Darkness and Light
Two of the pieces on Chorale’s upcoming program have Norwegian roots.
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. I thought I needed something to lighten the program’s specific gravity, but nothing presented itself; so I declared my planning done, and put the program away, to concentrate on Christmas music. The repertoire continued to bother me, however, and over Christmas break I replaced one of the darker pieces with something more upbeat.
I chose to program Gjendines bådnlåt, a traditional Norwegian lullaby arranged by Gunnar Eriksson (b.1936), professor of choral conducting at the University of Göteborg, noted for his folksong arrangements and experimentation with choral improvisation. He writes: “This arrangement of Norwegian Lullaby(Gjendines Bådnlåt) was created in 1993, I think, in response to a request from Oslo Kammarkör and their fabulous conductor Grete Pedersen. At this time the choir was turning their attention to the treasure of the great Norwegian folk music. Their vision was for various composers to find a more contemporary approach to the music in new arrangements—to give the song a new costume, so to speak—which would bring the song out in the lime light. I was lucky enough to be one of several chosen composers who answered to the challenge. Soon it became clear to me that it takes courage to approach this wonderful lullaby—so I did the “unthinkable” and dressed my arrangement of this Scandinavian jewel with a bit of a Cuban touch, creating a new perspective on the song. To my delight the choir liked it a lot—and a new turn on an old folk tune was born.”
The “Gjendine” of the title refers to Kaia Gjendine Slålien (1871-1972), a rural Norwegian woman noted for her encyclopedic knowledge of Norway’s native folk music. She is remembered primarily for her relationship with Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, who adapted many of the songs she sang in his piano music.
Ola Gjeilo (b.1978) is one of the most frequently-performed composers in today’s choral world. Born and raised in Norway, he moved to New York in 2001 to attend the Juilliard School, receiving a master’s degree in composition in 2006. His choral works are frequently compared with those of fellow composers Eric Whitaker and Morten Lauridsen, who share with him a crossover, New Age sensibility based on a melding of classical choral tradition with a love of film scores, popular song, and improvisation. He has said that his primary sources of inspiration are nature and cities; and though many of his texts are conventional, straightforward passages taken from the mass or other liturgical and biblical sources, he often names his works after cities or natural phenomenon which inspired or influenced his composition in the first place.
Chorale will perform SANCTUS: London (2009) on our next concert. Gjeilo writes, “London was composed on a cheap keyboard, for kids basically, that I had borrowed when I lived in London back in 2004. I was studying at the Royal College of music at the time, and was writing the piece on the side, following a commission from the Norwegian choir Uranienborg Vokalensemble. Somehow, that atrocious string pad really inspired me, and I’ve used it ever since, even after I got much more advanced equipment. I guess it’s not always about the quality of the gear.”
Gjeilo’s music is lush, harmonically rich, neo-romantic, large and theatrical in conception; he is no “holy minimalist,” following in the path laid out by Arvo Pärt and John Tavener. Yet one hears echoes of his countryman of a previous generation, Knut Nystedt (1915-2014)-- an inescapable solemnity and seriousness of tone, and a dark, emotionally evocative coloration, which are lacking in the music of his American colleagues, Whitaker and Lauridsen. Nystedt’s most famous motet, O crux, could easily have served as a model for much of London. Gjeilo’s music is easy on the ear, but surprisingly rigorous in form and scope. I become more and more drawn to it as we rehearse the piece. And Chorale enjoys singing it.
Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 8:00 PM
Covenant Presbyterian Church
2012 W. Dickens Avenue, Chicago
Sunday, March 31, 2019 at 3:00 PM
Hyde Park Union Church
5600 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago