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Composers get unique chance to hear their works
By Brandt Williams
Minnesota Public Radio
August 9, 2002


During the World Choral Symposium in the Twin Cities this week, thousands of people have gotten the chance to hear music never before performed in front of live audiences. Some of the most interested listeners of these works are the 10 composers who created them. They are enjoying a rare experience for modern composers - a full-fledged performance of their work by some of the world's greatest singers.

Stephen Paulus
St. Paul-based composer Stephen Paulus has written a piece especially for the World Choral Symposium in the Twin Cities this week. He heard Vocal Essence perform his work, Love Opened a Mortal Wound, for the first time at a practice session this week.
(Photo courtesy of

St. Paul-based composer Stephen Paulus says he finished writing his composition in early June. However, Friday night he's hearing it performed by a live choir for the first time.

Paulus has come to the rehearsal of Vocal Essence at Plymouth Church in Minneapolis to hear the choir breathe life into Love Opened a Mortal Wound. A prolific and world-renowned composer, Paulus is apparently enjoying the experience. As conductor Phillip Brunelle directs the choir, Paulus follows the sheet music. Occasionally, he looks up at the choir members and mouths the words.

The song is based on a poem by Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, a 17th century Mexican nun known for her secular and sometimes erotic poetry. Paulus says he was drawn to her because of her ability to combine the secular and the sacred. Paulus offers a few suggestions to the choir, but overall he's satisfied.

The International Federation for Choral Music commissioned the 10 pieces for the symposium two years ago. However, composer and former University of Minnesota music professor Dominick Argento says it took him a long time to find inspiration.

Dominick Argento
Composer and former University of Minnesota music professor Dominick Argento says it took him a long time to find inspiration for his choral composition, even after Sept. 11. He says he found it in a Shakespeare sonnet which mentions "lofty towers, being down-raised."
(Photo courtesy of ASCAP)

Argento says even the tragic events of Sept. 11 didn't provide any musical ideas, until a friend sent him a note quoting a tragic Shakespeare sonnet which mentions "lofty towers, being down-raised."

"I thought this was the world's greatest case of serendipity because I had not found a text, and I had only toyed with the idea that I would ever write a piece for the symposium," Argento says.

Argento's piece, Sonnet 64, was performed by the Moscow State Conservatory Chamber Choir on Sunday. The composers didn't get to choose which choirs would perform their works. As the president of the symposium, Phillip Brunelle made the pairings.

Often the singers and composers don't share a language. But music allows Venezuelan composer Alberto Grau to tell the Dale Warland singers how he wants his song sung.

Grau says his piece, Confitemini Domino, which means "Give praise to God," is based on Psalm 32. It's a joyful piece, and throughout the rehearsal Grau urged choir members to smile.

"I like very much this kind of text because it is very happy and very funny," Grau says. "I think that in life we need a little more to be happy and not so serious, personally, yes?"

The Okubu Mixed Choir of Japan premiered Minnesota composer Libby Larsen's work, May Sky, Friday afternoon. erformances by the Dale Warland Singers and Vocal Essence will be part of the farewell concert at Orchestra Hall Saturday night.

More from MPR
  • MPR Music's coverage of the symposium