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Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, Minn. — Our first music is by Howard Hanson, for many years the head of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. His motet A Prayer of the Middle Ages dates from the US bicentennial and starts in the most American way: with a fanfare, this one for voices, as the singers begin this ancient prayer dating from the 8th century:
The brilliance of this opening softens as the singers go on, to the final lines of text which read:
The Dale Warland Singers begin this Cathedral Classics concert with Howard Hanson’s 1976 Prayer of the Middle Ages.
The serenity that marks the end of Hansen’s setting is carried into this gorgeous next piece by Gustav Mahler. "Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen" ( I have lost track of the world.)
In 1901, Mahler stopped writing symphonies for a time, to create a set of five songs for solo voice on the poetry of Friedrich Ruckert. Mahler’s Ruckertlieder end with this song that he considered one of his finest efforts ever.
The poet expresses his weariness of life’s noise and defeat. Those who knew Mahler say the poem’s final line—"I live alone in my love and in my song"—summed Mahler up well.
Mahler wrote this for solo voice and orchestra, but it’s been given new life in this arrangement for choir. Gustav Mahler's "Ich bin der Welt", as performed by the Dale Warland Singers.
I am dead to the noise of the world. I rest in a place of quiet. I live alone in my heaven, In my loving, in my song.
That score was arranged just a few years ago by the German conductor and musicologist Clytus Gottwald. Mahler wrote the original, though, in 1901.
The next music was created much closer to our own time. It's by the Belgian Rudi Tas. His 1999 setting of the ancient Miserere text.
The singers begin humming so quietly you'll barely know the music's begun. Listen carefully, though, as that first beautiful clustered chord gives way to a surprising new voice, the solo cello. The mood will get more intense as the singers plead over and over for mercy ("miserere nobis"), until the gracefulness of that opening returns to close off the work.
Joining the Warland Singers is cellist Laura Sewell. This is Miserere by the Belgian, Rudi Tas.
Isn’t that a haunting ending? In the final bar, the composer asked the women to sing as quietly as possible. He wrote in the score not just one p for piano (meaning softly) but a string of seven p’s!, and that luminous chord was crowned by the cello all the way up on a high E.
The Singers will next offer a short liturgical piece by the late William Albright, his Chichester Mass.
Albright taught composition for many years at the University of Michigan. He was admired for his organ works, and for fueling the revival of Scott Joplin's piano rags several years ago. As for his own compositions, he stressed the importance of imagination and beauty of sound.
There's plenty of both in this Mass, based on traditional Anglican texts, sung in English, except for the first movement:
Kyrie (Lord have mercy)… (sung in Latin) Then… Glory Be To God on High Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord Lamb of God
"My music is generous and eclectic," Wm Albright once said. "I prefer messy diversity to boring unity." No mess or boredom in Albright's beautiful Chichester Mass. The ancient texts of the Anglican church as set to music in 1974, to celebrate the 900th anniversary of Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, England.
The Warland Singers recorded some of the selections of Albright's Mass on their CD entitled Bernstein and Britten in the late 1990s.
Music by Poland's Karol Szymanowski next. He was best-known for his symphonies, concertos, and operas, and his most popular choral work is his 1926 Stabat Mater.
The text portrays Mary’s grief at the cross. It's a turbulent hour-long piece, but at the heart of it lies "Fac me tecum," this quiet prayer built of the simplest chords. Sung in latin, the text begins:
Let me mingle tears with thee, mourning Him who mourned for me, all the days that I may live.
The Stabat Mater focuses on the grief of Mary as she stands on Calvary next to her son Jesus hanging on the cross. A piece dedicated to Mary is particularly fitting sung here: at the Basilica of St. Mary in Mpls. The DWS in performance. Marie Spar Dymit, the soprano soloist.
The Basilica is one of the Twin Cities' most glorious acoustic spaces for choirs to perform in. Former DWS composer in residence, Frank Ferko, uses the space in this next piece written for the Singers.
He asks the choir to surround the audience and sing very softly throughout, and a cellist to perform at some distance from the choir, too. The text combines Psalms 18 and 73.
Lord, let at last Thine angels come, to Abram’s bosom bear me home, that I may die unfearing. Ethereal new music, from Frank Ferko, performed by cellist Laura Sewell, joining the Dale Warland Singers at the Basilica of St. Mary.
It wouldn't be a Dale Warland Singers concert without a new piece of music premiered. The Singers have commissioned nearly 270 works over their 32 year history. This the most recent. Composer Frank Ferko choosing a text from Psalms 18 and 73, and using the bounties of space that exist here in the Basilica of St. Mary. The composer called for the singers to surround the audience, and for the cello to be situated apart from the choir, too. That poignant soprano solo at the beginning sung by Lynette Johnson, joining cellist Laura Sewell and the choir.
Next, the music of Norway’s leading composer today, Knut Nystedt, born in 1915. His, "O Crux" (Oh, Cross)
A longtime church organist, professor of choral conducting at the University of Oslo, Knut Nystedt is Norway’s musical elder statesmen. He's also written dozens of scores, most of them for choir, and running through nearly all of them is a deeply held religious faith.
"O Crux" begins with the sopranos singing those words (O cross) on the note A. This is the foundational pitch in music—the tuning note—and starting the piece here reveals Nystedt’s own conviction of the cross’s centrality within Christianity. Other voices enter and move by half-steps away from A, as the text (in Latin) pays homage to the cross:
And we end with a benediction. This from England, and composer John Tavener. His Song for Athene was written for a young friend of his, a talented actress named Athene who was killed in a 1993 cycling accident.
Tavener had heard her reading Shakespeare one day in London's Westminster Abbey, and after her death he composed this eulogy, using lines from the Orthodox liturgy and Shakespeare's play Hamlet.
Concluding our concert now with Song for Athene by John Tavener, the DWS in concert at the Basilica of St. Mary, conducted by DW.
If that music is familiar to you, you may recall it as the powerful accompaniment to a riveting visual image. A half-billion people watched on television that day in September 1997, as the flag-draped casket of Diana, Princess of Wales, was borne on the shoulders of Welsh Guardsmen marching slowly out of London's Westminster Cathedral. The music: Song for Athene by John Tavener.