Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978)
Across the Vast Eternal Sky (2013)
Sacred Heart (2014)
The Ground (2010)
“This is something I like to do ... using the choir as accompaniment for the piano, functioning almost as a string orchestra, as a bed of warm and evocative sound. I love the sound of choir and strings doubling each other!”
— Ola Gjeilo
Pianist and composer Ola Gjeilo [Yay-lo] came to music as a young child in Norway, playing piano and improvising at five and learning to read music at seven. Raised and educated in Norway, he continued his musical studies at the Juilliard School (2001) and the Royal College of Music in London (2002–2004). He returned to Juilliard to earn his master’s degree (2006) and is now a composer living in Manhattan.
Although he is a pianist by training and composes for a variety of ensembles, he is internationally known for his choral works and often performs with choruses, providing improvisations at the keyboard. His music often has a strong, evocative sense of time or place, as with “Westminster Bridge,” a setting of William Wordsworth’s early morning reverie that receives its world premiere at these concerts. Tundra, a work that evokes the austere, mountainous Hardangervidda plateau in Norway, even has its own Instagram following, where listeners provide their own tagged photos of rugged mountainous landscapes.
The Providence Singers first encountered Gjeilo’s music in the April 2014 “All-American” concerts, performing The Ground and Dark Night of the Soul. Both of those compositions return for this weekend’s performances, with Dark Night of the Soul now paired with the later work, Luminous Night of the Soul.
Across the Vast Eternal Sky
“When Ola first approached me about a text for this piece we discussed several premises, including beginning with the last line of a previous collaboration, Tundra,” writes Charles Anthony Silvestri, who created the text for this and other Gjeilo compositions. “The line, ‘Across the vast, eternal sky,’ was the starting point of a discussion which eventually came around to the idea of a phoenix, a twist on the theme of rebirth (and the subject of other collaborations with Ola). The legend of the firebird offered creative opportunities to explore the themes of spiritual growth and renewal.”
Sacred Heart (Ubi Caritas III)
The “Ubi Caritas” text is a very old hymn of the Western church associated with the Maundy Thursday Mass, which includes the account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet during the Last Supper. Scholars date the Gregorian melody from the fourth to tenth centuries; the text itself may come from earlier Christian gatherings.
“Sacred Heart (Ubi Caritas III) is a setting of the second stanza from the three-stanza ‘Ubi Caritas’ text,” Gjeilo writes. “I’d already set the first in 1999 (Ubi Caritas) and the third one in 2012 (Ubi Caritas II: Through Infinite Ages). While Ubi Caritas II partly played around with some of the material from my first Ubi Caritas, Sacred Heart (Ubi Caritas III) is completely independent from the other two content-wise, and also deploys a string quartet. Ubi Caritas and Ubi Caritas II were written for a cappella choir.”
“The Ground is based on a chorale from the last movement of my Sunrise Mass (2008) for choir and string orchestra,” Gjeilo has written about the piece. “The chorale, beginning at ‘Pleni sunt caeli’ in that movement, is the culmination of the Mass. It’s called The Ground because I wanted to convey a sense of having ‘arrived’ at the end of the Mass, to have reached a kind of peace and grounded strength ... having gone through so many different emotional landscapes. I wanted to make a version that could be performed independent of the Mass, one that was also more accessible in terms of instrumentation. So I created a version with a piano and string quartet accompaniment, including a new intro and epilogue that mainly features the piano, with accompaniment from the choir and strings. This is something I like to do these days — sometimes using the choir as accompaniment for the piano, functioning almost as a string orchestra, as a bed of warm and evocative sound. I love the sound of choir and strings doubling each other!”