The rest of our June 13 program
Many American choirs—and their conductors—are head over heels with English choral music, of all historic periods, and with the English choral sound. Much of this music is indeed extraordinarily good, and the English choirs set an enviable performance standard for the rest of the choral world; but beyond an objectively high level of achievement, so very much of the success of this music lies in performance practice, especially in style of pronunciation—the vowels, consonants, whole phrases, are so clearly and characteristically pronounced, with a distinctive public school accent (which is loved by American ears). And this dialect of English then influences the vocal sound produced by its practitioners. Sadly, most American singers have as hard a time with this accent, as they do with French: we can’t quite shake our own version of English—or our own, rather red meat-and-potatoes approach to vocal technique—and end up sounding caricatured, forced, and out of tune, singing in our native language. My own response has been to program English music sparingly, and then only if I like it for something other than its “Englishness.” Chorale’s upcoming concert includes music by four English composers. Two of them, Henry Purcell and Bob Chilcott, I wrote about several weeks ago; that leaves only two others. The first,
Philip Stopford (b.1977), began his musical career as a member of the choir of Westminster Abbey, and is currently the director of the Ecclesium professional choir, which has recorded many CDs of Stopford's original works, and of the smaller Melisma performing ensemble. A church musician by training and experience, he composes primarily settings of traditional Latin and English prayers and hymns. Ave Verum, composed in 2007, was commissioned by St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast , Northern Ireland, while Stopford was serving as choral director there.
The second, John Tavener (1944-2013), was one of the best-known and popular composers of his generation, loosely associated with Henryk Górecki and Arvo Pärt as a “spiritual minimalist. “ He is known primarily for his extensive output of religious choral works, which have been performed all over the world and recorded by hundreds of choirs. Like Pärt, he was an Orthodox Christian,
though he explored other religious traditions, especially Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. The Lamb, a setting of William Blake’s poem from Songs of Innocence and Experience, was composed for the birthday of his nephew, and premiered by the Choir of King’s College as part of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1982.
Chorale has had a good, and rigorous, experience, preparing this concert. As expected, they had to sharpen their ears, eyes, and subtler responses, after the preceding two preparations of orchestrally accompanied music by Mozart and Bach; this program of a cappella miniatures requires constant attention to intonation, a more precise calibration of effect, and a more finely-tuned response across the ensemble. There is no accompaniment behind which the singers can hide. Some of the music is more technically accessible than much of what Chorale prepares—but in almost every case, transparency of texture and harmonic straightforwardness requires better vocalism than something painted with a broader brush. We have been challenged! and we look forward to singing for our audience. We hope you’ll join us: Saturday, June 13, 8:00 PM, St. Vincent DePaul Parish, in Lincoln Park.