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. 

Peteris Vasks

Peteris Vasks

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. While he always felt a strong affinity for sacred music, he didn't feel free to express it through vocal music since it would never have been allowed to be performed under the Communist regime. Since the restoration of Latvian independence in 1991, he has turned his attention more and more to religious texts. Pater noster (1991) is his first sacred piece written in his mature style.  Vasks' choral writing links him to the composers who have been described as "holy minimalists," a group whose music, while stylistically diverse, tends to rely on tonal and modal harmonies, is frequently harmonically static or slow-moving and is often linked to plainchant and ancient liturgical traditions.

In an interview reproduced on Youtube, Vasks was asked:  “When did you compose the Pater noster and what meaning does its title hold for people today? “

Pēteris Vasks: It was in the eighties when my father, who was a minister, often asked – son, when will you compose „The Lord’s Prayer”? …I answered that I hadn’t matured enough to write it. And so the idea kept being postponed; my father passed away, and only after many years did I finally write Pater noster. That’s why for me the piece has a kind of duality – it is for my own father, and for our common Father. Pater noster is a prayer, and I have always thought that prayer is a spiritual concentration, an act of faith, asking for some guidance in this world where we all are lost. Sacred music and sacred texts were the first musical impressions of my childhood. When I began to study composition I quickly understood a fundamental thing. Namely, that in order to be spiritually free you must write instrumental music or at least something with folkloric texts, because in that political regime sacred music was simply forbidden. It was clear to everyone that if you write sacred music, it will end up at the bottom of your desk drawer and never see the light of day. But at that time for me it was more important to hear a live performance, to gain musical experience. For this reason I wrote almost no vocal music and, of course, even less sacred music. In my opinion writing sacred music is the highest responsibility… If true, deeply felt faith is not inherent in sacred music, if it lacks genuine conviction, then it is especially amoral. When my father encouraged me to do it, I wasn’t capable of experiencing it, for to me many other things seemed far more interesting... And then came the nineties, the regime fell, and an interesting metamorphosis occurred wherein many „court” composers of the previous regime stopped praising the (communist) party and suddenly became believers. Again, in the context where new rules came into play and new conditions encouraged writing of sacred works to the point of being almost a trend, I felt no desire to write something like that...

Chorale is experiencing Vasks’ work as harmonically rich, earnest, emotionally heartfelt—gratifying to listen to, vocally challenging to sing.  Vasks paints with bold strokes on a large canvas.  Originally intended to be sung unaccompanied, the score was later augmented with an optional orchestral part, the addition of which makes it even grander than the original (which is the version in which Chorale will sing 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

Bruce TammenComment