Domes, Bells, and Icons

The major work on Chorale’s upcoming concert is the Vespers portion of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s All-Night Vigil (Vigilia). In Orthodox tradition, the All-Night Vigil is a liturgy including both Vespers and Matins that prepares participants for a major feast day. Rautavaara (1928-2016), perhaps the best-known contemporary Finnish composer, composed Vigilia specifically in memory of St. John the Baptist, who announced the coming of Christ and then was beheaded by Herod, at the behest of Salome. The work was inspired by his visit, as a young boy, to the island monastery of Valamo, in Finland’s Lake Ladoga—an experience that remained in the composer’s mind as an overwhelming vision of domes, bells, and icons. Rautavaara’s stirring music has a raw, visceral, yet euphoric quality that is totally unique in twentieth-century a cappella repertoire.

Rautavaara composed the two sections of Vigilia for separate events, Vespers in 1971 and Matins in 1972, and later combined them into a single concert work. In his foreword to the published score, he writes:

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Bruce TammenComment
The Estonian Influence

Two of the shorter works in our upcoming concert are composed by Estonians:  Arvo Pärt (b.1935) and Tõnis Kaumann (b.1971).  

One of the most performed and celebrated composers currently working in the field of classical music, Pärt was born during the brief window before World War II, during which Estonia and the other Baltic countries were sovereign nations, before being taken over, first, by the Nazis, and then by the Soviet Union. The Soviet occupation profoundly impacted his musical development—little news and influence from outside the Soviet Union were allowed into Estonia, and Pärt had to make a lot up as he went along, with the help of illegally obtained tapes and scores, and under constant threat of harassment from the Soviet authorities.

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Bruce TammenComment
Darkness and Light

In planning repertoire for Chorale’s concert of Baltic music, I found the program becoming darker and heavier with each piece I considered. This seems inevitable, when dealing with music from the Scandinavian and Baltic regions:  this is the nature of art that is born in a harsh climate of long, cold, dark winters; even music for happy events sounds sad and mournful.

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Bruce TammenComment
Music for the Polar Vortex

Chorale’s current preparation (to be performed March 30 and 31) features a cappella music that spans northern Europe from Norway to Finland and south into the Baltic states—a region which provides a rich treasure trove of repertoire for lovers of modern, progressive choral composition.  We will sing the Vespers portion of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s VigiliaGjendines bådnlåt, a Norwegian folk song arranged by Swedish composer Gunnar Eriksson; Sanctus, by Ola Gjeilo, a Norwegian composer now residing in the United States; Ave Maria, by Tonis Kaumann, and Nunc dimittis, by Arvo Pärt, both Estonians; and Pater noster, by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks .  With the sole exception of Rautavaara, who died in 2016, these composers are currently active and productive.  It is a unique and thrilling experience for Chorale to be involved with music which is so much a part of our own time, and composers who are currently developing their own distinctive styles and voices while influencing one another and setting the course for the future of our art form. 

Pēteris Vasks (born 1946), Latvia's most prominent composer, is the son of a Baptist minister, and grew up while Latvia was controlled by the Soviet regime. He studied composition at the State Conservatory in Vilnius in neighboring Lithuania, as he was prevented from doing this in Latvia due to Soviet repressive policy toward Baptists. He started to become known outside Latvia in the 1990s, and now is one of the most influential European contemporary composers.

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Bruce TammenComment
It came a floweret bright, amid the snows of winter

I expect humankind has observed the Winter Solstice ever since our early ancestors wandered out of Africa and populated the northern hemisphere.  The gradual weakening of the sunlight, the shortening of the days and lengthening of the nights, the cold and ice and storms, the possibility of starvation, -- not only did it cause physical privation and hardship, it must have been metaphysically terrifying.

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Bruce TammenComment
A Chicago Chorale Christmas!

This season, Chorale will present its very first Christmas concert.  The Ravinia Festival, which, surprisingly, has an indoor, winter season, has invited us to sing on their BGH Classics Series, in Bennett Gordon Hall, Saturday, December 15, at 5:00 PM and 7:30 PM. 

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Bruce Tammen
Three motets for Passion Sunday

In addition to Mozart's Requiem, Chorale has chosen to sing three a cappella motets by modern composers, settings of texts appropriate to Holy Week, which have a musical and acoustical character particularly appropriate to St.Benedict’s Catholic Church, the venue for our concert.

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