The Providence Singers Presents

Julian Wachner (b. 1969) – Jubilate Deo  (2006 – World Première)

Lukas Foss (b. 1922) – Psalms  (1957)

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) – Chichester Psalms  (1965)

Julian WachnerPsalm Cycle III  (2003)

Charles Ives (1874-1954) – Psalm 90  (1923-24)

The Providence Singers
Julian Wachner, artistic director and conductor

Preparation: Andrew Clark, artistic director designate

Jason Abrams, countertenor
Heinrich Christensen, organ
Barbara Poeschl-Edrich, harp

The Junior Providence Singers
Andrew Clark, music director

The Rhode Island Children’s Choir
Christine Noel, director

8 p.m. Saturday, March 4, 2006
VMA Arts and Cultural Center
Providence, R.I.

Image: “Gainsborough Finds the Telephoto Useful,” a photograph made November 24, 2005,
from Sachuest Point looking west to St. George’s School in Newport, R.I.  Used by permission of the artist.

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Julian Wachner

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Notes on the Concert

Several millennia of human use and study have propelled the psalms to a unique place in world literature. The psalms are devotional, to be sure, finding a place in many faith traditions, equally at home in the grandest liturgies and in the humblest circumstances.

But as works of literature, they are also a magnificent record of the human struggle to understand the impenetrable questions of the cosmos: Who are we? Why do the righteous suffer? Why do the nations rage so furiously together? The psalms are ready, universally appealing, accessible to all.

They also inspire music. This evening’s concert offers a comparative look at how American composers since the mid-20th century have shaped different compositions around common themes. The Singers will perform three settings of the 23rd Psalm, two settings of the 100th, and parts of nearly a dozen more.

Julian Wachner’s Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100), commissioned for the Singers by Board Chair Patricia Fuller, is set for triple chorus plus children’s choir, reminiscent of the polychoral antiphonal works of Heinrich Schütz, the great German Renaissance master. (A cathedral-like overlapping acoustic decay is written right into the music.) “Jubilate is almost instrumental in its conception; the voices have a brass-like character,” Wachner has said. “It also acts like an overture for this concert, introducing all the elements – young singers, chorus, brass, organ – everything in a specific way.”

Wachner and Leonard Bernstein give the text of the 23rd Psalm to solo voices in Psalm Cycle III and Chichester Psalms, respectively. Wachner uses it as a point of entry for an examination of six psalms, ranging from exultation (“Sing to the Lord a new song”) to despair (“Out of the depths I cry to thee”) and ending with triumph (“Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!”)

Bernstein’s 23rd Psalm is innocent and melodic, scored for either a countertenor or a young boy and gently echoed by the women of the chorus. It is a tender and beautiful moment that is dramatically shattered by shouts and struggles: “Lamah rag’shu goyim?” – Why do the nations rage?

Foss gives the 23rd Psalm to the whole chorus, but uses it as a point of arrival, of resolution and quietude. He writes a rising passage that ends his Psalms on a note of optimism: “He restoreth my soul.”

Charles Ives

An Ives Biography

All of the American composers on this evening’s program owe a great debt to the quintessential American maverick Charles Ives. There are few ideas in modern American music, Wachner has said, that cannot be found somewhere in Ives’ work.

Some of the ideas reside only in the printed score. Psalm 90 begins with five sustained chords in the organ, each a carefully labeled sonorous metaphor: “The Eternities,” “Creation,” God’s Wrath Against Sin,” “Prayer and Humility,” and “Rejoicing in Beauty and Work.” Each verse is rich with text painting. The cut grass withereth; a thousand years are carried away as with a flood; anger and wrath are dissonant; musical lines literally fly away. Verse nine is a perfect palindrome, beginning in unison, building to a massively dissonant 22-voice chord, and returning to unison. (It is also the center of the work, with eight verses before and eight after.)

If Ives was the first, the original, the creative source of many American musical ideas, why is his the last work on the program? The answer is in verse 17, the hope of all serious-minded creative people, which Ives delivers in a barely audible whisper with church bells in the distance: “Yea, the work of our hands, establish Thou it. Amen.”