Beyond All Mortal Dreams

When I first heard that Trinity College was putting out a recording of all American music I started salivating.  I had the opportunity to hear them live on their home turf last year.  Our study abroad group made a stop in Cambridge to listen to Trinity College sing evensong last spring.  During that evensong, they sang two American works, one of which ended up on this recording.  I was blown away by their sound and commitment to the literature.  They’re director, Stephan Layton has been doing amazing things with Polyphony and The Holst Singers, his work with Trinity has been fruitful as well.

It’s rather unusual for an English choir to do an all American recording, but Layton has a track record of recording Lauridsen and Whitacre with Polyphony.  You just don’t see many other professional English choirs doing that very much.  It’s a rather brave move.  Of course, as an American I really appreciate that.

The choice of repertoire is strong and was well thought out.  Composers include Clausen, Stucky, Gjeilo, Ferko, Fissinger, Willan, Paulus and Hawley.  All great choices, but there are some other composers that I think would have made this group even stronger: Where are Ives, Barber, Argento, & Larsen, just to name a few?

At the same time, Layton isn’t presenting a “quintessential American” recording.  My only thought is that Layton is trying to put out a different sort of “American” recording, but rather a “new America.”  In other words, no Ives, Copland, Barber, or Bernstein.  That’s fair enough, and with what he’s laid out, it’s a convincing case.  I do think Argento and Larsen could have had a place in this recording however.

Beyond my little complaint it’s a very compelling recording.  The choice of Stucky’s three motets “In Memoriam Thomas Tallis,” is edgy and daring, and the execution is superb.  The choice of Gjeilo’s recent publications “Sanctus” and “Phoenix” were also great.  These voluptuous movements from the mass are performed with great power and finesse.

One of the highlights of the entire disc for me is Ferko’s Hildegard Triptych.  These pieces were commissioned by one of America’s finest choirs, The Dale Warland Singers, and have become one of Ferko’s finest works.  When you consider that it was for Dale Warland’s choir you can understand why it’s tremendously difficult.  It’s written for divided double choir, and involves some very difficult tasks for a singer.  Having said that, it’s incredibly rewarding, and Trinity pulls if off extremely well.  You can tell that Layton takes some parts a bit faster (at least compared to Warland) so that his singers can maintain the sound better, but it works.

One piece I was hoping would be on here was Paulus’ “Little Elegy.”  We heard them perform that piece last year before Paulus had it published.  It was unbelievably beautiful and seemed like a perfect candidate for this recording.  When we first heard it we wondered what it was.  It sounded like Paulus but we had never heard it.  The sound of that just fill the hall of Trinity Chapel, and made the space ring with joy.  That one little disappointment is subsided by the other wonderful Paulus pieces on the recording.

Near the end of the recording are two fantastic pieces by William Hawley: “Mosella” and “Te Vigilans Oculis.”  Short but ravishing.  Hawley, in my opinion, is probably of of the most underrated American composer at least here in America.  I’m glad that Layton decided to make these a part of this recording, it helped to round things off beautifully.

All in all, this is an excellent recording that I will be listening to non-stop for the next few months or so.  It was definitely worth the wait.

Contributing to Another Blog

I was invited by my friend Joseph Sowa to contribute to a blog he started called The Morman Musician.  It’s still a brand new idea that I’m excited to participate in.  Topics vary from composition, performance practices, concert reviews, and other stuff.  Hopefully we can get the discussion going and see exciting things come from this.

I just posted my first article about raising the performance standard at the local level.  You can read it here.  We’d be happy to have you join the discussion.

I know it’s July . . .

. . . but I’ve been listening to a lot of Poulenc recently including one of his masterpieces Un Soir de Neige (A Night of Snow).  This was one of the first pieces I learned when I first joined BYU Singers and has left a lasting impression on me.  At first, I really didn’t like the piece, I couldn’t understand what it was about, nor what I was supposed to feel from it.  The ending sort of threw me off as well.  Looking at the text, it seemed to get more dark and more depressing in each movement and seeemed to contain absolutely no hope.  I just didn’t get it.

I felt motivated to find meaning in this piece, and to somehow, at least, understand why Poulenc wrote it.  As we rehearsed the piece, we took time to stop and talk about what it all means.  Many members of Singers already seemed to have it down as to what it meant, and why it was important to them.  Listening to them and Dr. Staheli helped me gain some perspective about the work.  We decided to make a promotional video in order to help our audience understand what we were learning about the piece so that they would understand the piece before coming to our concert.  Here’s the video:

I now love this piece, and am so glad that I had the opportunity to dive into this piece and get it under my skin.  It is a severely depressing and very dark bit of music.  I really do feel that the poetry and music don’t provide a drop of hope.  While I firmly believe that there is always hope, there have been moments when it feels completely gone.  This really is one of the greatest choral works of the 20th Century.  Right along side it is Poulenc’s Figure Humaine (The Human Figure), but that’s another story.

Yeah, I know it’s July.

Family and the Fourth

So, My family celebrated the 4th on the 2nd because of travel stuff and schedules.  But I guess that works because the 2nd was the day that America actually declared independence, the wording of the Declaration of Independence (by Jefferson) wasn’t approved until the 4th, and signed August 4th.  So it all works out.  This patriotism thing is kind of seasonal this time of year anyway.

This 4th was particularly meaningful to me because all of my siblings came into town.  It’s the first time we’ve been together for about 3 years.  My parents are still in Ukraine, but it was still good to be together.  There was a point where the six of us in the family were spread across five different time zones (California, Utah, England, Germany and Ukraine).  It’s good to be together.

In other news, I haven’t been up to much because I’m preparing for the GRE on Friday.  Gotta take it to apply for doctoral programs next year.  Yay.  Wish me luck.