Eighteen Lips

April 2000

Program Notes

 I. Love, Big and Bold

 

 Den blida vår är inne

arr. Gunnar Eriksson

 Over oceans

Jonatha Brooke

 No Words

Jonathan Miller

 El Grillo

Josquin des Prez

 II. Shakespeare on Love, and Sentiments Related

 

 Tirsi morir volea

Luca Marenzio

 It wasa lover and his lass

John Rutter

 Three Antique Pieces

György Orbán

     1. O Pan

 

     2. Orpheus with his Lute

 

     3. Dramolett

 

 III. Very Requited Passion

 

 Rumi Triptych

 poetry: Jelaluddin Rumi, music: Jonathan Miller

     1. The Two Insomnias

 

     2. Love is a Madman

 

     3. Come to the Orchard

 

 Si, ch’iovorrei morire

Claudio Monteverdi

INTERMISSION

 IV. Kisses and Roses

 

 Alla that’s all right, but . . .

Bernice Johnson Reagon

 Dialogue on a Kiss

Henry Lawes (1596-1662), arr. J. Miller

 O waly, waly

arr. John Rutter

 from Les chansons des roses

Morten Lauridsen

     1. En une seule fleu

 

     2. De ton rêve trop plein

 

 V. Many Splendors

 

 Nicolette

Maurice Ravel

 Shall I compare thee?

Nils Lindberg

 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

Maschwitz/Sherwin, arr. Gene Puerling

 She’s No Lady, She’s My Wife

Lyle Lovett, arr. J. Miller

INTRODUCTION

This is our final series concert of the seventh year we’ve been performing in Chicago. Choirs don’t get sabbaticals, but it’s good to take a break from some of our more intense themes and have a concert solely devoted to amour. Hence tonight’s program.

I have only borrowed a few pieces from our “All About Love” concert in the spring of 1995. I found myself looking back on the four years between “love” concerts, during which one could say that this ensemble has come of age. You may not know that I started this group while living in West Lafayette, Indiana, where my wife was at Purdue for graduate school. Having just turned thirty, I decided that it was time to start my own professional ensemble in Chicago. I wanted musicians devoted to superb repertoire and world-class blend, always polished and never stuffy. I auditioned fourteen singers, took eight people plus myself, and off we went. For the first two and a half years, I commuted up for marathon weekends, and we gave concerts twice a year. I was selling advertising at the time, absorbing virtually all of the ensemble’s expenses myself.

How times have changed! As soon as I moved back to the Chicago area (Oak Park) in the summer of 1995, the ensemble as we now know it began to take shape. Matt Greenberg joined the staff as executive director. Always an amazing, thoughtful colleague, he learned more in that first year than either of us thought possible. In January 1996, we convened our new board and recorded our Palestrina CD for Centaur. That fall we inaugurated our subscription series and received our first Illinois Arts Council program grant; in January 1997 I became a full-time musician; and in October 1998 we moved the ensemble out of my house and into the Arts Bridge Business Incubator suite in Lakeview. And on it goes, incredibly enough. In November 1999 we began recording demo CDs for Hinshaw Music. Two months ago, Matt quit his other “day job” to devote himself to Chicago a cappella. At the end of this fiscal year I will happily step down as president of the board, to replaced by a volunteer member of our board.

It’s all in service of the music. Producing fabulous concerts for YOU is why we have taken all of the above steps. If you’re blown away, we’re doing our jobs right. We’re glad you’re here. Please thank the singers if you enjoy the concert. They work very hard, and they always appreciate your praises!

—Jonathan Miller
 

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

arr. Gunnar Eriksson: Den blida vår är inne

This piece came to me via my colleague Gunnar Eriksson of Gothenburg, Sweden. Gunnar is founder and director of The Rilke Ensemble—like Chicago a cappella, a virtuoso ensemble of soloists. On the Rilke group’s recent concert tour, they performed at North Park University. Before the concert, Gunnar handed me a CD, Det korta livet (The short life), containing this jubilant piece. In typical Gunnarese fashion, a simple tune is transformed through improvisation, repetition, and all sorts of things you’re “not supposed to do” with folk tunes. The text itself celebrates the coming of spring, the warming of the earth and fields, and the fertility that bursts forth when Scandinavia emerges from its long winter slumbers. In other words: welcome to spring—now get out and frolic!

Jonatha Brooke: Over oceans

One of the alternative rock scene’s most talented singer/songwriters, Jonatha Brooke is based in Boston. For many years she was the creative force behind The Story, a band she formed with singer Jennifer Kimball. The Story’s 1992 album Grace in Gravity features this terrific duet.

Jonathan Miller: No words

I wrote this poem a few months ago and showed it to my wife, who said, “Cool. Is it for Eighteen Lips?” I hadn’t intended it that way, but rather as religious music; it was written for my Unitarian church choirs, to use as an introit at the start of a Sunday service. So be it. In my experience, the religious impulse—that feeling of encountering the Great Spirit fully—sometimes feels very similar to the experience of deep love for a fellow human being. Composing has brought me ever closer to the source of all being, since for me that is what creates the music.

Josquin: El grillo

It may not be eighty degrees yet today, but the cricket will heat things up. This delightful piece, of the frottola genre, has been a favorite of college and university choirs for decades. It dates from the 1570s, when Josquin des Prez was in Milan. In addition to its chirps, apparently it is a sort of a dig at Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, who was Josquin’s boss and a very mean man. My favorite recording of it is still the David Munrow rendition from The Art of the Netherlands, one of the greatest early-music albums ever made.

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Marenzio: Tirsi morir volea

Renaissance poetry usually speaks only obliquely of making love, sidestepping the real issue. This piece is a welcome exception. Everyone knew in late-16th-century Italy what, uh, “death” meant in love poetry. Marenzio actually composes it into his madrigal.“Tirsi” is a typical shepherd’s name. Though we never learn the name of his woman lover, it is completely clear what the nymph and Tirsi are up to. The climax of the second section is remarkably like, well, you know. In our rehearsals, I have referred to the tender final section as “the cigarette after.” Your imagination can supply the rest.

Rutter: It was a lover and his lass

John Rutter is rather a phenomenon in the classical-music world. Rutter’s compositions, be they original works or his fetching arrangements of traditional melodies and texts, are sung by virtually every high school, college, church, and professional choir in the English-speaking countries and beyond. Rutter studied at Clare College, Cambridge. As an undergraduate he wrote his first published compositions and conducted his first recording. He was Director of Music

at Clare College from 1975. He left in 1979 to pursue his composing and conducting careers, at the same time forming the Cambridge Singers, a professional chamber choir primarily dedicated to recording on the Collegium label. Recent additions to his extensive list of works include Birthday Madrigals, Psalmfest, an edition of Opera Choruses and a collection of European Sacred Music, all published by Oxford University Press. This piece takes a light, vocal-jazz approach to a song from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Act 5, Scene 3. The song is sung by a page to Touchstone and Audrey, who are excitedly anticipating their wedding. (I am not a Shakespeare scholar; this information comes from the acclaimed Australian Website known as “The Works of The Bard.”)

Orbán: Three Antique Pieces (world premiere of cycle)

György Orbán is emerging as a new force in choral music in this country. Born in 1947 in the Romanian province of Transylvania, he emigrated to Hungary in 1979, following composition studies and, later, a faculty appointment at the Music Academy of Kolozsvar-Cluj-Clausenburg. He was recently appointed Associate Professor of composition at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest. He led a workshop at the North Central ACDA convention last month.

Orbán’s music defies easy classification. He has a superb command of harmony, which he combines with a keen rhythmic sense and a gift for setting language for singers. He throws in the occasional Eastern-European influence as well, creating a style with a strong personal stamp and, for me, great appeal. His best-known work, Daemon Irrepit Callidus, has been a smash hit on the college-choir circuit. Three Antique Pieces were composed in Hungary (and in Hungarian) in the early 1990s; the cycle was only recently translated into English, making this the debut performance in its new language.

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Jonathan Miller: Rumi Triptych (world premiere)

I began composing just over a year ago. I was working diligently through The Artist’s Way, a wonderful book on the creative process. One day, I suddenly realized that I had a powerful impulse to write original music. It was a visceral, bodily thing, like needing to eat lunch or to go for a walk to get some fresh air. By the end of July I had written half a dozen pieces; the first three were for the choirs at Unity Temple, and this cycle came next. The word “triptych” usually refers to a painting composed of three panels, like a Renaissance altarpiece. This cycle feels that way to me, a three-paneled look at Rumi’s verse. It all began with Love is a Madman. I found that poem in my father’s library in Portland, Oregon; as soon as I read it, I knew it would propel a composition for Chicago a cappella. The piece was done shortly upon my return home. My friend Susan Adams then sent me the other two poems, which have become musical bookends for the longer work in the middle.

This is pretty advanced stuff for the 13th century! Like many great mystic poets, Rumi takes simple, everyday things and uses them as a springboard for direct contact with the divine. In my music, I’ve tried to capture the ways that Rumi’s poetry constantly shifts in style and rhythm. Mostly, however, the words embody deep, clever passion. I am blessed to be able to write for this brilliant ensemble, and grateful to have the singers’ enthusiasm for these pieces.

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

Bernice Johnson Reagon: Alla that’s all right, but . . .

One of my favorite composers, Bernice Johnson Reagon is also a renowned scholar and historian of music. She is a composer and songleader in the 19th-century, Southwest-Georgia choral tradition. She founded the African-American women’s vocal ensemble, Sweet Honey In The Rock, in 1973. Dr. Reagon is Distinguished Professor of History at the American University and Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History. Dr. Reagon has served as consultant composer and performer for several film and video projects; she conceptualized the National Public Radio and Smithsonian Peabody Award winning radio series “Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions.” A 1989 recipient of MacArthur Fellowship, Reagon was awarded the Presidential Medal, the 1995 Charles Frankel Prize for outstanding contribution to public understanding of the humanities, by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1996, Reagon received an Isadora Duncan award for the score to Rock, a ballet directed by Alonzo King for LINES Contemporary Ballet Company.

Even heroes for social justice have to get some lovin’. Reagon writes in her songbook: “We are collectively struggling for liberation, organizing against racism, exploitation, and injustice. And alla that’s all right, but . . .”

Lawes: Dialogue on a Kiss

The most important English song composer of the 17th century, Lawes wrote many duets in addition to solo songs. I have taken the liberty of replacing the usual continuo band (harpsichord, lute, theorbo, and/or viola da gamba) with an a cappella vocal realization of the continuo part.

Lauridsen: Two songs from “Les chansons des roses”

Morten Lauridsen is Professor and Chair of the Department of Composition at the University of Southern California School of Music. Among his grants, prizes, and commissions are awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, and Chorus America. His vocal works include five cycles, of which Les Chansons des roses (1994) is most recent; Chicago a cappella gave this cycle its local premiere in 1995, singing the first three songs in the set. Lauridsen’s fame has spread far and wide since then, with works such as O magnum mysterium and Lux eterna hitting the classical charts like few works have in the 1990s. These texts are by Rainer Maria Rilke. Lauridsen writes: “Rilke wrote nearly four hundred poems in French. His poems on roses struck me as especially charming, filled with gorgeous lyricism, deftly crafted, and elegant in their imagery. I knew immediately upon reading the poems that I must set them to music.... I wanted this cycle to be completely accessible, elegant, charming, and delightful to perform and to hear.”

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Maurice Ravel: Nicolette

Both Debussy and Ravel wrote a cappella choral cycles of Trois chansons. Ravel was rejected from combat service in World War I because he was underweight and short. Driving trucks instead to support French troops, he composed his songs in 1915, while an enlisted man. This piece, on the eternal theme of opportunism, is the first in the cycle of three.

Nils Lindberg: Shall I compare thee?

arr. Puerling: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

Lyle Lovett, arr. J. Miller: She’s No Lady, She’s My Wife

Moving into the lighter side of a cappella repertoire, we conclude with three pieces to set just the right mood. Nils Lindberg is one among a group of younger Swedish composers who have been influenced by American jazz idioms; this a cappella movement appears in his extended cycle called O Mistress Mine, for solo cabaret-style singers, piano, and other instruments, recorded in Sweden in 1990. A Nightingale Sang may be familiar from the Manhattan Transfer’s recording. We’re happy to revisit this piece, which appeared on our very first concert in 1993. Finally, I am happy to present a tune from the ever-twisted Lyle Lovett, who is one of my favorite performers in any genre. Always twisting and always twisted (and I don’t just mean his big hair), Lyle manages to skewer the clichéd conventions of R&B and country music, writing hilarious lyrics and terrific music to go with it. This tune comes from his Pontiac album of about ten years ago. Listen for the horn-section effects in the chorus!