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The Providence Singers Presents
New Music for a New Age

Julian Wachner (b. 1969) – Sometimes I Feel Alive (1998)


Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) – O Magnum Mysterium (1994)


John Tavener (b. 1944) – The Lamb (1982) and Song of Athene (1994)


Trevor Weston (b. 1967) – Ma’at Musings (2005 – World Première)


Henryk Gorecki (b. 1933) – Amen (1975)


Elena Ruehr (b. 1963) – Cricket, Spider, Bee (1996)


The Providence Singers
Julian Wachner, conductor

Doug Lippincott and Robert Schulz, percussion

Barbara Poeschl-Edrich, harp

8 p.m. Friday, February 25, 2005
St. Joseph’s Church
92 Hope Street
Providence, RI

3 p.m. Sunday, February 27, 2005
St. Mary’s Church
330 Wood Street
Bristol, RI  




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Julian Wachner   Sometimes I Feel Alive (1998)

Sometimes I Feel Alive was commissioned by Allison McMillan, then president of The Providence Singers, to celebrate her husband’s 50th birthday. Wachner composed the cycle, a setting of three love poems by E. E. Cummings, at Tanglewood during the summer of 1998.

The first two poems, written when Cummings was a 20-year-old Harvard student, appear in his first book of verse, Tulips and Chimneys (1923). “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond,” one of Cummings’ best known poems, was included in the 1931 volume, W [ViVa].

The Providence Singers gave the world première of the new work on November 7, 1998, at historic Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island, with Wachner conducting. The work went on to win critical acclaim, including first prize in the 2000 Boston Choral Consortium Composition Competition and in the 2001 Cambridge Madrigal Singers Competition. It was performed earlier this month at the American Choral Directors Association national conference in Los Angeles.



Texts



I.

there is a
moon sole
in the blue
night

        amorous of waters
tremulous,
blinded with silence the
undulous heaven yearns where

in tense starlessness
anoint with ardor
the yellow lover
stands in the dumb dark
svelte
and
urgent

        (again
love i slowly
gather
of thy languorous mouth the
thrilling
flower)

II.

as is the sea marvelous
from god’s
hands which sent her forth
to sleep upon the world

and the earth withers
the moon crumbles
one by one
stars flutter into dust

but the sea
does not change
and she goes forth out of hands and
she returns into hands

and is with sleep . . . .

love,
      the breaking

of your
          soul
          upon
my lips


III.

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look will easily unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands



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Morten Lauridsen   O Magnum Mysterium (1994)

The Singers last performed music by Morten Lauridsen in November 1998 – his Les Chansons des Roses, settings of French verse by Rainer Maria Rilke. The Chansons were part of a “Poetry in Song” concert that also featured the world première of Julian Wachner’s Sometimes I Feel Alive.

Lauridsen’s has become the best-known and most-often performed music of all American choral composers. (Musicologist Nick Strimple has written that Lauridsen has eclipsed Randall Thompson for that honor.) His music is distinctive. Singers who performed the November 1998 concert immediately heard echoes of “Dirait-on” (from Chansons) when they read through O Magnum Mysterium for the first time.

Lauridsen’s path to a career in music was also distinctive. Born in Colfax, Wash., and raised in Portland, Ore., he was working as a Forest Service lookout in a remote outpost near Mount St. Helens when he decided to follow his interest in music. He entered the University of Southern California in 1963, studied composition with Ingolf Dahl, Halsey Stevens and Robert Linn, and began a faculty appointment at USC that has lasted more than three decades. (He divides his time between southern California and the Pacific Northwest, where he maintains a cabin on one of the remote San Juan Islands off the Washington coast.)

His catalog comprises seven major vocal cycles as well as individual songs and choral works. Two of them – “O Magnum Mysterium” and “Dirait-on” – have become the all-time best-selling choral octavos for Theodore Presser, which has been in business since 1783.



Text



O Magnum Mysterium

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum
natum, jacentum in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum. Alleluia!

O Great Mystery

O great mystery,
and wondrous sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord Christ. Alleluia!



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John Tavener (b. 1944) – Song of Athene (1994) and The Lamb (1982)

John Tavener and his music have been prominently in the public eye and ear for nearly his entire composing career. He was still in his early 20s when his dramatic cantata The Whale received its première at the debut performance of the London Sinfonietta in 1968. The work – a collage that included tape recordings, amplified percussion and a chorus equipped with bullhorns – was an immediate sensation, leading eventually to dinner with John and Yoko and several recordings on The Beatles’ Apple records label.

His rise was rapid and success came early. In 1969, he was appointed professor of composition at Trinity College. Major commissions arrived, including one from Benjamin Britten for a full-length opera for the Royal Opera House. He continued to produce new work, though his professional life became crowded. Composition began to take longer and he began to experience dead periods.

Tavener had been raised in a musical and religious household – his father was organist at a Presbyterian church in Hampstead – and as a teen-ager he had been introduced to Metropolitan Anthony, head of the Orthodox Church in the West. In the 1970s, his spiritual journey led him to the Russian Orthodox Church, which he joined in 1977, describing it as “a homecoming.” His compositions turned toward religious themes: the Orthodox Vigil Service, the Akathist of Thanksgiving (thought by some critics to be his greatest work), and The Protecting Veil, which re-established his fortunes as a leading 20th-century composer. A recording of The Protecting Veil was at the top of the classical charts in 1992 and won an award for the best contemporary recording.

His Song for Athene, which draws its text from Hamlet and the Orthodox funeral service, was commissioned by the BBC. Of that work, Tavener has written, “This work was written in memory of Athene Hariades, who died tragically in March 1993. Her inner and outer beauty was reflected in her love of acting, poetry, music and of the Orthodox Church.” It was first performed on January 22, 1994.

A worldwide audience heard the work performed as the recessional at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, on September 6, 1997, under the title Alleluia: May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.



Texts



The Lamb (William Blake, 1757–1827)

    Little Lamb who made thee
    Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice:
    Little Lamb who made thee
    Dost thou know who made thee

    Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
    Little Lamb I’ll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
    Little Lamb God bless thee.
    Little Lamb God bless thee.

Song of Athene

Alleluia.
    May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Alleluia.
    Remember me, O Lord, when you come
    into your kingdom.
Alleluia.
    Give rest, O Lord, to your handmaid
    who has fallen asleep.
Alleluia.
    The Choir of Saints have found the
    well-spring of life and door of paradise.
Alleluia.
    Life: a shadow and a dream.
Alleluia.
    Weeping at the grave creates the song:
    Allelulia.
Alleluia.
    Come, enjoy rewards and crowns
    I have prepared for you.



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Trevor Weston (b. 1967) – Ma’at Musings (2005 – World Première)

       A work for chorus and percussion, commissioned by The Providence Singers

Trevor Weston comes from a very traditional musical background. At the age of 10 he entered St. Thomas Choir School in New York City, where he received instruction in voice and piano. With the choir, Weston sang regular Sunday services at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue as well as concerts at Carnegie Hall and Avery Fischer Hall, and he toured England, where the choir performed at Westminster Abbey and King’s College Cambridge. During high school, Weston continued his musical development with organ and carillon lessons in Plainfield, N.J. Composition became his focus at Tufts University while studying with T.J Anderson and completing a double major in music and history.

Weston completed his graduate work at the University of California–Berkeley where he studied with Richard Felciano and Andrew Imbrie for his M.A. and Olly Wilson, his primary teacher, for his Ph.D. In 1994, Weston was awarded the prestigious George Ladd Prix de Paris from Berkeley. This award allowed him to live in Paris for two years where he audited classes at IRCAM and composed his dissertation, Biorhythm, a major work for two orchestras.

Weston’s music has been enthusiastically received. The Detroit Free Press described his composition Bleue, selected for the Detroit Symphony’s Unisys African-American Composer’s Residency and Symposium reading sessions in 1998, as a “gently syncopated marriage of intellect and feeling.” Gerre Hancock and the Choir of St. Thomas Church performed his Messe Ancienne in 2000 and commissioned him to write a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in 2001. The Bob Taylor Festival Choir, directed by Robert Taylor, performed The Gentlest Thing in 2001 for the choir’s inaugural season in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Recently, the Charles Ives Center selected Bleue for a performance during the 2002 Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C. He was also commissioned by the Carolina Chamber Chorale to compose Ashes for their concerts during Piccolo Spoleto 2002. The Providence Singers gave the New England première of Ashes a few months later, in November 2002.



Six questions for Trevor Weston


What, exactly, are Ma’at Musings?

Ma’at is something like “wisdom” or “divine order.” The idea of a final judgment – of being judged on how well you led your life, the good things you did – was prevalent in Egyptian theology. In some way, all four movements speak to the idea of divine order, of the best way to live one’s life.

How did you arrive at ancient Egyptian texts?

I first encountered ancient Egyptian texts as an undergraduate at Tufts University in a course on ancient Egyptian history. The texts, particularly their power, stayed in my mind for decades. When I began to think about this commission, I remembered them. I wanted to find the oldest texts. That led me back to Unas.

How did you arrange the texts into the four movements?

The two Unas movements are like bookends. They relate to each other and open and close the work. But the other movements also have their relationships.

The second and third movements share a literary form – a prayer offering that amounts to a list of desires or a list of virtues. It reminded me of Anglican chant. “To whom shall I speak today,” repeated before each verse, has a liturgical feel. Chanting may be the oldest choral form; it’s probably what people did when they first began to sing – mimicking the sounds of plain speech.

The third movement is a response to the heavy complaining of movement two. It’s almost as if Intef is saying that things aren’t so bad – I’m kind to the poor, I try to soothe the angry. Intef’s words are a statement of his good deeds, in line with divine moral order. Even all that power language in the fourth movement supports Intef’s point. Unas is powerful, yes, but he also threatens the evil-doers.

The fourth movement has some extraordinary imagery. This may be the first time The Singers has performed the word “entrails.”

I wanted at least one fast, loud piece, which turned out to be the fourth movement. The texts I was working with were actually much longer and some of them were gorier than what I ultimately decided to use. The fourth movement is all about power. The music has some references to rap, which seemed to fit. A lot of early rap was about power, about who’s dominant. Those braggadocio raps were a list – like Unas’ – of the rapper’s prowess.

I’m not an expert on ancient Egyptian history, but I do recall that Unas was not the most important pharaoh. Can you imagine what Ramses must have been like?

Ma’at Musings is for chorus and percussion – not a frequent combination.

[Artistic Director] Julian [Wachner] wanted the work to be portable and not to require large instrumental forces. He thought percussion, maybe. It was a new challenge, since I’d never written for chorus and percussion before.

At first I was a little worried. I thought the piece – and the chorus – would need more pitched instruments to sustain the work in performance. But I really liked the atmosphere of mystery that the percussion created for the ancient texts. The first movement even has a little flavor of ancient Greek music, with the marimba. That probably came from a Western civilization course I taught in the fall.

Ancient texts are foreign to just about everyone. Does that lend the work a more universal appeal?

If anything, the ancient texts gave me more musical freedom as a composer. Being so old, they don’t come from a tradition that is recognizable today. But while the texts are ancient, they remain oddly current. “Brothers are mean, hearts are greedy.” That may have been written in the 21st century B.C.E., but we haven’t come very far, have we?



Texts *



I. The King Joins the Stars

From Utterances 245
Passage to the Sarcophagus Chamber
South Wall, Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara
Fifth Dynasty (2450-2300 B.C.E.)

(View the hieroglyphics)

    Unas comes to you O Nut,
    He has consigned his father to the earth,
    He has left Horus behind him,
    Grown are his falcon wings,
    Plumes of the holy hawk;
    His power has brought him,
    His magic has equipped him!

The sky-goddess replies:

    Make your seat in heaven,
    Among the stars of heaven,
    For you are the Lone Star,
    The comrade of Hu.
    You shall look down on Osiris,
    As he commands the spirits,
    While you stand far from him,
    Unas.

II. Complaint Tapestry

From the dispute between
a man and his Ba (soul)
Twelfth Dynasty (1990-1785 B.C.E.)

To whom shall I speak today?
    Brothers are mean,
    The friends of today do not love.
To whom shall I speak today?
    Hearts are greedy,
    Everyone robs his comrade’s goods.
To whom shall I speak today?
    Kindness has perished,
    Insolence assaults everyone.
To whom shall I speak today?
    One is content with evil,
    Goodness is cast to the ground everywhere.
To whom shall I speak today?
    He who should enrage men by his crimes
    He makes everyone laugh at his evil-doing.
To whom shall I speak today?
    Men plunder, everyone robs his comrade.
To whom shall I speak today?
    The criminal is one’s intimate,
    The brother with whom one dealt is a foe.
To whom shall I speak today?
    The past is not remembered,
    Now one does not help him who helped.
To whom shall I speak today?
    One goes to strangers for affection.
To whom shall I speak today?
    Faces are blank,
    Everyone turns his face from his brothers.
To whom shall I speak today?
    Hearts are greedy,
    No man’s heart can be relied on.
To whom shall I speak today?
    None are righteous,
    The land is left to evil-doers.
To whom shall I speak today?
    One lacks an intimate,
    One resorts to an unknown to complain.
To whom shall I speak today?
    No one is cheerful,
    He with whom one walked is no more.
To whom shall I speak today?
    I am burdened with grief for lack of an intimate.
To whom shall I speak today?
    Wrong roams the earth and ends not.

III. The Wisdom of Intef

From the Stela of Intef, Son of Sent
Eleventh Dynasty (2040-1650 B.C.E.)

    I am silent with the angry,
    Patient with the ignorant,
    So as to quell strife.
    I am cool, free of haste,
    Knowing the outcome,
    Expecting what comes.
    I am a speaker in situations of strife,
    One who knows which phrase causes anger.
    I am friendly when I hear my name
    To him who would tell me his concern.
    I am controlled, kind, friendly,
    One who calms the weeper with good words
    I am a friend of the poor,
    One well-disposed to the have not.
    I am one who feeds the hungry in need,
    Who is open-handed to the pauper.
    I am a listener who listens to the truth,
    Who ponders it in his heart.

IV. The King Feeds on the Gods

From Utterances 273-274
Antechamber, East Wall
Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara
Fifth Dynasty (2450-2300 B.C.E.)

(View the hieroglyphics)

    Sky rains, stars darken,
    The vaults quiver, Earth’s bones tremble,
    The planets stand still
    At seeing Unas rise as power,
    A God who lives on his fathers,
    Who feeds on his mothers!
    Unas is the bull of heaven
    Who rages in his heart,
    Who lives on the being of every god
    Who eats their entrails when they come,
    Their bodies full of magic,
    From the Isle of Flame.
    Unas eats their magic, swallows their spirits:
    Their big ones are for his morning meal,
    Their middle ones for his evening meal,
    Their little ones for his night meal,
    And the oldest males and females for his fuel.
    Unas has risen again in heaven,
    He is crowned as lord of light land,
    He has smashed bones and marrow,
    He has seized the hearts of gods,
    He has eaten the red, swallowed the green,
    Unas feeds on the lungs of the wise,
    Likes to live on hearts of their magic.
    Lo, their power is with Unas,
    Their shadows are taken from their owners,
    For Unas is of those who risen is risen,
    Lasting lasts.
    Not can evil-doers harm the chosen seat of Unas
    Among the living in this land for all eternity.


* Texts excerpted from Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. 1: The Old and Middle Kingdom, edited by Miriam Lichthem, adapted by the composer with the kind permission of University of California Press.




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Henryk Gorecki   Amen (1975)

Henryk Gorecki was born December 6, 1933, in Silesia, a part of Poland that sustained elements of three cultures: Polish, Czech and German. “Why do I worship Mozart, Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Beethoven, Bach?” he once wondered. “... Because at the beginning of my musical education, when I had no idea about music – nothing! – these names were always near me.”

He studied composition at the State Higher School of Music in Katowice from 1955 to 1960. After some years in Paris, he returned to the school as professor of composition and, from 1975 to 1979, as its rector.

His compositions were known and respected in Poland, but Gorecki was not a well-known composer outside Poland until later in his career. During the 1960s, he and his post-war, Cold-War contemporaries from Eastern Europe became known for radical new work – dissonant, jarring, harsh, loud, brash, intellectual, avant-garde.

By the end of that decade, Gorecki had expanded his interest to older music – musical traditions from 13th-century Poland and polyphonic song of the 16th century. His music became more expressive, with richer tonal color. Many critics and music historians view this as a departure from the avant-garde which led to a temporary decline in his position among leading-edge composers.

His Symphony No. 3: Chants plaintifs of 1976 is considered by some to be the start of his rehabilitation. About a decade after its première, the work was chosen by the French filmmaker Maurice Pialat for his film Police, the soundtrack of which became a best-selling album, creating new audiences for Gorecki’s music.

The Amen to be performed this evening dates from the same period as his Symphony No. 3. It is often dissonant, but also resonant with energy and a profound expressive quality.



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Elena Ruehr   Cricket, Spider, Bee (1996)

This work for chorus, harp and percussion was commissioned by the Marsh Chapel Choir for its Festival of New Music, held Saturday, February 24, 1996, in Marsh Chapel at Boston University. Julian Wachner, then music director at Marsh Chapel and a faculty colleague of Ruehr’s at MIT, conducted the Marsh Chapel Choir and Chamber Orchestra.

In program notes for the festival, Ruehr wrote: “As [Emily] Dickinson’s poems can be sometimes obscure, I chose three with either more immediate meanings or with clear visual images. Although these poems were not grouped together by Dickinson, I made a set out of them because of their similarities in using insects as metaphors. In addition, the set makes a cycle that goes from evening to day, from the twilight sounds of Cricket, to the nighttime spinning of Spider, to the midday activity of Bee. Musically, I used two kinds of harmony to create a shift from dark to light, from chords built on an octatonic scale and those coming from the more familiar diatonic set, or major scale. This gives the piece a sound in some ways similar to that of early Stravinsky. Cricket is a straightforward text setting. Spider repeats in cycles that mirror the shape of a web, much as Dickinson’s rhyme and meter suggest that form. In Bee, I tried to evoke the endless expanse of a prairie through a mildly dissonant, buzzing harmony that is repeated in a tight rhythmic canon, making a larger and more complex texture from closely-related smaller units.”



Texts



I. Cricket

The cricket sang,
And set the sun,
And workmen finished, one by one,
   Their seam the day upon.

The low grass loaded with the dew,
The twilight stood as strangers do
With hat in hand, polite and new,
   To stay as if, or go.

A vastness, as a neighbor, came,
A wisdom without face or name,
A peace, as hemispheres at home,
   And so the night became.

II. Spider

A spider sewed at night
Without a light
Upon an arc of white.
If ruff it was of dame
Or shroud of gnome,
Himself, himself inform.
Of immortality
His strategy
Was physiognomy.

III. Bee

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.