Kindling the Flame

February 2004

Program Notes

 Salve, regina

plainchant

 Kung Liljekonvalje    

David Wikander (1884-1955)

 Pleasure

Malcolm Dalglish

*   *   *   *   *

 Quant j’ai ouy le tabourin from Trois Chansons

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

  Waltz for Debby

Bill Evans, arr. Peder Karlsson

 From Four Shakespeare Songs:

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

   Come away, death

 

   Double, double, toil andtrouble

 

Chicago a cappella

 Mille regretz

Josquin des Prez (1440-1521)

 How beautiful this finely woven earth

Greg Jasperse

Chicago Children’s Choir Madrigal Ensemble

 Salvation is created

Pavel Tschesnokoff (1877-1924)

 The West Lake

Chen Yi

 A Tickle

Jonathan Miller

Chicago a cappella and CCC Madrigal Ensemble

INTERMISSION

 Salve mater misericordiae

Tim Sarsany  (b. 1965)

 Elégie

Erik Satie (1866-1925),
arr. Gunnar Eriksson

 Homeless

Paul Simon, arr. Jonathan Miller

Chicago a cappella

 Ubi caritas

Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)

 Zadliki’indonga Jericho

trad. South African

Chicago Children’s Choir Madrigal Ensemble

 Elijah Rock

spiritual, arr. Moses Hogan

Chicago a cappella and CCC Madrigal Ensemble

INTRODUCTION

Every Chicago a cappella concert is by necessity a product of its artistic staff and their individual lives. This concert draws on my own personal history more fully than most, because it is the first-ever collaboration between the adult ensemble I founded ten years ago and the youth ensemble in which I spent ten formative, powerful years. Fortunately, I happen to be living and working in the same metropolitan area in which I grew up. Also fortunately, the Chicago Children’s Choir still exists and is going strong.  Such circumstances, combined with a warm and enthusiastic relationship between our organizations, have made possible this artistic collaboration between Chicago a cappella and the Chicago Children’s Choir. 

Chicago a cappella would not exist if I had not spent the last ten years of my musical youthin the Chicago Children’s Choir, sitting literally at the elbow of its founder, Rev. Dr. Christopher Moore, and singing a dazzlingly eclectic mix of repertoire from the moment I walked into the CCC at the age of nine. I had a pretty good voice and worked pretty hard. By the time I was twelve, I had sung boy soprano solos in both the BernsteinChichester Psalms and in a complete staged version of Bernstein’s Mass.  As a second-alto chorister, I  sang Renaissance works, modern American scores and folksong settings, and great music by Haydn, Bach, Brahms, and Mozart, not to mention countless spirituals. But something was unique about the CCC in those days, a quality that to this day most American children’s choirs lack: Chris Moore understood the power, social as well as vocal, of keeping young men in the choir after their voices changed. Then, as now, the CCC boasts a powerful men’s section, giving the CCC the rare capability of singing true mixed-choir music and, perhaps more importantly, giving the youngest males in the training choirs a set of role models to emulate.

It was as a young bass, at the age of fifteen, on tour over spring break, then I first had the thought, “I’d like to do this all the time when I grow up.” It was a compelling vision, fueled by splendid repertoire, spirited singing, and the fellowship of other kids who lived to sing.

While it took half a dozen private voice teachers to provide me with a solid sense of vocal technique—a sensibility which infuses all of Chicago a cappella’s singing, due to the caliber of singers who make up the professional group—the other half of CAC’s success is the actual music we sing. I am grateful for compliments about the music that CAC sings, but I wasn’t born knowing how to program a great concert. Chris Moore is probably still the most brilliant programmer of choral concerts I have ever known, and I strive to emulate his example in my own work. Since he died before Chicago a cappella came into existence, he never had the chance to hear what a professional ensemble could do with his brand of sensibilities about repertoire, but I dare to hope that he would have liked what we’ve done.

On today’s program, you’ll hear a typical Chicago a cappella-style mix of repertoire, with a healthy focus on recent music, both from classical and pop traditions. I want to point out that this is the first time CAC has ever hosted another ensemble to be the guest on our own series. We are thrilled at the caliber of musicianship that the young singers of the CCC Madrigal Ensemble bring to this enterprise. Rehearsing the combined group of more than two dozen singers has been a true pleasure. I am often told that Chicago a cappella by itself sounds like a choir of 24 voices, but it’s especially nice to take our regular sound and augment it with many more people, resulting in a big, powerful sound.

As Garrison Keillor said in a now-famous speech to Chorus America, choral music and choral singing are, at their core, spiritual endeavors, creating a kind of community like no other.  Whether the music is religious, or a love song, or atmospheric or funny, there is a quality of humanity that yearns for deep connection with other human beings, and that yearning can be fulfilled in remarkable ways when people gather to sing.  I hope that the flame which was lit in me many years ago, and which shines in all of us here on stage, makes its way to you during the course of this concert, inspiring and kindling something true and remarkable for you.  Thank you so much for being here.

—Jonathan Miller

NOTES ON THE MUSIC

plainchant:  Salve, regina

Among the most beloved plainchant melodies are the four Marian antiphons, sung daily at Compline, the final service of the day. The antiphons are Alma redemptoris Mater, Ave Regina caelorum, Regina caeli laetare, and this one. The first two phrases have parallel melodies with essentially the same shape. The next two lines also have parallel melodies, echoing the similar nature of their opening words:  "To you we cry / To you we sigh." From there the melody becomes more angular and irregular, as the prayer takes on an increasingly personal and pleading tone.

David Wikander:  Kung Liljekonvalje

This is one of the most beloved of all Swedish choral pieces, on a poem by Gustaf Fröding (in turn one of that country’s best-loved writers). It was published right after World War II by David Wikander, who spent most of his life devoted to the Lutheran Church in Sweden. Stig Jacobsson has written, “David Wikander worked for many decades as a church musician, and this left its mark on his achievement as a composer. . . . Wikander’s secular choral songs are distinguished by the rare skill of their part writing, and by a lyrical, romantic and typically Scandinavian tonal language which has helped to make them an indispensable part of our cultural heritage. Dofta, dofta vit syrén, Förvårskväll and above all Kung Liljekonvalje belong to the favorite repertoire of Swedish choirs and have almost acquired the status of folk songs.” Fröding’s poem creates its own complete fairyland-world, whose visual details find a remarkable complement in Wikander’s skillful setting. The composer’s gift for melody permeates the work.


Malcolm Dalglish:  Pleasure

This song is like the distillation of pure bliss—excited, breathless, playful, fun, and intense, all at the same time. Malcolm Dalglish is a world-renowned hammer-dulcimer virtuoso and singer, who has been composing significant quantities of choral music for young people over the past twenty years. (We sang his hilarious Pie R Pie song in the fall of 2002 as part of our “food” concert, complete with flying food and Hoss Brock’s French-chef imitation.) Dalglish recorded this tune recently with his vocal ensemble, The Ooolites, based in his town of Bloomington, Indiana.

The composer writes: “Pleasure brings together the sounds of Celtic mouth music with those of jazz scat singing.” The tune is really conceived as an instrumental piece in its overall feel, yet it was written for the human voice. The nonsense syllables convey their own sound and this meaning. Depending on the combinations of sound, the lines become jazz riffs or take on a more “legit” quality, and the music is excitingly idiosyncratic.

*   *   *   *   *

Claude Debussy:  Quant j’ay ouy la tabourin (from Trois chansons)

As a composer, Debussy was inspired by the symbolist poetry of Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mallarmé. Debussy sought in music a concentration of feeling, which is evoked at times by silence more than anything. Debussy was not a slave to the Wagner-worship of his day. He worked out instead his own musical truth in fluid orchestral works, such as Prelude to the afternoon of a faun and Jeux, in solo songs, in his pathbreaking opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, and also in a few lovely choral works.

The other two of these Trois chansons (Three songs) were done in 1898, but this one wasn’t written until ten years later. All are on texts by Charles d’Orléans.  The Spanish influence seems to stem from the single word “tabourin”; around the same time, Debussy was working on the three orchestral movements he called “Ibéria” (“Spain”) that went into the larger work, Images. Here, the choir’s largely staccato lower voices act as a Mediterranean backup band for Kathryn’s lush, legato solo. Make no mistake; the narrative voice of the poem is being well pleased indeed.


Bill Evans, arr. Peder Karlsson:  Waltz for Debby
A cappella vocal jazz would be impossible without skillful arrangers. During the last decade, one of the most prolific sources for printed sheet music of jazz repertory has been The Real Group. It seems ironic that a Swedish quintet would revolutionize American-style vocal jazz, but they’ve done it. A product of the Royal Conservatory in Stockholm, Sweden, The Real Group have taken the vocal-jazz form to some of its highest a cappella expressions.  The tenor from the Real Group, Peder Karlsson, took the title tune from the Bill Evans Trio’s groundbreaking album and lyrics by Gene Lees, and parceled out all the notes among five vocal lines.  After a standard fast-tempo waltz lets the sopranos lay out the lyrics, the chart goes into a swing-break bridge section, full of imagination and vitality.

Jaakko Mäntyjärvi: ”Come away, death” and ”Double, double, toil and trouble” (from Four Shakespeare Songs)
Chicago a cappella is pleased to be performing these songs again, after we gave them their Chicago premiere a year ago at our “Shakespeare a cappella” concert.  Jaakko Mäntyjärvi has been steadily ascending the ladder of greatness as a world-class choral composer. He studied English and Linguistics at the University of Helsinki. Mäntyjärvi describes himself as an eclectic traditionalist: eclectic in that he adopts influences from a number of styles and periods; traditionalist in that his musical language is based on a traditional approach and uses the resources of modern music only sparingly. Most of his works are choral, as he himself is a choral singer. His other major works include More Shakespeare Songs, Ave Maria, Kouta, and Stabat Mater, as well as the recent choral drama Salvat (1701). He was appointed composer-in-residence of the Tapiola Chamber Choir in November 2000 and recently completed a major commission for the King’s Singers. Chicago a cappella regularly performs his spoof El Hambo, which has now surpassed Rautavaara’s Lorca Suite as the best-selling Finnish choral work of all time.

The Four Shakespeare Songs were premiered in 1985 in Helsinki. 

*   *   *   *   *

Josquin des Prez:  Mille regretz
The most important composer of the middle Renaissance, Josquin was born in French-speaking lands and, like so many northerners, made the journey to Italy where he found employment as a singer and became adept as a composer. His cantus-firmus masses are masterpieces of imitative counterpoint. He has been called by one writer  “the first truly international composer.” Josquin’s virtually unmatched gift is his uncanny ability to space and distribute a small number of voice parts to make the texture sound thicker than it really is, through skillful use of overtones generated by the intervals he uses.  His motet Ave Maria . . . virgo serena is a virtually flawless example of his technique. Even in secular pieces like this one, his skill comes through to express the text; the poem’s sense of longing comes out in long-breathed, gently descending lines that frequently pair off the voice parts to give a break from the fuller four-voice texture.

Greg Jasperse:  How beautiful this finely woven earth
The Chicago area is blessed to be the home to several world-class jazz and pop arrangers. Greg Jasperse is among them. He is also among the first rank of studio vocalists and jingle singers, a rare breed in Chicago these days. This lush, lovely work enfolds its haunting words in harmonies that readily evoke the sound-world of composers such as Morten Lauridsen.

*   *   *   *   *

Pavel Tschesnokoff:  Salvation is created
Tschesnokoff played many roles in Russian musical life. He was a choral conductor and teacher as well as a talented composer. He attended the Moscow Synodal School for ten years and later studied composition with Taneyev and Ippolitov-Ivanov;  after he already had a solid reputation as a composer and conductor, he studied free composition at the Moscow Conservatory with Vasilenko. He taught choral singing at the Synodal school for 25 years and later taught at the Moscow Conservatory.

This piece has been a staple of American choirs for much of the last century since it arrived on these shores. It is frequently sung in both Russian (the original) and, as here, in English. Tschesnokoff wrote the work in 1912, intended for the Russian liturgy, while he was still teaching at the Synodal School.

Chen Yi:  The West Lake
This work was originally commissioned by Chicago a cappella, with support from the Sara Lee Foundation, and premiered in September 2003 at the ensemble’s tenth-anniversary concerts.

A native of Guangzhou, China, Chen Yi was born into a family of doctors with a strong interest in music. She began violin and piano at the age of three. When the Cultural Revolution overtook China in the 1960s, she tried hard to continue her music studies, practicing violin at home with the mute attached. She was sent for forced labor into the countryside for two years and took her instrument along.  When she was 17, Chen returned to her home city and served as concertmaster and composer with the Beijing Opera Troupe. In 1986, at the Beijing Central Conservatory, Chen became the first woman in China to receive the degree of Master of Arts in composition. That same year she came to the United States for further musical studies, receiving her doctorate from Columbia University. She has served on the composition faculty of Peabody Conservatory and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and since 1998 she has been the Cravens/Millsap/Missouri Distinguished Professor in Composition at the Conservatory of the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

Chen Yi has received numerous awards and prizes, including the prestigious Ives Living Award (2001-2004) from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a fellowship from the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, as well as the ASCAP Concert Music Award, and the Lili Boulanger Award.  Ms. Chen has been commissioned to compose for the Cleveland Orchestra, the Central Philharmonic of China, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Yehudi Menuhin, Yo-Yo Ma, Evelyn Glennie, the San Francisco Girls’ Chorus, and Carnegie Hall.

In her compositions, Chen Yi tries to distill from Chinese and Western traditional music the essential character and spirit and to develop materials abstractly in accordance with new concepts. That, and the desire to create “real music” for society and future generations, is her main goal.

Chen Yi writes: “The poet Su Dongpo (1036-1101), who also went by the name Su Shi, was a great civil servant and one of the literati of the Song Dynasty. He was educated by his mother. In the highest Imperial examination his composition caused the chief examiner to grow jealous.   At court his honesty soon made him enemies who contrived to exile him or make him take outside posts. Wherever he went, he left indelible marks of his character, either in public works or literary associations. A philosophic mind allayed his bitterness, even when banished to places as remote as Hainan Island. His genius was such that, equally in prose or verse or song or drawing or calligraphy, his work was first-class, a feat unapproached by any other Chinese artist in history.”

About this piece, the composer writes: “My composition The West Lake for mixed chorus features 9 voices, specifically written for Chicago a cappella. I’ve designed a texture of multi layers with fragmented pitch materials sung in the beginning, the middle and the end of the piece, in which I used music sonority to imagine the brimming waves on the beautiful lake. The text sometimes is sung polyphonically, sometimes in chorale form. The melodic design is in Chinese opera-singing and reciting style.”

Jonathan Miller:  A Tickle
The composer writes:  “In my work as the choir director at Unity Temple in Oak Park, I have had at least a half-dozen occasions where (1) something was needed from the choir at a given service, but (2) nothing that we had in the music closet seemed right.  In those circumstances, I tend to compose.  Fortunately for me, sometimes the music comes very quickly.  This piece emerged one Monday morning, six days before the minister was going to preach on laughter. The piece took shape at breakfast, and by lunch it was done. It captured a particularly goofy mood which, like Malcolm Dalglish’s piece, seemed to be best expressed in nonsense syllables, whose intent is nevertheless crystal clear.  Hee hee…”

I  N  T  E  R  M  I  S  S  I  O  N

Tim Sarsany: Salve mater misericordiae
Active as a choral singer and conductor, Tim Sarsany currently serves as the choral director on the Marion campus of The Ohio State University. This haunting work was written for the OSU Symphonic Choir and premiered by that ensemble under the direction of James Gallagher. Chicago a cappella was fortunate to perform the demo recording of this song for its publisher, Hinshaw Music.

The original Salve mater misericordiae is a plainchant setting, used in the Liturgy of the Hours on the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (November 21).  Tim Sarsany’s setting is both lush and spare, with a solo opening in the tenors and harmonies that blossom into as many as eight parts.

Erik Satie, arr. Gunnar Eriksson:  Elégie
Satie was a deeply influential figure in Parisian cultural circles. As Patrick Gowers has noted in the New Grove, “He is best remembered as the composer of music which is deliberately modest and inconsequential, and of bizarre titles. However, he was a harmonic innovator in his earlier pieces, where unusual progressions are presented with quasi-archaic simplicity. . . . he had an important influence on composers as various as Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and Cage.” 

Satie was a colossally indifferent student at the Paris Conservatoire. However, his best friend at the time, Contamine de Latour, wrote the poem for this composition, which is Satie’s Opus 19.  The song was published by the fledgling music business of Satie’s own father. The piece was originally written for voice and piano, and it appears here in a setting for solo soprano with choral accompaniment, arranged by Gunnar Eriksson of Sweden.

Paul Simon:  Homeless

Paul Simon needs no introduction, and this tune comes from his groundbreaking Graceland album, which he recorded with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  The piece occupies a special niche between the Western-composed pop song and the oral-tradition singing of South Africa. 

*  *  *  *  *

Maurice Duruflé:  Ubi caritas
Duruflé is best known for his church music, especially his Requiem, a lovely extended work which owes a heavy debt to Fauré’s own Requiem.  Duruflé wrote a cycle of four motets for the church year, of which this is probably the most well-known and best-loved. As is the case in all four motets, the composer uses the Gregorian chant melody as the foundation for his own deft, evocative harmony, creating a wondrous miniature of great joy, intensity, and finally repose.

trad. South African:  Zadliki’indonga Jericho
This tune comes from the oral tradition of South African choral singing. It was taught by ear to members of the Chicago Children’s Choir on the CCC’s first tour to South Africa, and the tune has been passed on through the CCC’s own oral traditions to today’s Madrigal Ensemble.

*   *   *   *   *

arr. Moses Hogan:  Elijah Rock