Centeno and Pärt, composers

Da pacem Domine, the title of Chorale’s spring concert preparation, is taken from a sixth century Gregorian hymn :

Da pacem Domine in diebus nostris Quia non est alius Qui pugnet pro nobis Nisi tu Deus noster. Give peace, o Lord, in our time Because there is no one else Who will fight for us If not You, our God.

We chose this theme in response to the constant, tragic strife of which we hear every day—in Syria, in Iraq, in Kenya, in Libya, in Nigeria, in Mexico, all over our globe. No matter what we do with our own lives and careers, day to day, in our relatively safe and stable society, we cannot escape such news, the clamor of war and murder and bloodshed: it dominates most what we see on our television and computer screens, hear about on our radios, read about in our magazines and newspapers. So I have chosen music and texts which respond to this shared situation, providing an island of peace, beauty, and hope. I expect our audience will be as pleased to hear us sing these pieces, as the singers are to perform them.


Chorale will begin and end its concert with settings of the Da pacem text. We will open with a setting by contemporary Spanish composer Javier Centeno, commissioned in 2005 for the First International Meeting of Schola Cantorum in Burgos, Spain. It received its premier performance in the square of Burgos Cathedral, at night, sung by more than 1000 children holding a torch or a lit candle.

I discovered the piece by searching for “Da pacem” on YouTube, and found that it struck just the right tone for our concert. Composed in a straightforward, homophonic style, it has a brooding, emotional tone that I find very appealing—though simple in concept, it manages to evoke deep, complex feeling and reflection. I proceeded to contact Mr. Centeno through an internet search. He very obligingly gave us permission to perform his piece, in what I assume will be its first North American performance.

Mr. Centeno is currently professor on the Teaching Faculty of Burgos University as well as the Department chairman of Didactics of Music Expression.   He has performed as a tenor all over Spain as well as in France, Italy and England, principly in oratorio and baroque opera. He performs frequently with such ensembles as the Arianna Ensemble, Grupo de Música Antigua de la Universidad de Valladolid, and Fundación Excelentia. He has conducted the choir of the University of Burgos and has lectured on choral conducting and vocal technique.

Our concert’s final group will include another setting of the Da pacem text, this one by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, composed in 2004. Pärt and his music need little introduction or comment from me-- he is the most performed contemporary composer in the world. This setting, composed in Mr. Pärt’s trademark minimalist style, is quite unlike Mr. Centeno’s—rather than the traditional melody and harmonic accompaniment one finds in the latter, it displays the compositional device Pärt has called tintinnabuli, characterized by simple harmonies and single, unadorned notes suggesting triads and reminiscent of ringing bells. Like Centeno’s piece, it is dark, brooding, evocative of far more feeling and experience than its relatively passive texture would suggest.