Da pacem Domine

Having laid our St. Matthew Passion to rest, Chorale now moves on to our spring project, Da pacem Domine. This will be a radical departure from the other concerts of our 2014-15 season: whereas both of them consisted of single works, with orchestral accompaniment, presented in grand venues, our current preparation consists of sixteen contemplative a cappella motets, sung in the appropriately intimate, live acoustic of St. Vincent DePaul Parish, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. I have planned this concert as an opportunity for the singers to work on a genre of repertoire which would challenge them to listen and polish in a somewhat more exacting manner, than they do with accompanied music, which requires larger and more theatrical effects. The a cappella discipline is good for us, and we enjoy the subtle, many-faceted beauty of this music.   We also need this time to prepare for our July tour of the Baltic countries, which will be undertaken by a smaller subset of the group, and which by definition requires a cappella repertoire. After the tutti forces sing the program in concert, June 13, that subset will reconvene for three weeks, and prepare the same music as a chamber choir. I have been challenged to select repertoire appropriate to both ensembles-- and in some ways it is the larger group that has the harder job. I am also challenged to select music which will be interesting and satisfying to two very different audiences: our Chicago audience, and the audiences we will sing for in Europe.

One of my guiding principles, in selecting the program, has been to showcase contemporary American composers. I assume this music will be of special interest to European audiences, and I have sought a representative sample—not just because it is American, but because I like it, and because the music and texts fit our theme. We will sing pieces by composers Stephen Paulus, Vincent Persichetti, Jean Berger, Morten Lauridsen, and Yosef Weisgal-- pieces which reflect several different strains of American choral composition, but which share in common a skillful approach to writing for unaccompanied voices. I also chose music from the part of the world in which we will be touring-- pieces by Swedes Gunnar Eriksson and Otto Olsson, Finn Einojuhanni Rautavaara, and Estonian Arvo Pärt.   I suspect our European listeners will be familiar with their own music, will be happy with the way in which it is performed “at home,” and will not be as interested in hearing us do it, as they will be to hear us perform our own music—so I have been somewhat sparing in those choices.

I also do not want to limit us to contemporary music for this particular preparation. We will sing a concert of music composed within the past fifty years, based upon the ideas and procedures of “spiritual minimalism,” next season, in honor of Arvo Pärt’s 80th birthday; but for this current program I wanted something looser, with more variety and a broader appeal. Something that might be more familiar and appealing to a general audience (assuming that a general audience is interested in listening to an entire concert of sacred a cappella choral music!). So we will sing motets by Heinrich Schütz, Anton Bruckner, and Henry Purcell, and a chorale by J.S. Bach, all of which fit our theme and are appropriate to our forces.

Our remaining pieces, by Javier Centeno Martin, Philip Stopford, John Tavener, and Bob Chilcott, and not exactly random: they are thematically appropriate and fit the overall sound and tone of the concert, providing colors I feel we need to make a unified whole out of a collection of smaller works.

I’ll write more about our actual theme, Da pacem Domine, next week. For now, though, you should put us on your calendar and plan to attend our concert of extraordinarily lovely music. June 13, 8 PM, St. Vincent De Paul Parish.