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Reconnect, renew and respond: Further into fall with Oregon’s choirs

Dreams, shadows, delayed premieres, masses, vigils, requiems, organ spooktaculars, and more.

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Betty LaDuke's concert image for Southern Oregon University's fall concert "Light Out of Shadow.”
Betty LaDuke’s concert image for Southern Oregon University’s fall concert “Light Out of Shadow.”

Southern lights

The lights will be ablaze in the Music Recital Hall at Southern Oregon University in Ashland on Oct. 29 and 30. Artistic Director Paul French conducts the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers in their 34th season opening concert, “Light Out of Shadow”. The choir will be joined by small orchestral forces and soloists in the music of Bach, Boulanger, Caroline Shaw and more. 

The program begins with the music of the Spanish and Italian Renaissance, after which the 53 singers are joined by a baroque-sized orchestra for the music of Schütz, Vivaldi and Bach. Sometimes it’s a pleasure to hear how the music of one era evolves into the next, as can be observed here in the passage from Gabrieli to Schütz to Bach. Oh, bliss to hear the dancing double choirs of Bach’s “Komm, Jesu, komm” (BWV 229). Listen here to that motet as sung by the Netherlands Bach Society.

In the second half, SORS invites you to reconnect with the romantic with Lili Boulanger and Ravel before settling into the works of living composers – Caroline Shaw, Craig Hella Johnson, Josu Elberdin and Adolphus Hailstork. The light portrayed in this program can dim to give us peace, illuminate to guide the way and set the world ablaze in celebration. 

These concerts, Sat., Oct. 29, 7:30 and Sun., Oct. 30, 3 pm are also live streamed. Tickets and concert information are available here. SORS performs at Southern Oregon University Recital Hall, 450 S. Mountain Ave., Ashland. 

Shadowed layers

As SORS pulls you from the shadow to light, the women of Portland choral ensemble In Mulieribus invite you to step into a world of shadows and dreams in their concert “Sombras y Sueños.”

A cursory glance at the program might lead one to believe this is a program of Spanish choral canciónes. But a program curated by Artistic Director Anna Song is always beyond cursory. You can expect at least one – or several – layers of complexity and delight in the ways in which they are revealed.

The composers of the nine works are obviously of Spanish decent. Now, see, there’s that first layer that requires a closer look. There’s Argentinian, Venezuelan, Mexican, Brazilian, one Finn, one practically Peruvian and then there’s Pablo Casals, who was Spanish and Puerto Rican. And it matters because, for example, the influences of Brazilian folk music are strong in the Missa São Sebastião by Hector Villa-Lobos and the language of the Hanacpachap cussicuinin (Heaven’s Joy), attributed to Juan Pérez Bocanegra, is Peruvian Quechua.

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Immediately prior to intermission is what might be considered the dramatic apex of the concert: the 1973 Suite de Lorca, op.72, of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. For all that it contains–dramatic choral painting of the poetry of Spaniard Frederico Garcia Lorca, the vocal complexity of semitonal scales and crisp rhythms–it’s only 6 and a half minutes long. But what a journey. Listen here to the SATB version of Movement II “El Grito” (The Scream) recorded by The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. 

The IM artists will sing of flowers and revere the virgin Mother and speak of love solidified by admiration. And when they sing Casals’ motet setting of Song of Solomon verses, Negra sum (I am Black), no amount of biblesplaining can obscure the expression of human love in the layers of poetry.

“The night is inviting us here with varied music” reads the opening text of Alberto Favero’s Convidado estánoche. Couldn’t be said any better than that.

Of special note: In Mulieribus is taking this beautiful music to Hillsboro on Sun., Oct. 30 at 3 pm, St. Matthew Catholic Church. Let’s support these outreach efforts. The Max stop is three blocks north of St. Matthew. The Sat., Oct. 29 concert is at 7 pm at St. Philip Neri. Visit here for tickets and more information on health protocol.

Mass response

Meet Josef Gabriel Rheinberger of Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Now on Trivia Night at the pub you will know the answer to “What underrated Romantic-era composer was born in Liechtenstein?” Indeed, underrated. Do you know the music of this prodigious and prolific composer of over 20 organ sonatas and gobs of chamber and sacred music? Artistic Director of In Medio Choir, John Eisemann, wants to introduce him to you. And he’s chosen one spectacular Mass for that pleasure.

The Mass in E-flat Major (1868) calls for a cappella double choir, the only one of Rheinberger’s many masses so scored. An a cappella Romantic-era Mass? Practically oxymoronic. Why did the 29-year-old write an a cappella mass and why was the work so well received in the Catholic Church that Pope Leo XIII awarded the composer the Gregorius Medal?

Eisemann answered the second question in a recent email: “Rheinberger was able to compose such a monumental work that appeased the Cecilian Movement and also incorporated modern/progressive compositional values.” The Cecilian Movement in mid-1800s Germany, with roots in anti-enlightenment/anti-secularism sentiment, called for Catholic liturgical music to return to a proper form (polyphony) and proper voicing (a cappella). Perhaps what the Church was really searching for – and tried to compel with doctrine – was a return to the internal. Rheinberger responded and delivered.

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Compared to other large-scale choral/orchestral works from European composers of that same period – Berlioz, Dvorak, Wagner – that stimulate the soul by force of sound, this Rheinberger Mass seems to begin at the heart center and expand. There is a soothing intellect to this 25ish-minute work, never overindulgent, so well crafted. 

So what’s a good pairing with a well crafted Mass? If you are Eisemann and In Medio you connect with three contemporary composers – one you know, as he was founding singer in In Medio, and two more with the aid of the Happy Composer Project (see connections below). You ask them to write a choral response to Rheinberger and/or to this Mass. You extend to them a commission and, of equal if not more importance, you guarantee them a performance and recording of their work. Colin Cossi, Marjorie Halloran and Germán Barboza put have put their choral creations in In Medio’s hands. Come hear these premieres – and have your own response. 

In Medio concerts are free to the public. Donations are much appreciated. This concert is Fri., Nov. 4, 7:00 pm at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland. Check the website for more information on the concert and health safety protocol.

The gift of Rutter

First Presbyterian Church of Portland’s Music Series believes the Requiem Mass of John Rutter is perfect for, as their website states, “celebrating God’s gifts of creativity and imagination.” This is what their 4-concert series “Celebration Works” is all about. 

Rutter himself was on the podium in Dallas, Texas for the 1985 premiere of the work, which is dedicated to his father. In this concert the FPC Chancel Choir welcomes guest conductor and choir alum Shohai Kobayashi to the podium. The Mass text is a mixture of the traditional Latin Requiem setting and English language psalms and bible verses. You might find similarities between this work and the Faure Requiem, particularly in the way in which Rutter embraces the joy of life in the remembrance of life lost. You will hear that in the angelic purity of the “Pie Jesu”–like the Faure, more innocent than pious. Portland soprano Madeline Ross solos in that sublime movement in this concert. Here it is as recorded by Rutter and his Cambridge Singers. 

This concert and the entire concert series is offered free of charge and is live streamed. Donations are always appreciated. The concert is on Sun., Nov. 6, at 2 pm, First Presbyterian Church, Portland. More information on live streaming and health protocol can be found here.

But, wait, the gift of Rutter continues…

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In Eugene, on the morning of the same date, Central Chorale and Central Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Dr. A. ElRay Stewart-Cook, will perform the Rutter Requiem at the 8:30 and 11 am services at Central Lutheran Church, Eugene, 18th and Potter, Eugene.

Central Lutheran also has a robust music ministry, including three singing choirs and handbell choir. Four more offerings will take place in the 22-23 Music Ministry series. 

All night balm

Composer Robert Kyr recently wrote: “For more than thirty years I have dreamed of creating an English setting of the All-Night Vigil text that Rachmaninoff chose to set in Church Slavonic.” That span of time coincides with Kyr’s tenure as Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Oregon. He has influenced countless composers and music educators and has generously participated in numerous statewide music initiatives and events, like the Oregon Bach Festival. Did the thirty-year All-Night Vigil dream become a reality? It certainly did. And on Nov. 12 and 13 Cappella Romana invites you to participate in the premiere performances of that dream.

Cappella Romana Artistic Director Alexander Lingas and the singers had the music in hand in May of 2020 but the premiere returned to dream status. Yes, the premiere postponement was a disappointment, but CR used the time to advantage. This past July the choir – in large formation of 25 singers – recorded Kyr’s All-Night Vigil; the international release on CR’s own rapidly-expanding label, Cappella Records, is – very cool – the concert weekend. Lingas, to whom the piece is dedicated, will conduct.

Reflecting on the importance of the work to Eastern Orthodox music, Lingas writes in the CD booklet notes that Kyr has “seized the opportunity of composing in a modern language to forge a new and distinctly personal synthesis informed by Slavic and Greek musical precedents.” Modern language referring to English, yes–but also harmonic language. Hear Cappella Romana render a bit of Kyr’s compelling harmonic signature as he speaks of his oratorio A Time for Life, a work in response to our stewardship of the environment. 

What parallels will we draw to the Rachmaninoff as we hear the piece? Structurally the same: Vespers, Matin, Lauds. Text: all Rachmaninoff, translated. Drama, since it follows the narrative, follows the same path. Both are concert pieces. As an artistic vehicle to the spiritual – you decide.

The great gift Kyr’s All-Night Vigil offers is self care through its beauty, believes Cappella Executive Director Mark Powell. “The Kyr will be an escape from the noise–a balm; an opportunity to come and recharge.” One compeling reason, among many, to attend this concert.

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Cappella Romana will perform at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Portland on Sat., Nov. 12 at 8 pm. Their Sunday concert is in Lake Oswego at Our Lady of the Lake Parish, Nov. 13, 3 pm. They are happy to explore a new locale and venue and encourage you to do the same. CR performs the Seattle premiere at St. James Cathedral on Fri., Nov. 11. Tickets and more information here.

The Phantom is given a choral voice

Two words: silent pictures. Now, quickly, what comes to mind? Flashes of jerky, over-pancaked and overacted, black-and-white segmented vignettes with Art Deco inter-titles – and, of course, no talking. But “silent” also meant no music, or at least no composed underscore recorded in a studio. Of course, a “movie house”–like Portland’s own early 20th-century Hollywood Theater–would supply a combo or keyboardist, or an organist if they were so equipped, to improvise music to portray the mood. In 1925, for films like director Rupert Julian’s Phantom of the Opera the idea of “film score” was a few years away.

But fast forward to today. You now have the opportunity to see that very movie with contemporary, fully scored music (not unlike Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet’s Dracula). Canadian musician Andrew Downing composed an original score for choir and instrumental combo, and Vancouver Master Chorale is bringing it to you on October 29 and 30. Just a Halloween coincidence – you think?

Downing has written a “phenomenal piece,” says the Chorale’s Artistic Director Jana Hart. “You will find elements of jazz, ragtime and even some Bach chorales.” Downing is a jazz musician, performing on double bass and teaching in the Jazz Studies Department at University of Toronto. Composing for Phantom allowed him to showcase his love of improvisation and of music with narrative. 

In a recent telephone conversation he said he didn’t want to overtly imitate the old styles but did want to evoke nostalgia. “I wanted to recontextualize the way things are happening [in the film] through the eyes of people in the 21st century.” And sometimes, through our eyes, the film might seem corny and humorously archaic. Downing says his music appreciates that response but respects the original art by not going toward slapstick.

Not being in control on the podium is a challenge– the film leads the way. “I am watching the movie everyday because I have to take musical cues from the film. What a masterpiece it is!” said Hart. She might have more nightmares about cueing than about Lon Chaney’s Phantom character on this pre-Halloween weekend.

But perhaps the most phenomenal aspect to this film score is that it is an original choral film score. Has that ever been done? Hmm, note to self: consult Edmund Stone. There are great choral moments in film, to be sure. (Fitting to the occasion lets cite Jerry Goldsmith’s Omen theme music. Chills!)

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Of course, a choral score means text, and how do you conjure that? Downing didn’t just rely on the film subtexts but also turned to the intro of the source document, the novel by French author Gaston Leroux. But Downing said he felt that choral/vocal sound – text free – could also be used to good effect. You will hear both.

VMC is joined by the choirs of Battleground and Prairie High Schools and a 

combo of two winds, two brass, a violin, double bass, piano and organ. Vancouver (B.C.) Bach Choir commissioned and premiered the work in 2013 and gave it a second performance in 2016. Downing gave an interview prior to that performance: read that here.

Phantom of the Opera doesn’t need to be renewed. It isn’t in need of repair, it’s in need of reconnection. And with its new voice it gets another chance, after almost 100 years, to scare the beejeebers out of us all.

Vancouver Master Chorale presents Phantom at Battleground High School on Sat., Oct. 29, 2 pm and Sun., Oct. 30, 7:30 pm. Children under 12 are free. Tickets and more information are available here.

Connections

The Happy Composer Project?

Is it the Happy Composer Project’s founder, composer Carlos Cordero, who is happy? Or is it the composer who has their work promoted by the project who is happy?

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Why not both? And that happiness can spread to the commissioning organization – like In Medio above – and then to the choral audience. Now who’s happy? All y’all! Cordero–whose own work was performed by In Medio last May–lives in Austin, Texas and is, uh, happy, to hear from organizations wanting to connect to today’s choral composers. Check out this project.

Cue the spookiness

So where else can you go for a “Spooktacular” Halloween happening? Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland on Sat., Oct. 29, of course. It’s another budget- and family-friendly opportunity to celebrate the joy that is Halloween. Ancient origins aside, Halloween is a time that can bring neighbors together, allows all ages to get a little silly, to dress up and down and sideways. And Trinity says come to our safe home – our sanctuary – and do all that. 

After you carve your pumpkin – yes, there’s a pumpkin-carving event at 5:30! – join the musicians and Portland drag icon Clare Apparently who will be on hand to welcome all. You will hear some spine tingling and phantasmically famous music on one of the great pipe organs in the country? What a treat! Canon Katy Burk performs, as do church members Paul Flyger and Erik Simmons and Trinity Church Music intern Gregor McGee. 

There’s maniacal movie music improvisation – perhaps Psycho or a little Wes Craven. And what would a Halloween party be without carol singing? Oh, come on, you must know “O skeletons, O skeletons” and “On the First Day of Halloween.” “Ghosties We Have Heard on High” might be your personal fav. Well, you know the tunes, for sure.

See, there’s no trick, only treat. Music starts at 7 pm, it’s free, and who knows what creepy organ-isms might slither down the buttresses across the pews and – cue the music!

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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

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