high school. He went north to St Olaf College, then studied choral conducting at the University of Illinois. René is celebrated both for his marvelous work as conductor of the Concordia Choir and for his dozens of wonderful and richly varied choral compositions, including The Passion of Jesus Christ, just premiered last month in Orchestra Hall. In preparing to conduct the North Carolina High School Honors Chorus in 2004, René brought a special gift: he wrote them a new piece, creating both words and music for The Stairs Behind the Sky.
Sure on this shining night
By most accounts, James Agee, born in Knoxville in 1909, never got over his father’s accidental death in a car crash when James was only six years old. Although scattered and self-destructive, Agee was a hugely talented poet, film critic, reporter, novelist, and screenwriter (for African Queen and The Night of the Hunter). His ground-breaking collaboration with photographer Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, documented the desperate struggles of Alabama sharecroppers in the Great Depression. His autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family, was published posthumously and won the Pulitzer Prize. A heavy drinker and chainsmoker, Agee died at age 45 in the back of a New York City taxicab enroute to a doctor’s appointment.
Morten Lauridsen was born in eastern Washington, only a few miles from the Idaho border, and studied at Whitman College in Walla Walla. He then worked for a short time as a firefighter and lookout before traveling to the University of Southern California to study music. He joined the faculty there in 1967 and has taught there ever since, influencing countless students and creating a large body of choral music. His lush and expressive, almost mystical, vocal works have been performed throughout the world. His much-beloved setting of James Agee’s Sure On This Shining Night is the last of three Nocturnes composed as the 2005 Raymond Brock commission.
I’ll Follow the Sun
Lennon/McCartney, arr Grayston Ives
I’ll Follow the Sun was released on the Beatles ’65 album, but a version can be heard as early as 1960 on a recording by the Quarrymen. The Fab Four were constantly exploring slightly different sounds throughout the 60’s, and on this gentle cha-cha, Ringo abandoned his drum kit, keeping time by slapping his knees. Organist, singer and choral conductor Grayston Ives was a chorister at Ely Cathedral and later educated at Cambridge. He sang with the King’s Singers from 1978 to 1985, and wrote this arrangement for their “Lennon and McCartney” collection.
Erica Lloyd, arr. Vince Peterson
Vince Peterson is a keyboardist and composer living in New York. He studied music in Boston and San Francisco, working with composers Conrad Susa and David Conte, as well as the music director of the professional men’s group, Chanticleer, Joseph Jennings. Meanwhile, Erika Lloyd studied vocal performance at Indiana University, then moved to New York City to ply her trade. She landed in an experimental pop band, Little Grey Girlfriend, and also in Vince Peterson’s new choir, Choral Chameleon. Vince took Erika’s song, Cells, Planets and re-imagined it for Chanticleer in 2011.
Sun and moon
Claude-Michel Schönberg, arr Mac Huff
After composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and librettist Alain Boublil delivered the smash success Les Misérables in 1985, they found inspiration again reworking a classic in 1989—this time Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Puccini’s doomed marriage of US Naval officer Pinkerton and the geisha, Ciocio-san, in 1904 Japan is updated to a similarly tragic romance between American GI Chris Scott and Vietnamese bargirl Kim in 1975 Saigon. In the chaos just before the fall of Saigon, Chris and Kim meet and fall in love, singing Sun and Moon.
Ezekiel Saw the Wheel
arr Moses Hogan
Moses Hogan revolutionized the performance of African-American spirituals with his highly complex, energetic, rhythmic arrangements. He was born into a musical family in New Orleans in 1957, and studied piano at Oberlin and Julliard, winning several piano competitions. He began arranging and conducting spirituals in 1980, and quickly was celebrated both for his compositions and for performances by his superb Moses Hogan Chorale. Unfortunately, Moses, at the height of his powers, developed headaches, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and died only months later at age 45. One of his last arrangements, Ezekiel Saw De Wheel was written for the Iowa City High School Concert Choir; it includes his signature dramatic and complicated rhythms and portamentos, a section of call-and-response, and a climactic piling up of layers of vocal energy in nine parts (a tall order for a high school choir!).