Our third concert, in spring 2017, is titled Kaleidoscope. We’re adding another sense to this experience with the world’s first ‘scratch and sniff’ choral concert, and ‘son et lumiere’ performance of color-themed works brought to life with computer-aided projections. The music will include pieces by Stroope, Stanford, Britten, and Cage.
Saturday, March 25, 2017, at 8:00 PM, at First Church, Cambridge
Adult, Student, Senior
Date: March 25, 2017
Start time: 20:00 p.m.
End time: 21:15 p.m.
Venue: First Church Cambridge
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In this highly unusual and innovative program BCE invites its audience to experience changes in a pattern in color through a multi-sensory concert. Presented like a gourmet tasting menu, in this concert music will ravish the ear, scratch-and-sniff cards will evoke a multitude of smells, projected images will relate to and enhance the music, and there will even be the opportunity to combine music and taste!
The program will include one of the surreal Rechants by Olivier Messiaen (illustrated with images by Chagall), a pairing of music about the Jasmine by contemporary composer Forrest Pierce and renowned composer John Tavener, an amuse-bouche by Stanford, and many other works related by color and smell by composers such as Britten, Whitacre, and Ešenvalds.
Program (alphabetical order)
Dominick Argento - Dover beach Revisited
PDQ Bach - My bonny lass she smelleth
Benjamin Britten - The Ballad of Green Broom (from Flower Songs)
John Cage - (4:33)
Simon Carrington (arr.) - My love is like a red, red rose
Ēriks Ešenvalds - Stars
Olivier Messiaen - Rechant 1 (from Cinq rechants)
Forrest Pierce - IV. Jasmine ( from The Jasmine Arrow Music - BCE Commission Competition Winner, 2009)
Donald Skirvin - Clear evening
C.V. Stanford - Quick! We have but a second
C.V. Stanford - The Bluebird
John Tavener - Eonia
Veljo Tormis - "Wind over the barrens" and "Heather" from Autumn Landscapes
Eric Whitacre - A Boy and a Girl
Eric Whitacre - With A Lily In Your Hand
Dominick Argento (b. 1927) is an American composer and Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota. Argento is well-known for his operas, song cycles, and choral music. His song cycle, From the Diaries of Virginia Woolf earned him at Pulitzer Prize in 1975. His compositional style freely floats between tonality and atonality while maintaining a gentle lyricism. From his choral output, he is most-remembered for his large choral work, Jonah and the Whale (1973).
Dover Beach Revisited is a setting of the Matthew Arnold poem, Dover Beach. This work was commissioned and dedicated to Jeffrey Douma and the Yale Glee Club. Argento’s setting is written for mixed choir and is inspired by Samuel Barber’s setting of this poetry for solo voice and piano. Douma, the director of the Yale Glee Club, wrote “Argento has produced a setting that is both highly expressive and painstakingly dedicated to the character and cadence of Arnold’s words. Alternating between subtle chromaticism and choral unison passages, and accompanied by spare yet evocative writing for the piano, the music suggests the grandeur of the waves as effectively as the cerebral inner voice of the poet, contemplating the mysteries of human misery and love.”
PDQ Bach (April 1, 1742 – May 5 1807). PDQ composes music with unique orchestration, generally poor taste, and occasionally, a new instrument such as the “tromboon.” During the Golden Age of the English madrigal, around the year 1600, it was not uncommon for a number of pieces by different composers to be published together under a single title such as “The Triumphs of Oriana”, to name one of the most famous collections. It was this practice that inspired an 18th-century nobleman, Count Pointercount, to laund a similar collection of his own as a tribute to his wife Thusnelda, a singer who recently triumphed over earthly cares by holding a high note so long that she died of asphyxiation, complicated by a lack of sufficient oxygen. The project’s hopes of success, however, grew dimmer and dimmer as, one by one, Europe’s leading composers refused to contribute, each of them pointing out to the Count (with varying degrees of tact) that the madrigal was dead as an art form – indeed, that it had been dead for almost two hundred years. Obviously, the only chance of getting any pieces at all in the collection lay in finding a composer who was too dumb to know what was au courant and what was passé. Thus it is that the sole contributor to “The Triumphs of Thusnelda” was P.D.Q. Bach (1807-1742)? the last and least of twenty-odd children of the great Johann Sebastian Bach, and certainly the oddest of the lot.
The two madrigals, Schickele No. 1601, were written during the final period of the composer’s life, the Contrition Period, when P.D.Q. was trying to make amends for the previous twenty-nine years (the Soused Period) by writing in a style that seemed to him purer and more uplifting than the hybrid and downletting style of some of his earlier works, e.g., the Serenude and the Gross Concerto.
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was an English composer and an eminent figure in 20th century classical music. He composed for a large variety of ensembles; from full-length operas to large choral-orchestral works to choral church anthems. A unique trait of Britten, his personal and romantic relationships heavily influenced his musical choices; cultivating the idiosyncratic sound in his music. Out of Britten’s large choral output, the Five Flower Songs provides some musical introspection on Britten’s personal relationships. The Five Flower Songs, composed in 1950 for the wedding anniversary of two dear botanist friends, uses popular British poetry from the 16th and 17th centuries. Each poem personifies various attributes of the flowers, their natural cycle, and, in this instance, a narrative that involves the flower, Green Broom.
The Ballad of Green Broom is the final song in Britten’s Five Flower Songs and, unlike the other four, it is a story, rather than a poem. The story is told in six verses; telling the story of a young broom maker named Johnny who marries Lady who asked to marry him only upon seeing him. The first four verses are told through one voice part with the other voices accompanying with the text, “green broom.” When Johnny meets the unnamed Lady for the first time, the music gets faster with each in new verse to further emphasize the quickness of their marriage. The song ends with choir singing loud and striking chords; immediately followed by a nimble and quick scale, further depicting the quickness their departure.
Simon Carrginton (b. 1942) is an English singer and conductor. From 1968 – 1993, Carrington worked with the King’s Singers, a British all-male a cappella chamber choir, with whom he sang and co-directed. Aside from his performing career, Carrington has held faculty appointments at the University of Kansas, New England Conservatory, and Yale University, where he founded the Yale Schola Cantorum. In 2009, Carrington was appointed as Professor Emeritus at the Yale School of Music.
My love is like a red, red rose is a Traditional Scottish folk song. BCE performs an arrangement of this folk song by Simon Carrington. Carrington sets all four verses; three of the verses written for a baritone solo. Carrington’s choose to leave the text to the baritone solo with the choir accompanying with a hum. This work, quite simply, speaks for itself in its folk-like harmonies and structure.
Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977) is an award-winning Latavian composer. While he composes for both choral and instrumental ensembles, he is most well-known for his choral compositions. Ešenvalds has made an international connection with choral ensembles worldwide. For only being forty years old, five different ensembles have recorded full length albums that feature only his work. Ešenvalds actively composes while holding a teaching appointment at the Latavian Academy of Music.
Stars is a setting of the Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) poem for SATB choir accompanied by six crystal glasses. Obviously, crystal glasses are not with in the canon of accompanying instruments, but they are a distinct feature of several of Ešenvalds’ compositions. The crystal glasses are performed by running one’s finger on the rim of the glass. The glasses are to be filled to a certain level with water so that they sound at the pitch written by the composer. Ešenvalds sets all five stanza of the Sara Teasdale poem. Ešenvalds’ compositionally interested with layers and stacking chord tones. This sound is not only found in his choral writing, but it is found with his writing for the water glasses. He starts with just two notes, sounding as a third, then adds the following outer neighbor tones. He furthers this idea in the choral writing in the center of this work. Using only a hum and vowels, Ešenvalds uses descending and stacked chord tones as a natural crescendo to prepare for the text, “the dome of heaven.” The work concludes with a gentle diminuendo throughout the entirety of the final stanza, “I know I am honored,” resting to a low voiced, consonant stacked chord.
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) was a French composer and considered, by many, to be a prodigious composer in the 20th century. Alongside his compositions, Messiaen was a devout Roman Catholic and ornithologist; both facets which found their way into his compositions. Messiaen is well-known for his compositional technique, modes of limited transposition, and his extensive use of isorhythms, a 15th century practice that structures a piece around a repetitive rhythmic pattern. Other distinct features of his music include the incorporation of bird songs and fascination with colors. His most notable work is the Quotour pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time); a work he composed in 1941 during his time as a prisoner of war during World War II.
Rechant 1 is the first work from Messiaen’s Cinq Rechants (1948). The Cinq Rechants is the final part of a compositional trilogy depicting the “Trilogy of Tristan” along with the Turangalîa-Symphonie (1946) and Harawi (1945). Unlike its other counterparts, Cinq Rechants is written for SATB choir a cappella. It is sung in equal parts French and an imaginary language dictated by the composer. The work is generally structured into alternating couplets (chants) and rechants (refrains). Rechant 1 opens and concludes with a soprano solo singing Messiaen’s imagined language. Following the solo introduction, the full choir presents the first refrain, rechant, in unison. The melody sounds atonal (not possessing a home key area), yet it is not; it uses a combination of Messiaen’s Modes of Limited Transposition of which in many of his works are written. Each refrain is centered around all voices singing a collection of chords in loud homophony; ending on the word, soif (thirst). All refrains close with a unison melody sung in the Alto and Bass voices written one of Messiaen’s modes. Within the couplets, Messiaen employs different isorhythms; one in the soprano, one in the alto, and eventually, one in the bass voice. The first couplet is presented by the soprano and alto voices. Generally speaking, the soprano voice has a 4 beat isorhythm and the alto voice has a 31/2 beat isorhythm. Both isorhythms start at the same time, but grow further apart and slowly get closer to lining back up. At the second couplet, the soprano and alto voices have the exact same music and isorhythms, but Messiaen adds new music and isorhythm in the bass voice. He also includes a percussive tenor part using no pitches; only the consonants ‘t’ and ‘k’ in a twenty-eight beat long isorhythm. For any new listeners of Messiaen’s music, it is easy to get caught in the weeds of his harmonic language and rhythmic structures. I recommend listening for one of the isorhythms and hear how it interacts with the other voice parts.
Forrest Pierce is an American composer who currently holds a faculty appointment at the University of Kansas. In 1994, He was a recipient of a Watson Fellowship immediately following his graduation from the University of Puget Sound. He was the first winner of the Boston Choral Ensemble’s Commission Competition in 2009.
Jasmine is the final movement from Pierce’s larger work, Jasmine Arrow Music. Jasmine is homophonic throughout and structured into four larger sections. The first two sections share the same text, “the scent of jasmine cannot blow.” Pierce’s musical language matches this initial text with his still and stagnant harmonies. This stillness remains constant throughout and does not become deterred by the brisk ascending and descending scales depicting the breeze. At the word “wind,” the choir sings completely new music in homophony. This music gently sways unlike any other portion of the work, providing almost celebratory music for that one word. This music returns at the end of the work on the word, “earth,” providing a joyful and pure cadence on this short, peaceful work.
Donald Skirvin is an American composer is Composer Emeritus with the Seattle-based chamber choir, the Esoterics. Skirvin studied music at the Jordan Conservatory in Indianapolis and at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. As a composer, he specializes in choral music and has composed for a variety of choral ensembles. His works have been premiered and recorded by many Seattle-based choral ensembles. His is well-known for his a cappella work, Alchemy, which had been featured on a Grammy-nominated recording by the professional chamber choir, Conspirare.
Clear evening is the second movement from Skirvin’s larger choral work, Stars forever, while we sleep. Clear evening is a poem from Sara Teasdale’s (1884-1933) book of poetry, ‘Dark of the Moon.’ In his own program about the work, Skirvin writes, “Above all, Sara Teasdale writes songs. Her lyric poetry is a trove melodies waiting to be written.” Skirvin’s observation of Teasdale’s poetry is directly heard in his setting of this text. Skirvin sets each verse with its own distinct melodic idea rather than toying with two or three ideas, as is true in most works. The work opens with a fluid scale that repeats through the first section. The tenor and bass voices share a placid melody in unison at the opening text, “The crescent moon is large enough…” This melody gets passed between various voices through the verse. The choir sings in homophony at the text “Evenings on evenings…”in a hushed and gentle harmony, as all voices are low in their register. The piece continues at a lulling pace and register until the voices gradually diminish to a spoken voice saying “fall asleep.”
Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was an Irish composer and instructor. He studied organ and composition at Cambridge University and the Leipzig Conservatory. As a composer, he composed in a variety of genres, but he is most well-known for his choral works. Not only were his compositions influential additions to the canon, but he mentored other eminent composers of the early 20th century, such as Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughn Williams.
Bluebird is a choral setting of a two-stanza poem by British poet, Mary Coleridge (1861-1907) with the same name. Stanford sets this text for SATB choir with soprano solo; using the same music for both stanzas. Stanford’s setting depicts an open landscape with a placid lake and gentle hills through slow and still harmonies contrasted with a gentle descending gesture on the text, “below the hill.” Soaring above this landscape is a lone bluebird; introduced by the soprano solo. The soprano solo and choir gently ascends and crescendos with the word, “wings,” and diminishes to the initial gentle, placid texture at the text, “palest blue.” The second stanza follows the same musical shape as the first, but ends with a gentle reiteration of the initial phrase, “the lake lay blue below the hill.”
Quick! We have but a Second is a rousing setting of a drinking song by Irish poet, Thomas Moore (1780-1852). Stanford sets both stanzas in a nimble and playful part song (secular homophonic choral music from this particular time period). Stanford furthers adds some cheekiness to this song by disrupting the flurry of syllables with some intentionally deceptive rests at the end of each stanzas.
John Tavener (1944 – 2013) was a British composer, well-known for his sacred choral works. At the age of 24, he received great acclaim for his cantata, The Whale, a dramatic work based upon on the allegory of Jonah and the Whale. His other well-known works include: The Protecting Veil (1988), Song for Athene (1997), The Lamb (1984), and Ex Maria Virgine (2008).
Eonia (The Jasmine) is, as the composer describes it, a ‘Haiku or ‘fragrance’ written in the memory of a personal friend. This work is composed in both Greek and English; bookended by a poem that Tavener authored for this work. The short poem is written in Greek and reads, “Whether it’s dusk or dawn’s first light, the jasmine stays always white.” Tavener sets text using only two chords and marks for them to sung without expression; creating a pure and still sound. The English text is inspired by parts of the Gospel according to St. Matthew and refers to Jesus’ conversation with the thieves during his crucifixion. The English is first sung by an alto alone, melodically outlining the chord tones from one of the opening sonorities. The second verse of English text is written for the choir; melodically outlining the other opening sonority. This work is centered around a Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) in Greek; sung alone by the alto voice and accompanied with the sustained hum from the soprano voices. Tavener’s Eonia connects the secular imagery to sacred text within a restrained musical language. Combining these elements creates a distinct and intimate sound that is the hallmark of Tavener’s sound.
Veljo Tormis (1930-2017) was an Estonian composer who was well-known for his impressive output of a cappella choral compositions. Composing around five hundred choral works, Tormis drew heavily from Estonian folksongs as his creative muse. As a composer in the Soviet Union, many of his works were banned from performance, yet some of his works were allowed due to his extensive use of folksongs and traditions. He is most well-known for his work, Curse Upon Iron (a work for male choir centered around the torments of war). Tormis recently passed away on January 21st of this year.
We perform two short pieces from Tormis’ song cycle, Autumn Landscapes (Sügismaastikud). We perform these works in English. Both works performed highlight Tormis’ usage of dance rhythms and drones (long, sustained notes) which are borrowed from folk music of Estonia. Wind Over the Barrens contains two distinct compositional elements: the repetitive dance rhythm and the ascending slide on the word, “wind.” The dance rhythms are sung with a drone; first in the bass voices and secondly in the soprano and alto voices. After the first stanza of text, Tormis writes for all voices to slide from a lower note to a higher one, followed by a gliding descent from the upper three voice parts. With this gesture, Tormis depicts a strong wind bursting upwards before a gently descending across the lands. Our next song from this cycle, Heather, is the closing work from his song cycle. Heather is divided into three sections. The poetry captures an almost desperate tone of the landscape as daylight disappears. The first section opens with a unison note that crescendos and expands to two stacked chords. The upper three voices sustain this harmony while the bass voices sing a solo line about the flickering sunlight. The second section is homophonic throughout and opens at the quietest dynamic yet. The poet imagines the sunset burning the meadow and the music captures that intensity with music the crescendos and accelerates to the text, “burning.” The final section sets the text, “flaring a planet a flame” and Tormis captures the “burning planet” with an explosive final chord with a high tessitura for the voices, particularly the highest soprano voice.
Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) is an American Composer known for his wind ensemble, orchestral, and choral music. In 2009, Whitacre created the “Virtual Choir” by asking for singers to submit recordings of themselves singing his well-known choral works, Sleep and Lux Aurumque, while they watched a pre-recorded video of Whitacre conducting. In its first two performances, Whitacre selected approximately 200 singers from across the world. The latest performance of the Virtual Choir has approximately 6000 singers.
A Boy and a Girl is choral setting of the Mexican poet’s, Octavio Paz (1914-1998), three stanza poem, Los Novios (The Couple). Whitacre sets this text in English and uses the common line from all three stanzas. Each stanza of the poem opens with the word tendidos (stretch). In Whitacre’s setting, each of the three stanzas are set in a similar manner; utilizing a crescendo followed by a diminuendo to color the text, stretched out. Aside from using the dynamics to highlight the textual colors, Whitacre highlights the poem by surrounding text with silence. For example, he frequently surrounds the words, a boy, and consequently, a girl, with long rests to add color and shape throughout this setting.
With a Lily in your Hand is a choral setting of Spanish poet’s, Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), poem, Con un lirio en la mano (With a Lily in your Hand). Whitacre sets this free verse poem in English; connecting the verses together with a dancing gesture using only the syllable, ‘la.’ Whitacre sets each verse within its own distinct character. At the opening, all voices exclaim “O, my night love” and provides a loud summation of the emotional affect of the poem. All voices introduce the unifying dancing motive before the sopranos deliver the first verse of the poem. The dance music settles to a gentle murmur of triplets at the text, “tamer of dark butterflies.” The murmuring grows into lyrical homophony, before the dancing motive returns with the central text “O, my night love.” After a brief interlude, Whitacre returns to a gentle chorale-like texture that slowly builds to a loud roar at the final iteration of the text, “until the universe can fit inside my heart.”
Dominick Argento - Dover Beach Revisted
And his trade was a-cutting of broom, green broom,
He had but one son without thought without good
Who lay in his bed till 't was noon, bright noon.
The old man awoke one morning and spoke,
He swore he would fire the room, that room,
If his John would not rise and open his eyes,
And away to the wood to cut broom, green broom.
So Johnny arose and slipp'd on his clothes
And away to the wood to cut broom, green broom,
He sharpen'd his knives, and for once he contrives
To cut a great bundle of broom, green broom.
When Johnny pass'd under a Lady's fine house,
Pass'd under a Lady's fine room, fine room,
She call'd to her maid: "Go fetch me," she said,
"Go fetch me the boy that sells broom, green broom!"
When Johnny came into the Lady's fine house,
And stood in the Lady's fine room, fine room,
"Young Johnny" she said, "Will you give up your trade
And marry a lady in bloom, full bloom?"
Johnny gave his consent, and to church they both went,
And he wedded the Lady in bloom, full bloom;
At market and fair, all folks do declare,
There's none like the Boy that sold broom, green broom.
Ēriks Ešenvalds - Stars (Poem by Sara Teasdale)
Alone in the night
On a dark hill
With pines around me
Spicy and still,
And a heaven full of stars
Over my head
White and topaz
And misty red;
Myriads with beating
Hearts of fire
Cannot vex or tire;
Up the dome of heaven
Like a great hill,
I watch them marching
Stately and still,
And I know that I
Am honored to be
Of so much majesty.
Donald Skirvin - Stars forever, while we sleep (Poem by Sara Teasdale)
There will be stars over the place forever;
Though the house we loved and the street we loved are lost,
Every time the earth circles her orbit
On the night the autumn equinox is crossed,
Two stars we knew, poised on the peak of midnight
Will reach their zenith; stillness will be deep;
There will be stars over the place forever,
There will be stars forever, while we sleep.
C.V. Stanford - Quick! we have but a second
Quick! We have but a second,
Fill round the cup while you may
For time, the churl, hath beckoned
And we must away, away!
Grasp the pleasure that’s flying
For oh, not Orpheus’ strain
Could keep sweet hours from dying
Or charm them to life again.
Then, quick! We have but a second,
Fill round the cup while you may
For time, the churl, hath beckoned
And we must away, away!
See the glass, how it flushes
Like some young hebe’s lip
And half meets thine, and blushes
That thou shouldst delay to sip.
Shame, oh, shame unto thee
If e’er thou seest that day
When a cup or a lip shall woo thee
And turn untouched away.
Then quick! We have but a second,
Fill round the cup while you may
For time, the churl, hath beckoned
And we must away, away!
O'er it, as I looked, there flew
Across the waters, cold and still,
A bird whose wings were palest blue.
The sky above was blue at last,
The sky beneath me blue in blue.
A moment, ere the bird had passed,
It caught his image as he flew.
a boy and a girl.
Savoring their oranges,
giving their kisses like waves exchanging foam.
Stretched out on the beach,
a boy and a girl.
Savoring their limes,
giving their kisses like clouds exchanging foam.
a boy and a girl.
Saying nothing, never kissing,
giving silence for silence.
Eric Whitacre - With a Lily in your hand
With a lily in your hand
I leave you, o my night love!
Little widow of my single star
I find you.
Tamer of dark
I keep along my way.
After a thousand years are gone
you’ll see me,
o my night love!
By the blue footpath,
tamer of dark
I’ll make my way.
Until the universe
can fit inside