A Rose in Winter
We chose our concert title, A Rose in Winter, and the accompanying photographic image, very carefully. I asked Justin Flosi, who was at that time a member of Chorale (he has since joined the FBI!), for some phrases based on our Marian theme. He has a wonderful, unforced poetic sense, and quickly came up with a number of titles, any one of which could have worked. We chose this one, I think, because we are based in Chicago: our winters are brutal and ugly, and the whole idea of a rose blossoming in the midst of that is preposterous-- only faith and poetry could believe it. The distance between Rose and Winter offers lots of room for dramatic development, evokes pain as well as beauty. We then sent this title to our designer, Arlene Harting-Josue, and asked her for some corresponding images. Arlene sent us a broad range from which to choose-- smiling Marys, brightly-colored Marys, Marys with crowns, Marys with babies, Marys from numerous historical periods. Our ad hoc committee was, I believe, immediately unanimous in our choice-- we all preferred the stone Mary, with her face half in shadow, her eyes and her mouth hidden from view. The ancient, mysterious Mary. The rough, weathered limestone, the beat-up eye and nose-- this Mary had seen a lot, and pondered the world's mysteries in her heart. Neither angry nor joyful, she seems, rather, beyond our understanding-- quietly acquiescent, yet the Mother of God.
One of the most poignant works in our concert program, for me, is the Ave Maria from Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites-- sung by the nuns as they face death. Poulenc experienced a powerful, life-changing religious conversion at the shrine of the Black Virgin, in Rocamadour-- I have been there, and seen the pilgrims dragging themselves up the stone steps on hands and knees; approaching this ancient, pre-christian basalt figurine, just a rock, really; weeping, bleeding where the stones have cut them, exhausted, ecstatic. A hot summer afternoon, flies buzzing, a peculiar stench of sweat, incense, blood, in the air-- and presiding over all, this faceless, expressionless piece of rock, surrounded by candles. Who is she? Why do Poulenc's nuns die for her?
Our concert program explores these questions through music composed as long ago as 800 A.D., up to music composed in our own time; through the ears and understandings of composers from many countries, speaking out of numerous religious traditions, influenced by their own times and circumstances. All of these composers are skilled, inspired, committed; Chicago Chorale meets the challenges they present, with our own brand of skill, inspiration, and commitment. We hope you'll come to hear us this weekend.