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PHOENIX CHORALE
Brian A. Schmidt, conductor

PROGRAM

BACH

Jesu meine Freude– Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

  1. Jesu, meine Freude
  2. Es ist nun nichts Verdammliches
  3. Unter deinem Schirmen
  4. Denn das Gesetz
  5. Trotz dem alten Drachen
  6. Ihr aber seid nicht fleischlich
  7. Weg mit allen Schätzen
  8. So aber Christus in euch ist
  9. Gute Nacht, o Wesen
  10. So nun der Geist
  11. Weicht, ihr Trauergeister

BIRTHDAY

Birthday Madrigals–John Rutter (b. 1945)

  1. It was a lover and his lass
  2. Draw on, sweet night
  3. Come live with me
  4. My true love hath my heart
  5. When daisies pied

INTERMISSION

JOY

Deep River–Anders Paulsson (b.1961)

I’m Gonna Sing ‘Til The Spirit Moves In My Heart–Moses Hogan (1957-2003)

Bright Morning Stars–Anders Paulsson

Hold On!–Marques L.A. Garrett (b. 1984)

LIGHT

Light–Enrico Miaroma (b. 1962)

Lux Aeterna–Steve Dobrogosz (b.1956)

Tuttarana–Reena Esmail (b.1983)


PROGRAM NOTES

One of J. S. Bach’s most monumental motets, Jesu meine Freude is a work of incredible musical and theological depth. Throughout the work, Bach draws the listener (originally his congregation members) into an intensely personal focus by weaving together scriptural and chorale texts with incredibly evocative music. There is a theme of transformation that underpins the work through all eleven movements. Many of the individual movements begin in a minor mode and conclude tonally with a major resolution. This “minor to major” transformation is a symbolism for the Christian faith. The progression of texts and music fully expose our human weaknesses and fears, but Bach always resolves them—a symbolic representation of his deep faith in the comfort of a loving God.

This particular motet is also a work of genius compositional construction. The work itself is a palindrome, with each movement being reflected from the middle (movement #6) outward. This form also gives the work a palpable direction— possibly representing the linear direction or journey of one’s faith within human existence, and also metaphorical direction which, for Bach, points upward to God in Heaven, the ultimate source of comfort in this life and the next.

Bach composed each of his six motets in the “old style,” (stile antico) which simply means that there is not an independent orchestra accompanying as there is in his cantatas and major works. The absence of orchestral accompaniment places the responsibility for dramatic characterization and contrast solely in the hands of the voices. This is both challenging and thrilling at once—the possibilities for expressing the rhetorical connection between text and music are limitless and the choir assumes the role of both musician and preacher. For Bach, this was no light mission—he was determined to convince people of the love and comfort found through the presence of God and the Holy Spirit. And thus he dedicated his entire life’s work Soli Deo Gloria, “to the Glory of God alone.”

John Rutter composed his Birthday Madrigals in honor of the British-American jazz legend, George Shearing. They are modeled after George Shearing’s two collections of choral songs set to Shakespearean texts. Both collections represent a heavy jazz influence in the style of writing. Thus it is that John Rutter skillfully and delightfully composed these Birthday Madrigals with a pleasant variety, ranging from sweet ballads to toe-tapping upbeat big band styles.

When I think of music that brings me pure joy, modern spiritual arrangements are generally near the top of the list. The nomenclature of this incredible body of songs—literally “of the Spirit”—is rooted in the hope and faith of the enslaved, even in the face of brutal suffering. During the time of slavery, the Spirit was the bridge between death and hope, and they sang to overcome their oppression as death surrounded them on a daily basis. It is this authentic connection to hope—this incredible reaction to sing for joy in the midst of pain and suffering— that makes these religious folk songs so inspiring for us today.

Modern composers have infused elements of jazz and gospel music into soul-stirring arrangements that captivate our senses. Anders Paulsson is a Swedish saxophonist and composer/arranger. His arrangements have a signature density and often view the choir as a vocal orchestra supporting a solo saxophone that weaves into the texture. Moses Hogan was one of the most influential choral musicians of the late 20th century, and one of the most prolific and skilled arrangers of spirituals. Hogan’s arrangements are some of the most popular in the choral repertoire and range from simple gospel style arrangements to incredibly virtuosic and imaginative variations of the spiritual tunes. Marques Garrett is an emerging young composer/conductor with a fresh voice and great skill in bringing the energy and character of the spirituals to life.

Enrico Miaroma and Steve Dobrogosz are both composers that are fairly unknown to American choral musicians and listeners. Miaroma obtained conservatory diplomas in Italy studying piano, choral conducting, music education and composition. As a composer he devotes himself to both instrumental and piano music, but the most considerable part of his production is devoted to choral music. Miaroma also served for three years on the board of the International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM). Miaroma’s Light is a setting of a text by Rabinadrath Tagore that beautifully captures humanity’s desire for light. Whether interpreted as sacred, secular, or more broadly religious— this setting by Miaroma draws the listener into the text through captivating musical imagery of light that dances, reflects, and shines abroad.

Steve Dobrogosz was raised in Raleigh, NC and studied music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Shortly after college he moved to Stockholm, Sweden where he has lived and worked for most of his career. Dobrogosz has been an extremely prolific composer of both jazz and classical music, and much of his choral music is infused with jazz harmonies or style. Lux Aeterna is an excerpt from his full Requiem for choir, soloists, and orchestra, but works lovely as an independent piece accompanied by piano. As with many of Dobrogosz’s songs and compositions the melody is beautifully simple and memorable

—Program notes by Brian A. Schmidt

Dr. Lindsay Pope provided the program notes for Tuttarana: Tuttarana was commissioned in 2014 by Lindsay Pope for the Mount Holyoke College Glee Club. This showstopper combines Western classical tutti singing with the tarana, a fast-paced, virtuosic improvisation from the Hindustani (North Indian) classical tradition. While a tarana is performed by a solo singer and accompanied by a drone, Reena Esmail blends both roles within her many-voiced setting.

The melody and the drone are exchanged throughout the voices. The piece is set on vocables called bol—a mnemonic device used in Hindustani music to portray various rhythmic patterns—and the rhythmic interplay created is a traditional component of the tarana. One rhythmic device you will hear is the tihai, a short melody that is repeated three times to signal the end of one musical section and the beginning of the next. While initially conceived as a companion to Gustav Holst’s Choral Hymns to the Rig Veda, Group 3, Tuttarana took on new meaning with the #metoo movement ignited by the civil rights activist Tarana Burke. Since tutti means “all,” Esmail now interprets the title as “We are all Tarana.”