Chamber Singers of Iowa City has a long-standing relationship with Estonian composers, particularly Arvo Pärt. At 80 years of age, Arvo Pärt is the most-performed living conductor in the world.
His “Passio” is a deeply spiritual exploration of the Passion of St. John, chapters 18 and 19 from the Christian scriptures.
The cantata, in Latin, is a unique combination of voices and instruments that at once complements the chorus and vocal soloists and contrasts with them: solo baritone (Jesus), solo tenor (Pilate), solo vocal quartet (Evangelist), choir, violin, oboe, cello, bassoon and organ.
While many oratorios are three hours in length, Pärt’s “Passio” is just over an hour. That hour, though, is packed with music and with deep spiritual emotion.
Pärt has compared his music to “white light which contains all colours” that only a prism can divide. He believes that prism is the spirit of the listener. There are many interesting aspects of “Passio” that will get the listener’s attention: the arrangement of the chords, Pärt’s use of consonance and dissonance that sonically splits the “white light” of his ideal into the many colors he describes above. For the singers, while the notes are not difficult, the cluster chords Pärt uses can give fits. Each voice must be in perfect alignment with every other voice.
In its austere beauty, First Presbyterian Church is a perfect setting for such a piece. Audience members might, in fact, imagine the space filled with color as the chords work their way around the passion text.
The list of vocal soloists and instrumentalists is stellar. All have performed on the finest stages in the world. Regular concert-goers will recognize several of them, as many have performed with Chamber Singers before. Nicholas Miguel, baritone; Timothy Stalter, lyric tenor; Hannah Green, soprano; Lisa Neher, mezzo-soprano; Juan Carlos Mendoza, tenor; Colleen Ferguson, violin; Benjamin Coelho, bassoon; James Ellis, cellist; and others. Chamber Singers’ accompanist, Lynda Hakken, has shaped the sound of the organ to perfectly complement the vocal and instrumental ensemble.
After the concert, please join the Chamber Singers at Clinton Street Social Club, 18 1/2 S. Clinton St., for a celebration of winter and the radiant music of Arvo Pärt. The singers are calling this intimate gala “Northern Lights” in homage to Pärt’s homeland. This fundraising event will feature a curated discussion of “Passio,” a special performance of a short Pärt piece, and hearty hors-d’oeuvres and cocktails inspired by Pärt’s Estonia. The Clinton Street Social Club is not fully handicap accessible as it is upstairs with no elevator.
First Presbyterian Church is a small venue; the Singers highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance online and arriving early. There will be no balcony seating.
Visit www.icchambersingers.org for advance ticketing and more details. Tickets for “Northern Lights” are $25 per person.
The Chamber Singers of Iowa City will present Arvo Pärt’s “Passio,” at 3 p.m. Feb. 28 at First Presbyterian Church, 2701 Rochester Ave., Iowa City.
James Petersen sings with the Chamber Singers of Iowa City.