Karen recently answered some questions about Going to the Rock!
What is the theme for this concert?
The theme is the exploration and celebration of the music and culture of Newfoundland. In addition, it’s the preparation for the choir’s participation in Festival 500 in St. John’s, Newfoundland in July.
How did you choose the theme?
We needed a public performance of our concert set that we are performing for the Festival, and so we decided to expand on the Newfoundland theme all the way around.
How did you choose the guest artists?
Our choristers, Kevin and Daphne Bice—true lovers of all things Newfoundland—have a daughter who is a professional Celtic fiddler out west who is a fabulous entertainer and who has jammed with the best of them in Newfoundland. Bringing her back to London was a natural choice. Her friend, guitarist Greig Cairns, and she have worked together several times over the years, so it made sense to bring him on the concert too.
Kevin and Daphne were also the contacts for Newfoundland storyteller Don Ford, who is a friend of theirs.
Are any of the pieces special favorites?
Favorites of mine include Feller from Fortune, a Canadian choral favorite which is a cracking arrangement of a well-known Newfoundland folksong. It’s crazy and funny and smart and surprising and satisfying all at once—really a great piece.
I also love The Banks of Loch Erin, which is a wistful, haunting melody brought from Scotland and made Newfoundland’s own. It’s exquisite.
Then I like Drunken Sailor. The timing keeps changing which reminds one of a tipsy sailor stumbling on a ship deck in the roll of the sea—lots of whooping, and just delightful.
A piece that is a stunner from our Festival 500 concert set is I Thank You God by Gwyneth Walker. She set the well-known poem by e. e. cummings and created a resounding affirmation of life and creation—the cosmic Yes. It’s thrilling.
We are also doing Lux Aurumque (Light and Gold) by Eric Whitacre, which has become famous as the Virtual Choir piece. We sang it on our last concert and it got a tremendous response. You can actually hear the “light” shimmering.
We’re also performing a splendid arrangement of Stephen Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns, his most famous song, that is an original interpretation of a great solo with a lot of room for emotional expression.
Back to the Newfoundland songs, there are three (Sarah, The Moocher and Me, The Landfall of Cabot) which are just hilarious, full of antics and gossip and back-chat and Newfoundlandese (terms known only there). As we sing them, Jennie Bice will weave her Kitchen Party fiddle throughout, pick up the theme, and get everyone wanting to dance in the aisles!
The Beat reviewer Cheryl Cashman was in the audience at Saturday night’s concert, and here’s her review of the concert:
“In the performing arts there is a saying: ‘When prose will no longer suffice we must turn to poetry. When movement will no longer suffice, we must dance. When words will no longer suffice, then we must sing.’
“The Voices of Light that we heard Saturday night from the Karen Scheussler Singers had an urgency of soul that lifted them to the highest reaches of artistic expression.
“As always, the choir’s director spoke to us before each piece, giving us just enough informative guidance to ensure our fullest experience of the song to follow. How Scheussler is able to strike that fine balance between historical, technical and aesthetic information conveyed is extraordinary. She weaves contexts of the oldest and newest music together with a passion and purity of intention that place us in a tapestry of time and timelessness. We are in the here and now, and are as humankind has ever been.
“The 37-strong choir took us through the centuries of spirit-inspired music from Bach and Mendelssohn to contemporaries Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridson and Paul Halley. And, as was the aim of the concert, from darkness to light. And as the consciousness and mandate of the ensemble dictated, through immediate and political darkness also.”
Above: The Karen Schuessler Singers perform Paul Halley’s Voices of Light with flutist Fiona Wilkinson.
Some comments from concert-goers after last night’s season opening concert, Voices of Light:
“You just can’t go home after an experience like that. You been to some place, and you have to take time to come back.”
From a musician with perfect pitch: “My favourite piece was the Lux Aurumque. The chord clusters were exquisite. The choir never dropped in pitch. It was a really fine concert, really fine!”
“This concert was right up there with my other favourite concert of this choir, ‘Strawberry Fields’.”
If you attended the concert, we’d love to hear your feedback! Add your comments, below.
Added November 27:
One of the choristers relayed this comment from a patron: “Thank you for making me aware of the concert and encouraging me to go. It was wonderful!!! What a way to enter the Christmas season. It inspired me for my Christmas card which I just finished. On my way to the printer. Thanks for sharing your gifts and talents so generously to bring joy to others. A lot of very hard work goes into a night like that and it was very moving. I had a wonderful seat up in the balcony in the middle and the sound was magnificent.”
And more comments:
“It was a great time. Thanks!”
“Keep up the good work!”
“Very high quality music and appropriate professionalism.”
“This concert is spectacular – absolutely beautiful. Thank you.”
“Lovely concert! Ron Fox is a fantastic organist. Beautiful ensemble blend!”
“Thank you all!!!”
“Your concert was terrific. I loved the variety and the range of the music. There were times of incredibly quiet beauty and other times when the complex harmonies and chordal “crunches” reached deep into my soul. The orchestra was wonderful and that flute player absolutely blew me away!”
KSS was featured in an article in the London Free Press today.
“To illuminate a season-opening concert, the Karen Schuessler Singers are revisiting one of their favourites.
“‘The title of the concert itself comes from the last piece on the program – Voices of Light by Paul Halley,’ artistic director Karen Schuessler says of Saturday’s program at Wesley-Knox church. ‘It’s an ecstatic interchange between piano, choir and flute. The last time we performed this piece was at our 10th anniversary concert. The music carries you along, and it builds and builds.’
“UWO Don Wright music faculty professor Fiona Wilkinson guests on flute. She has recorded the Halley work with the Guelph Chamber Choir, directed by her faculty colleague Gerald Neufeld, on its Christmas-themed album Good Cheare.
“‘It does sound like pinpoints of light,’ Wilkinson says of the beautiful, demanding work. ‘It’s so fast, the technique, that it does sound like points of light popping through the upper register.'”
KSS will be presenting the first concert of our 2010/2011 season – Voices of Light – on Saturday night. Here are some of the choristers’ favorite pieces from the program.
Says one of the singers about Morten Lauridsen’s Magnum Mysterium: “Such a beautiful & moving piece of music.”
Listen for yourself to the University of Utah Singers performing this piece, which uses the beautiful O magnum mysterium text. Says Lauridsen himself: “This affirmation of God’s grace to the meek and the adoration of the Blessed Virgin are celebrated in my setting through a quiet song of profound inner joy.”
Says another singer: “Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium contains rich harmonies that are wonderful to sing. It has an ethereal quality as the melody develops, winding its way from one voice to another. My hope is that the audience will be drawn into our experience and transported to another plane.”
Yet another singer loves singing Lauridsen’s rich harmonies. The same singer also likes Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque because it has “intriguing harmonies and it sounds kind of ethereal.” Learn more about Lux Aurumque here.
Randall Thompson’s Choose Something Like a Star from Frostiana is another favorite. Listen to the Harvard University Choir singing it, below. (This video also features the lyrics.) One signer calls it “up close to heaven!”
Says another singer: “The music of The Magnificat by Pergolesi [actually by Francesco Durante, formerly attributed to Pergolesi] is quite exquisite, featuring the talented string ensemble that is joining us for this concert. It’s also a thrill to hear individual choir members as our soloists, highlighting some of the talent hidden within our ranks.”
Here’s a video of the opening movement – a baroque delight.
Paul Halley’s Voices of Light – the program finale – merits mention as well: “With Fiona Wilkinson’s amazing interpretation, fingers flying over the keys of her flute, Ron Fox on the organ & the choir soaring, it’s a musical experience unto itself.”
One chorister sums up the program this way: “Once again, Karen has woven together yet another interesting program to challenge the choir & entertain our audience.” Check out the entire program, below.
Bach – Break forth, o beauteous heavenly light (German/English)
Mendelssohn – There shall a star come forth (Christus)
Whitacre – Lux Aurumque
Bach (Kuhnau) – Cantata #142 for Christmas Day
Lauridsen – O Magnum Mysterium
Pergolesi (Durante) – Magnificat
Thompson – Choose Something Like a Star
Halley – Voices of Light
Featuring string quintet, two flutes, organ/piano, timpani and percussion instruments.
I first came across Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque when I was researching the music for one of last season’s concerts (Love is in the Air – March 27, 2010). We were performing Whitacre’s This Marriage, and after I watched a YouTube video of Whitacre conducting the piece, I clicked through to some of the related YouTube links in the sidebar. Lux Aurumque was one of those links.
Whitacre (b. 1970) is perhaps the best-known American choral composer of his generation, and has been reaching new audiences through his Virtual Choir – a collaboration of independent singers from around the world who record and submit their individual performances to Whitacre via YouTube. Whitacre and his team then combine the dozens and dozens of recordings into one master “performance.”
Lux Aurumque was originally commissioned by the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, and published in 2001. The text is a short poem by Edward Esch:
warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the new-born baby.
Whitacre says he was “immediately struck by its genuine, elegant simplicity.” He had the poem translated into Latin for his composition. The work is filled with a number of second intervals – notes that sit right beside each other on the scale – and when it’s sung well the chords will shimmer and glow like light. You can watch Whitacre’s Virtual Choir “performing” the piece, below.
If you’re curious about the Virtual Choir, Whitacre explains in the following video how the whole idea came about.
You can also still find many of the individual singers’ audition videos on YouTube. Below is the beautiful blonde soprano who performs the solo near the beginning of the piece.
Karen recently answered some questions about our first concert of the season – Voices of Light – which features a variety of classical choral music that celebrates the seasonal cycle of darkness and the return of the light.
What was the inspiration for programming this particular concert? Did you start with any particular pieces, or with the theme itself?
I started with a vague thought of doing a Christmas type of concert, but then realized that the concert date was too early for that. What’s starting to happen at this time of year, however, is that the days are rapidly getting very short, and we are going into that season when we cocoon or hibernate – that is, winter. So it was the idea of celebrating of exploring light in general – and darkness – that appealed to me. This theme is very ancient. As long as there have been humans, the idea of hoping that the light comes back is part and parcel of our survival.
The other aspect of that that I’m hoping to allude to at some level is the idea that we all have a responsibility to shed our own light in the areas of darkness that we come across. And that we are able to do that because we are – all of us – filled with light. Sometimes we don’t realize our gift in that way, or see ourselves in that way. And certainly our culture does not support that thought. But when we own that thought, there’s much good that we can do and accomplish.
I wasn’t sure how to verbalize that with music – there’s no music I know of that has exactly that theme – but there are metaphors of Christ being “the light”, which is why the winter solstice was chosen for Christmas (Christ’s birth). And there are great teachers, avatars, mentors and spiritual leaders who lead us and guide us by showing us their light. And so we rejoice when we celebrate the coming of the light for our particular culture.
We’re not singing Christmas music, but we are singing a Bach cantata that was written for Christmas day. And we’re singing O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen, which is all about the incredible mystery and miracle of the the great light that has come and is born in a feed trough. That’s an incredible image: that in the darkest corner of your barn is the beginning of the light. That’s huge if we let ourselves think about that. So that’s partly what it’s all about.
The title of the concert itself comes from the last piece on the program (Voices of Light by Paul Halley). It’s an ecstatic interchange between piano, choir and flute. The last time we performed this piece was at our tenth anniversary concert. The music carries you along, and it builds and builds.
Do you have a favorite piece in this concert?
I love Voices of Light. It’s just so thrilling. I love the Magnificat (by Francesco Durante, attributed to Pergolesi). It isn’t itself about light, but it’s the song of (Christ’s mother) Mary when she is telling her cousin Elizabeth that she’s going to be having this incredible baby. As the bearer of the light, her song is a social manifesto; in the words of the piece, the rich are “sent empty away” and the low are “brought up and exalted”. It turns society upside down. After Vivaldi’s Gloria, the Magnificat is probably the most popular choral piece of the Italian baroque. It is absolutely delicious, and I’ve wanted to program it for a number of years.
I’ve gotten several comments from the choir that they LOVE the music for this concert. There’s the beauty of the Bach, fantastic vocal lines of the Pergolesi. I can’t hear the Lauridsen or Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque without being moved. Whitacre’s piece will surprise the audience, because his musical language has a lot to do with texture and tuning, and the chords just shimmer. You should FEEL light coming from these chords. That’s the exciting part. When you sing it right, the light shines through the piece, and it’s palpable. It’s not just ABOUT light, it IS light.
The choir is trememdously enjoying making that happen. They can sense it, and they’re working really hard to do that.
Have there been any surprises as you’ve been rehearsing the music?
The surprise would be probably how much the choir is enjoying the music. It’s different, and it’s a lot of tonal colour, and the choir is enjoying so much getting inside that. There’s also a huge contrast and variety between all the pieces – German baroque, romantic Mendelsohn, with all the fabulous, soaring lines coming through…
And then there’s the Frostiana – a musical setting of a long poem by Robert Frost about how, when times get tough and we feel like we’re about to lose our bearing, we should choose something like a star that is fixed “out there” and just hang on. Don’t let yourself get pulled into the darkness. Hang on to that star. Within the poem, the poet talks about the conversation that we’re having with the star, and we say “Say something to us!” and the star says “I burn”. Come up to my level. So we lift ourselves and we make the effort to go there, and by doing that we rise out of our situation.
In a way, we are all voices of light. And the question is, do we raise our voice in the cause of the light, or do we let ourselves hide it?
Light into Darkness. People have celebrated this annual cycle for thousands of years.
In the first concert of our 2010/2011 season, we explore the victory of light over darkness with Bach’s joyful Cantata 142 (actually written by his Leipzig predecessor, Kuhnau), the elegant Pergolesi Magnificat (actually written by his teacher, Durante), Eric Whitacre’s haunting Lux Aurumque, and Paul Halley’s ecstatic Voices of Light, which will feature an electrifying flute solo by London virtuoso flutist Fiona Wilkinson.
A truly unique way to welcome the coming season!
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