Chamber Music Northwest Lincoln Recital Hall Portland State University Portland Oregon

Into the light: Local choirs and living composers

In Mulieribus performs Sungji Hong, Joanne Metcalf, Steve Reich, James MacMillan and James McCarthy; Choral Arts Ensemble commissions Timothy Takach; Oregon Repertory Singers pair superstar Eric Whitacre with Ily Matthew Maniano, Ko Matsushita, and Darius Lim.

|

Lighting up the living: In Mulieribus brings the crazy amazing and the phenomenal

The final concert of In Mulieribus’ 15thseason is ambitious, novel and illuminating. It is just the kind of careful choral curating we expect from Artistic Director Anna Song– a unifying theme, variety of styles and showcase for the high musicality and talent of the women of IM. 

IM has a stellar reputation for resuscitating little known choral works of the past; advocating for composers, particularly women, whose work has been neglected or squelched; and bringing under-represented works into the “standard” choral music repertoire. This concert, however, offers a contemporary, even avant-garde perspective on an ageless theme – lux/light – under the “Luminous Echoes.” Get ready for some extra-special glitter.

Hildegard von Bingen’s O choruscans lux stellarum ignites the overall theme but is followed immediately by the feature work, Missa Lumen de lumine by Sungji Hong. Hong’s sonic footprint suggests the Medieval or early Renaissance but swiftly demonstrates her grounding in modern choral language. Anna Song says she’s been wanting to program this 2009 work for quite a while. She astutely mounts it in four segments (Kyrie/Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei), then sets lustrous small works around it to reflect and intensify the glow. Tune in on this brief sample from the “Gloria”:

IM’s performing forces are varied. Os mutorum by James MacMillan is scored for two voices and instrument; James McCarthy’s The stars in their courses for three sopranos, alto and the same instrument. Which instrument? Marimba.

Wait, what? The original scoring is for celtic harp but when you have guests like percussionist Kevin Schlossman Park and Portland State/Linfield professor and percussionist Florian Conzetti you show off their talents in the most creative ways. “They are phenomenal,” remarked Song. Another piece on the program, Steve Reich’s Know what is above you, gives the percussionists another chance to shine–this time on tuned drums.

Seikilos by Joanne Metcalf is a showcase for the versatile solo voices in IM. Listen to this and more of Metcalf’s stunning work at the composer’s website. Some impressive sounds.

Look forward to new faces on this IM concert. “Sarah Beaty is joining us as an alto,“ says Song. “She’s new in town, and crazy amazing.” And she’ll get to demonstrate her crazy amazingness in a solo, unaccompanied work, Aus den Visionen der Hildegard von Bingen by Sofia Gubaidulina. This….piece….is….awesome! Listen to it here.

This year In Mulieribus has supported the needs of foster children and other underprivileged youth by donating to Portland charitable organization Our Giving Table. You are invited to supplement their donations by dropping off granola bars as you enter St. Mary’s Cathedral. Find out more about Our Giving Table.

In Mulieribus singing Hildegard of Bingen and Chamber Music Northwest. Photo: Tom Emerson.

To bring the season and concert to a close the full ensemble will sing works by Karen P. Thomas and Pavel Chesnokov. We applaud IM’s first fifteen years and the music they bring to our community. The women of In Mulieribus do more than sing choral works, they bring them to life.

In Mulieribus’ 15th Anniversary closer “Luminous Echoes” is on Sunday, April 24, 5 pm at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland. Tickets here.

“Our good friend Tim from Minnesota”: Choral Arts Ensemble commissions new work

David De Lyser believes “no one can better explain to a choir what the music means than the composer.” It’s this perspective, according to the Artistic Director of Choral Arts Ensemble, that motivates the ensemble to say “come be our guest” to some of today’s most talented choral music composers. These guest appearances “invariably inspire the singers to engage with the music on a much deeper level than just the sheet music would allow. Something magical happens; the choir is now singing this awesome music from our good friend Tim from Minnesota.”

That’s Timothy C. Takach, whom CAE has invited to Portland to collaborate in a program of his choral works, featuring the premiere of his CAE-commissioned work Circles.

Sponsor
Cascadia Composers Music Concert Portland State University Lincoln Hall Portland Oregon
Composer Timothy C. Takach and David De Lyser in 2022. Photo by Daryl Browne.
Composer Timothy C. Takach and David De Lyser in 2022. Photo by Daryl Browne.

In a recent phone conversation, Takach spoke about composing commissioned pieces. “Sometimes you begin by saying ‘David, what do you need?’ Other times, you are given defined parameters – length, theme, added instruments or a specific poem. That presents more of a challenge.” But he enjoys the process because “each new commission is a collaboration” and an opportunity to “connect with people.” This is a wonderful opportunity for our choral community to connect with him.

Choral Arts Ensemble prides itself on the variety of repertoire they sing and embraces opportunities to program new music. In 2014 and 2015 they brought Ola Gjeilo to Portland; in 2016 they entered into a partnership with Cascadia Composers and have performed 15 works by 13 different Northwest composers. They have an open “Call for Scores” for 2023 posted on the CC website right now. Jake Runestad was here in 2016. And next season will feature the music of Portland-born Sydney Guillaume. Gjeilo played piano with CAE during his visit; Runestad conducted a few works. Takach, a professional singer and founder of the male a cappella group Cantus, will sing on one of his pieces.

Takach is pleased with the representative works De Lyser has chosen. The collection will demonstrate variety in the use of forces, compositional styles and chosen texts – and Takach sets text, in this concert mostly by living poets, with great respect. Listen here to Goodbye Then with text by Minnesota poet Doug Wilhide. Takach weaves plaintive solo clarinet statements into the text as the choir tries to embrace a hope that love will never fade. Listen here:

And while you might expect a classic poem by Edgar Allen Poe to be, well, classically set, Takach’s Annabel (conducted by Assistant Artistic Director Megan Elliott) provides a fresh sound while still keeping the heartfelt ageless sentiment beneath the roil of the raging sea. Listen here.

And listen to how Takach has set the text of Charles Anthony Silvestry for one movement of another piece on this concert Helios: “Saturn”. The words and the music tell a story.

In Circles Takach infuses musical energy into the words of Wendell Berry’s poem “Closing the Circle.” “Everything around us constantly changes and yet repeats throughout our lives.” This quote is excerpted from this concert’s very informative program notes and Takach bio, written by Susan Wladaver-Morgan, and available on CAE’s website.

Composer Timothy C. Takach visits Choral Arts Ensemble in 2022. Photo by Daryl Browne.
Composer Timothy C. Takach visits Choral Arts Ensemble in 2022. Photo by Daryl Browne.

How flexible and confident a choir CAE is to be willing to nurture new works into the choral repertoire. De Lyser, Director of the Choral Program at University of Portland, is also a composer and teaches composition. “It humanizes the [choral] experience,” he says, “when the people find out the composer has been sitting next to them in the audience.” CAE feels it is an honor to introduce “fantastic music by lesser known, living composers.” Well, we can do something about that lesser known part, right? Takach is practically family already; his sister lives in Portland. Take in this CAE concert and by the final resounding chord, we will all appreciate the music of our new friend Tim from Minnesota.

Catch Choral Arts Ensemble and Timothy Takach on Saturday, April 23, 7:30 pm and Sunday, April 24, 3:00 pm at Rose City Park United Methodist Church, Portland. Advance tickets here.

Choral superstar: Oregon Repertory Singers and Eric Whitacre

“Lesser known” cannot be said of composer, conductor and choral superstar Eric Whitacre. Just the words “choral superstar” lift an eyebrow. What does that look like?

When you attend an Oregon Repertory Singers’ concert on April 23rd or 24th you will be drawn to Eric Whitacre’s charisma as a speaker. He oozes passion and enthusiasm for the choral art.

You’ll see this passion continue when he steps on the podium. Twenty five years ago in a visit to our region he humbly admitted to not really being a conductor. Today he can talk proudly about his choral conducting success, especially with his own Grammy-Award winning Eric Whitacre Singers. 

Whitacre’s Virtual Choir “experiment” has drawn singers to a yearly global choral happening for 10 years. In 2020, 17,572 singers representing 129 countries participated in Virtual Choir 6. Many were from our local choirs and Whitacre might even connect with some of them during his weekend visit.

So, it’s ORS’s “An Afternoon with Eric Whitacre”–and hearing him speak, seeing him conduct would be fascinating enough. But it is his extraordinary music around which this choral music phenomenon has occurred; wonderful music you will hear on this concert. Performed by the adult voices of Oregon Repertory Singers, conducted by Artistic Director Ethan Sperry and Assistant Conductor Lisa Riffel; the ORS Youth Choir, led by Artistic Director Aubrey Patterson; and, oh yeah, conductor Eric Whitacre.

This will be Aubrey Patterson and ORS Youth Choir’s first joint collaboration with ORS flagship choir. Patterson is West Linn High School’s choir director; her West Linn students, and Patterson herself, participated in Virtual Choir 6 – a real blessing, she says, in the difficult “adrift” moments of the pandemic 2020 school year. She took over the ORS Youth Choir this season, and having Whitacre in residence–and having the 7th thru 12th grade singers being able to sing his VC6 composition Sing Gently for him, in person – is un-virtually magical. It’s also a great membership builder as the choir is 57 voices strong, representing 21 local middle and high schools. The adults and youth will perform Whitacre’s Sleep to close the concert.

Sperry is proud to pair Whitacre’s works with three Northwest premieres by lesser known composers. Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque is followed by Ily Matthew Maniano’s Lux Aeterna and Ko Matsushita’s O Lux Beata Trinitas

Whitacre’s Water Night and Sainte-Chapelle are also on the program. The latter, perhaps not as well known, was composed in 2013 for the 40th anniversary of The Tallis Scholars. Hear Whitacre talk about his journey with this composition in this video (and hear the Tallis Scholars when Cappella Romana brings them to Portland on May 4).

Darius Lim composed A Puppet’s Dream and Sperry brilliantly programmed it as a lead-in to Whitacre’s particularly dreamy Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine, composed in collaboration with Charles Anthony Silvestri. Commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association, the work flew off the shelves after its 2001 ACDA Conference performance by the Kansas City Chorale. Oratorio, choral novella – you decide. Hear this work and be transported – to Italy, to your own creative core, to the notebooks and mind of Leonardo – and to a clear understanding of why Eric Whitacre is a choral superstar. The Eric Whitacre Singers can be heard singing Leonardo here

Tickets for “An Afternoon with Eric Whitacre”, Saturday, April 23, 4 pm and Sunday, April 24, 4 pm, First United Methodist Church, Portland are available here. ORS will be releasing a video of Whitacre’s visit in the future. 

Proof of completed vaccination with ID and masks will be required for attendance at these concerts. 

Connections

Poetry

Charles Anthony Silvestri’s poems and stories have been set by Whitacre and Takach and many other composers. To understand more about how he and the choral composers collaborate watch “Charles Anthony Silverstri on The Marriage of Words and Music”:

Composers

Cascadia Composers present “Collaborations 2022: Re/emergence” on Saturday, May 14, 7:30, Portland State University Lincoln Hall Room 75. More information is available here.

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Daryl Browne is a music educator, alto, flutist and writer who lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

SHARE:
Chamber Music Northwest Lincoln Recital Hall Portland State University Portland Oregon
Dianne Jean Erickson Donald Dahlke Gallery 114 Portland Oregon
Cascadia Composers Music Concert Portland State University Lincoln Hall Portland Oregon
Imago Theatre ZooZoo Portland Oregon
Open Space Dance Royal Durst Theatre Vancouver Washington
Northwest Dance Theatre Nutcracker Tea PCC Portland Oregon
Enlightened Theatrics Seussical the Musical Salem Oregon
Bag & Baggage Danny and the Deep Blue Sea The Vault Theatre Hillsboro Oregon
Portland Playhouse A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Portland Oregon
Corrib Contemporary Irish Theatre Portland Oregon Metaverse
PassinArt Theatre Black Nativity Brunish Theatre Portland Oregon
Portland Revels Midwinter Revels Andalusian Night Portland Oregon
Hallie Ford Museum of Art Willamette University Salem Oregon
Eugene Ballet The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next Hult Center Eugene Oregon
Oregon Repertory Singers Glory of Christmas Portland Oregon
Triangle Productions Erma Bombeck At Wit's End Helen Raptis Portland Oregon
Northwest Dance Project Portland Oregon
Portland State University College of the Arts
Future Prairie Artist Collective Portland Oregon
Oregon Cultural Trust tax credit donate
Oregon ArtsWatch grow fund donate