(From the Iowa City Press-Citizen.)
Morten Lauridsen says, “For the ‘Lux Aeterna,’ I chose as my point of departure the sacred music of the late Renaissance, especially that of Josquin de Prez, to create a quiet, direct and introspective meditation on light, using primarily the consonant harmonies, intricate counterpoint, formal procedures and chant-like melodic lines of that era.”
In fact, Lauridsen seems to have included most of the musical elements developed or expanded upon during that period. Drawing principally on the familiar texts of the Requiem Mass, Te Deum, O Nata Lux and Veni, Sancte Spiritus, Lauridsen creates what music director David Puderbaugh describes as a “fragile work.” Why? Every element — notes, chords, phrasing, development of line, breath control and more — must be perfectly in place throughout the five movements. If Lauridsen’s work is new to you, this is the time to hear it performed live in the remarkable space of First United Methodist Church, seemingly designed to allow this unique combination of music and text to soar as it should.
It is tempting to write only about “Lux Aeterna” here, but there are several more pieces on the program, each with its own composer’s perspective on eternal light.
Ēriks Ešenvalds’ “The Heavens’ Flock,” set to a poem by Oregon’s Paulann Petersen, compares stars crossing the heavens on a deep, gorgeous night to a flock of sheep. The poetry and music entwine to convince us of the mysteries and improbabilities that arise when walking alone late on a dark, clear night, where one could imagine stars as sheep and darkness as “black wind.”
“Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis” by English composer Herbert Howells written for King’s College, Cambridge, treat these texts — canticles sung during morning and evening prayer — as the beginning and the end: the first, Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel, which removes her from normal young-girl life to catapult her into the deepest of mysteries; the second, the priest Zachary’s response to seeing the infant Jesus, and having had his life’s wish fulfilled, asks God to let him go in peace. Again, ancient texts set in new ways, bring out elements the listener may have never before heard in them.
Franz Shubert’s “An die Sonne,” an ode to the sun, describes what a mere mortal might never notice was all around him. The delights of nature, a theme in the Romantic period, abound in this piece, with splendid descriptions colorful birds, flowers, plants and trees. And then there is death, which turns all of nature to dust. Fear not! The beauty of this piece is such that no amount of Shubertian angst can deter us. “An die Sonne” will be conducted by Lindsey Bruner Woodcock, the Chamber Singers’ assistant director.
Dr. Lynda Hakken will accompany the Chamber Singers for this concert.
—James Petersen sings with Chamber Singers of Iowa City