Love Stories

February 2018

Program Notes

Bay mir bistu sheyn Sholom Secunda (1894-1974) abd Jacob Jacobs (c. 1890-1977), arr. Mark Zuckerman
   
Getting to Know You / Surrey with the Fringe on Top Rodgers/Hammerstein, arr. Patrick Sinozich
   
Something's Gotta Give Johnny Mercer, arr. Patrick Sinozich
   
Volgea l'anima mia soavemente Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
   
Thy two breasts (from Kisses of Myrrh) Jonathan Miller (b. 1962)
   
Rosa Maria José Monge Cruz ("Camarón de la Isla") (1950-1992), arr. Jonathan Miller
   
My love is like a fever Håkan Parkman (1955-1988)
   
Fever Cooley/Blackwell, arr. Deke Sharon
   
Summer Sonnet Kevin Olson (b. 1971)
   
Te quiero Alberto Favero, arr. Lilianna Cangiano
   
La rose complète Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943)
   
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why Stacy Garrop (b. 1969)
   
There will never be another you M. Gordon/H. Warren, arr. Anders Jalkeus/A. Edenroth
   
God Only Knows Brian Wilson/Tony Asher, arr. Thomas Bergquist
   
My Funny Valentine Rodgers/Hart, arr. Bob Krogstad
encore:  The Lark in the Clear Air arr. Paul Crabtree

 

FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

Welcome to Love Stories. You might call this a journey through many of the chords that are played on the heartstrings over the course of a life and a relationship. From breathless anticipation to regret, from open-hearted declarations to more indirect statements, from hot to cool and temperatures in between, we’ve got a wide range of ways to speak the language of love in music. The lyricists range from the writer(s) of the Hebrew Bible’s Song of Songs to William Shakespeare to the greats of Broadway and the American Songbook.

Being an extroverted person (and totally in love with my wife), I must say that I often like the direct approach in a love lyric. I like telling people that I love them! However, I realize that this is not everyone’s style, and of course there are times when a more side-door expression of affection is order, or even fun or clever. I particularly like the metaphor of Something’s Gotta Give, which appeals to the former math nerd in me. Of course, My Funny Valentine is a brilliant lyric partly because of all the things the narrator says that the beloved is not; much like Ellington’s classic Li’l Darlin’, the song celebrates the ordinary. So few songs champion the everyday-ness of a lover, which is partly why we find the line “Don’t change a hair for me” so touchingly disarming.

As is true on many a concert by Chicago a cappella, you’ll encounter songs from several centuries and musical styles, sung in several languages (Yiddish, Italian, French, Spanish, and of course English). The earliest piece is by Monteverdi, whose music published around the year 1600 helped to bridge the styles that we now call Renaissance and Baroque. We also love what living composers are doing and are pleased to bring you classics of our own time, such as Lauridsen’s La rose complète, as well as works which may be new to you.

Being based in Chicago as we are, it’s natural for Chicago a cappella to look to our thriving theatre community for inspiration and collaborators. We have done this in several previous seasons, but never quite like this. Tom Mula, our ever-brilliant writer/director colleague, and our superb acting team of Karen Janes Woditsch and Michael Weber, will help to bring our musical selections to life. Tom’s wonderful idea was to cast our actors as a later-life couple looking back on many phases of their relationship, which gives an unusual depth to his script. We are grateful for the opportunity to add this dramatic narrative dimension to our lyric poetry and music.

Thanks also to Principal Music Director John William Trotter for his masterful shepherding of the rehearsal process, and to our intrepid, curious, tremendously talented singers, who leave it all on the stage every time and who continue to astound us all with their flexibility, musicality, and good cheer.

—Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director

 

A MESSAGE FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR

Romantic love is a many-splendored thing, as famous for its changeability as for any other feature. For this reason, many of the genres connected to this topic are studies in miniature. Think of the Italian madrigal Volgea l’anima mia, with its close setting of highly-charged texts.

Romantic love is often associated with newness: with springtime, sunshine, roses, and butterflies, and all the happiness and optimism such images can represent. In this program, we find such descriptions run the gamut from Shakespeare to Rodgers and Hammerstein. In Summer Sonnet, Shakespeare’s poem finds new life in syncopated rhythms developed centuries later.  In Surrey with the Fringe on Top, lighthearted swing rhythms depict horses clip-clopping while springtime “chicks and ducks and geese better scurry…” 

On the other hand, romantic love can also be associated with being unable to eat or sleep or even think clearly. With all the heat romantic love can bring, sometimes the best metaphor is an illness, a Fever. We have two examples on this program, one irresistibly groovy and one balancing on the edge of madness itself.

Whether happy or crazy or both, not many of those smitten by love seek a cure. It has been my privilege to work with some of this city’s finest singers and actors to bring you these Love Stories.

—John William Trotter
Principal Music Director
 

Notes on the Music by Jonathan Miller unless noted otherwise

Sholom Secunda, arr. Mark Zuckerman: Bay mir bistu sheyn

Before this tune was made famous by the Andrews Sisters, it originally saw  life as a song from the Yiddish theatre. It was written for the 1932 musical, M’ken lebn nor m’lost nit (One Could Really Live, but They Won’t Let You). Sholom Secunda sold the rights for a paltry sum, thirty dollars, to a publisher four years later. Sammy Cahn’s now-famous English lyric has gone the world over, thanks to so many top musicians of the day who recorded it. Still, his English version bears little resemblance to the original, other than the refrain. New Jersey-based composer Mark Zuckerman, who created an a cappella version of the all-Yiddish original, has supplied—specifically for this show—a new English translation of the opening verse, giving it a gist, and a structure, much closer to the original sentiment. The final chorus, still sung here in Yiddish, includes a little joke about how one spells the words “Oy!” and “Ay!” in Yiddish.

Rodgers/Hammerstein, arr. Patrick Sinozich: Getting To Know You/Surrey With the Fringe on Top

Much more than a simple song about flirtation, “Getting to Know You” comes from The King and I, a groundbreaking study in cross-cultural understanding. While trying to create a work for Broadway, Oscar Hammerstein II struggled with the 1944 novel by Margaret Landon, failing to see how it could inspire a plot for a musical. He hit upon the idea of a subplot with Tuptim and Lun Tha, two secondary characters whose love could be expressed (which Anna’s and the King’s could not) but not fulfilled, and Richard Rodgers gave rich vocal material to both minor characters. “Surrey” is from Oklahoma!, a musical that some said had no business being successful because it had no big stars, no scantily-clad showgirls and no gags or bad jokes. However, it ran for five years on Broadway, shattering all previous records. This medley is a creation of Chicago a cappella’s Music Director Emeritus, Patrick Sinozich.

Johnny Mercer, arr. Patrick Sinozich: Something‘s Gotta Give

Patrick Sinozich’s playfulness comes through in this chart, initially created for one of our spring Gala events. John Trotter led the ensemble in a performance of this song on the first show he directed for us, The A Cappella American Songbook. Listen for the fun vocal percussion, enjoy the lyric (which is sort of a combination of Newtonian physics and matters of the heart), and get swept up in the mood.

Claudio Monteverdi: Volgea l'anima mia soavemente

In his Fourth Book of Madrigals, Monteverdi pulled out all the stops of the prima prattica, the school of counterpoint he had so thoroughly mastered. This poem balances an earlier one in the same publication in terms of tone and intensity.

Jonathan Miller: Thy two breasts (from Kisses of Myrrh)

Staying with older lyrics for a while, we come to this breathless setting of a text from Song of Songs, that superb love poem in the Hebrew Bible. Jonathan Miller wrote the cycle Kisses of Myrrh for a Chicago a cappella concert called  Let him kiss me: The intimate a cappella, in which only a quintet of singers performed. The cycle is in five movements, of which this is the fourth. Some of the texts in the cycle are more languid and sultry. This one, by contrast, is completely excited. The composer writes:

I still remember how exciting it was to set this text. This poem has it all: metaphor, simile, concrete animal images, and lands of fantasy (there is no actual “mountain of myrrh” or “hills of frankincense,” as far I can tell—these grow on trees). There is a sense of dramatic physical movement in the lyric—what fun to set the phrase “Thy two breasts are like two fawns that are twins of a gazelle,” words which evoke speed, intimacy and intensity. Have you ever seen a deer spring from stillness into motion? Have you ever wanted to jump into someone’s heart like that? If you’re lucky, you’ve had the feeling reciprocated. And it’s hard to improve on the image of the world’s best kiss than the line that says, “Thy lips, O my bride, drop honey.” We have to savor the honey as it drops;  that line appears several times in the song, punctuated by moments of silence, perhaps there to allow us to take a breath before the next kiss.

José Monge Cruz (“Camarón de la Isla”), arr. Jonathan Miller: Rosa Maria

In February 2015, Chicago a cappella presented a program called A cappella en español, in collaboration with Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater. One of the songs on that program, which was enhanced by that group’s superb dancers, was this flamenco classic. The song is by the late, great gypsy singer José Monge Cruz (whose stage name was “Camarón de la Isla,” or “Island Shrimp,” so called by his uncle for his blonde hair and fair skin), widely recognized as one of the greatest flamenco singers ever to engage in the art form. His collaborations with the guitarists Tomatito and Paco de Lucia were legendary. Camarón’s recordings were some of the first to feature electric bass, which characterizes the style known as nuevo flamenco. This arrangement for a cappella choir was created by Jonathan Miller for those 2015 performances.

Håkan Parkman: My love is like a fever

In 1996, the renowned European vocal sextet Singer Pur released a groundbreaking recording called “Nordisk Vokalmusik” (Nordic Vocal Music). That pan-Scandinavian collection included this haunting piece by the short-lived Swedish composer Håkan Parkman, who died tragically in a motorcycle accident in his early 30s. His works are emotionally intense, rich in harmonic sophistication, and direct in their approach to text. This sonnet by Shakespeare describes the fevered state of one in love, a delirium well captured by the dissonances that Parkman composes between the “hot” soprano line and the “cool” backing choir.

Cooley/Blackwell, arr. Deke Sharon: Fever

Peggy Lee’s name springs to mind whenever this song title is mentioned. Her cool, yet totally hot, presentation of the song is the classic rendition, imitated by many but never outdone. A close second, however, is this a cappella version by the great Deke Sharon, a pioneer in the new wave of a cappella pop, creator of The Sing-Off on television, and prolific arranger. Listen for the extra jokes.

 

I N T E R M I S S I O N


Kevin Olson: Summer Sonnet

Known primarily as a master teacher of piano and creator of piano methods and new piano works, Kevin Olson is associate professor of music at Utah State University. While teaching at Elmhurst College in the Chicago area, he encountered Chicago a cappella and submitted this terrific work, a bossa nova take on Shakespeare’s famous sonnet. The tenor solo soars and leaps both high and low, while the accompanying choral parts create rich, lush harmonies and the piece’s overall rhythmic groove.

Alberto Favero, arr. Liliana Cangiano: Te quiero

The poem by the admired Uruguayan journalist, novelist, and poem Mario Benedetti—one of Latin America’s most important writers in the later 20th century—finds musical life in this composition by Alberto Favero, an Argentine composer of popular music. This choral arrangement is by the late Liliana Cangiano, also of Argentina, considered one of the most prestigious and popular arrangers of choral music in all of Latin America. The piece is an international favorite in the choral world and is regularly programmed by conductors who lead choral festivals. The poem’s tremendous warmth is captured by Favero’s tune—and by the way Cangiano voices the chords to ring and resound with love.

Morten Lauridsen:  La rose complète (from Les Chansons des Roses)

Renowned for his monumental Lux Aeterna as well as his O magnum mysterium, Mid-Winter Songs, Nocturnes and other works, Morten Lauridsen has carved a permanent niche in the American choral landscape. Musicologist Nick Strimple, a longtime colleague of the composer at USC in Los Angeles, has written that Lauridsen’s work “contains an elusive and indefinable ingredient which leaves the impression that all the questions have been answered.” Lauridsen achieves this effect through intensely wrought counterpoint; one might call his writing old-school, along the lines of Brahms, since it is so well crafted, showing great patience with each line. At the same time, the best counterpoint creates soaring harmonies, and Lauridsen’s best works truly make the heavens open up harmonically. This song is the fourth in the five-movement cycle that he wrote in the early 1990s on French texts of Rainer Maria Rilke. Lauridsen’s writing here, as in the whole cycle, is gloriously understated; both composer and poet, barely keep their feet on the ground while plumbing the depths of the heart.

Stacy Garrop: What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why

Critic Arthur Smith notes that in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s best work there is a “lyrical stoicism,” and we certainly see that here. Smith calls this poem “the voice of a woman who has seemingly picked her way through life and love, and has now found herself alone, and is aware of the profound loss of that singing around her and within her.” Millay’s brilliance shines forth in her structural choices as well as her vocabulary. The intense opening sentence takes up all of the first eight lines, while the first line itself, all monosyllables, is “chewy,” taking much effort to speak, let alone to sing. We also are intrigued because the poet does not mention “whose” lips she has forgotten, but rather “what” lips, a word choice more sensuous than personal.

What wonderful material, then, for composer Stacy Garrop to have chosen for this dramatic and powerful work. This piece was composed on a commission from the Dale Warland Singers, the first movement of Garrop’s Sonnets of Love and Chaos. Stacy Garrop brings her characteristic masterful control of rhythm and harmonic dissonance to the service of expressing the text. Those of you who were at our fall program will recall her powerful setting of Carl Sandburg’s Give Me Hunger, which began with driving intensity and ended up with great sweetness. This text by Millay is more elegiac, weaving its magic with sinewy, almost eerie phrases, including slight pitch-slides and sections simply on the syllable “oo.” Indeed, the ghosts of love that Millay mentions are not far off, haunting our memories and imaginations. 

M. Gordon/H. Warren, arr. Anders Jalkeus/A. Edenroth: There Will Never Be Another You

The Swedish five-voice a cappella sensation known as The Real Group burst onto the scene in 1984 with stunning recordings of American jazz standards and Songbook arrangements, including this chart from their early album “Nothing But The Real Group.” Most of this arrangement was done by their founding low bass and vocal percussionist, Anders Jalkeus, who sang in the group until 2015. While only the group’s countertenor/tenor and lead arranger, Anders Edenroth, remains from the original lineup, the ensemble has stood the test of time, as has this early arrangement.

Brian Wilson/Tony Asher, arr. Thomas Bergquist: God Only Knows

One of the most important rock albums ever is Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, which included vocal layering techniques that made possible songs like Good Vibrations. On that album we find God Only Knows, a classic ballad that here finds an a cappella treatment by one of the Real Group’s early arrangers. The “flat 2” chords in this setting remind us that we are in the land of vocal jazz as opposed to straight-up ‘60s rock.

Rodgers and Hart, arr. Bob Krogstad:  My Funny Valentine
This song was originally addressed to a hapless and goofy-looking man, Valentine LaMar, in the 1937 show Babes in Arms. It has been covered countless time. We have made good use of Bob Krogstad’s masterful arrangement, featuring it in three of our most popular productions: The A Cappella American Songbook, Jewish Roots of Broadway and The Birds and the Bees. One particular feature that stands out is the melody’s presence in the bass voice part, which helps to give the sense that things are slightly unusual; perhaps this is Krogstad’s way of reminding us that looks (or, in this case, “listens”) can be deceiving, calling us to pay attention and to look beneath the surface—which, after all, is the point of the lyric.