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O Virtus Sapientiae
Hildegard von Bingen

We start with the juxtaposition of the oldest music on the program against the newest. Hildegard von Bingen was a 12th century Benedictine abbess and polymath who was primarily known as a poet and visionary for most of history, but her contributions to the musical canon have become much better understood in the last 30 years, largely as a result of the feminist movement. Hildegard probably never would have considered herself a composer and in fact, probably would have denounced the feminist movement which contributed to her fame. She was very conservative, even in her own time, and thought that men and women had fixed, separate roles in society. Nevertheless, she was instrumental to the development of music. She felt that music was the highest form of human activity and that singing was a sacred act. She created the earliest known “morality play” (Ordo Virtutum) and a collection of 77 sacred chants referred to as the “Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations”. O Virtus Sapientiae is an antiphon dedicated to Wisdom, “whose encompassing orbit revolves around all things”. We thought it fitting to celebrate the spark of human knowledge first by honoring the concept of wisdom. O virtus Sapientie, que circuiens circuisti comprehendendo omnia in una via que habet vitam tres alas habens, quarum una in altum volat et altera de terra sudat et tercia undique volat. Laus tibi sit, sicut te decet, O Sapientia. O gravity of wisdom, Whose encompassing orbit Revolves around all things On a single circuit that bounds life around. You have three wings: one soars above into the heights, one from the earth exudes, and all about now flies the third. Praise be to you, as you deserve. O wisdom.

I Am | The Song of Amergin
Thomas LaVoy

We then turn to the newest piece on the program, a work that Austin Cantorum is premiering alongside seven other US ensembles in a premiere process spanning tonight through the rest of this year. Amergin Gluingel is a figure in Irish mythology who invoked the spirit of Ireland to part a storm during the Milesian conquest of the island, thus allowing their ships to land and carry the battle in their favor. This invocation became known as the Song of Amergin. We were inspired by the piece’s powerful text and the notion of humanity’s “Fire of Thought”. I am the wind on the sea; I am the wave of the ocean; I am the bull of seven battles; I am the eagle on the rock; I am a flash from the sun; I am the most beautiful of plants; I am a strong wild boar; I am a salmon in the water; I am a lake in the plain; I am the word of knowledge; I am the head of the spear in battle; I am the god who creates in Man the Fire of Thought; Who spreads light in the gathering on the hills? Who can tell the ages of the moon? Who can tell the place where the sun rests, if not I? Translated by Isabella August, Lady Gregory (1852-1932) Adapted by Thomas LaVoy

Musica Dei donum optimi
Orlando di Lasso

Orlando di Lasso filled his music with esoteric symbols and twists like in his “Musica Dei donum optimi”, which appeared in his very last book of motets, the Cantiones Sacrae Sex Vocum from 1594 (the same year that he died). “Musica” was originally supposed to be the closing piece of the book, but other motets wound up being tacked onto the end, perhaps so that Lasso could make a joke about how old he was... Regardless, “Musica” was clearly important to Lasso and served as a way for Lasso to celebrate his life’s work, venerating music as a gift from God. In the piece, you can hear three distinct statements of the theme each at a different starting pitch and using a variety of contrapuntal combinations, with seemingly effortless virtuosity. In the first, he sets the stage. In the second, he develops the idea further and swings each voice through a cycle of 5ths. The third setting achieves a climax and reaches tonal resolution with a strong cadence into G major, creating in a sense his own holy trinity. He explores the intricacies of his music in a deeply expressive way and we are here for it. Sincere thanks to Danny Johnson of Texas Early Music Project for the use of his impeccable edition. Musica dei donum optimi trahit homines, trahit deos. Musica truces mollit animos tristeque mentes erigit. Musica vel ipsas arbores et horidas movet feras. Music, the gift of the supreme God, draws men, draws gods; music makes savage souls gentle and uplifts sad minds; music moves the trees themselves and wild beasts.

Thursday 29 March 1455: The Invention of Printing
Bob Chilcott
printing press.jpg

This is the first movement of a larger work by Bob Chilcott, "Five Days that Changed the World," which outlines five major historical events: the invention of printing, the abolition of slavery, the first powered flight, the discovery of penicillin, and the first man in space. In writing the text for the work, Charles Bennett chose to set most of the poems in the voice of the historical figures involved, as in the case with this movement where he was able to engage imaginatively with Johannes Gutenberg. Bennett combines references to Guttenberg's famous forty-two-line Bible ('In the beginning' echoes the first words of Genesis) with the surreality of the 'quick brown fox' sentence, which was used to teach touch-typing, since it incorporates all the letters of the alphabet. He also communicates his love of letters and words all while representing the creative vitality and potentiality of our species. The quick brown fox, the quick brown fox. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. I saw them walking like footprints in the snow. Saw them walking into houses all over the world. Open the door of the eye and let them in. I saw each letter, saw each letter like a person. ‘Z’ was lonely and ‘E’ was everyone’s friend. I watched them gather together into words. I knew if I took the letters one by one, knew if I held them tight in forty-two lines, they could speak to everyone everywhere. In the beginning there were footprints over the page. The footprints of a fox who jumps into your eye and over the lazy dog.

Invention #2 in G Minor
Ulysses Kay

Tucson-born composer Ulysses Kay had a prolific output of classical works and was instrumental in breaking down barriers for future African American composers. He was greatly influenced by William Grant Still who encouraged Kay to pursue classical composition as a career–a profession almost unheard of for African Americans during the 1920s and 1930s. This piece was originally part of his collection of Eight Inventions but Kay later regrouped 4 of the inventions into a separate work. One can hear the influence of Paul Hindemith, Kay’s teacher and mentor, as well as Kay’s own innovative harmonies, captivating melodies, and creative counterpoint. It is reflective and lyrical and employs a 6-note theme used in different keys throughout the piece.

Stephen Chatman

From sundials, water clocks, mechanical clocks, and pendulum clocks to the signals beaming down from Global Positioning System satellites that calibrate the functions of navigation equipment, cell phones, stock-trading systems, and nationwide power-distribution grids, humans have striven to gauge the divisions of the day and night for probably as long as humans have been a species. So integral have these time-based technologies become to our modern day-to-day lives that we recognize our dependency on them only when they fail to work. –adapted from “A Chronicle of Timekeeping” by William H. Andrewes “Clocks” is the fourth and final movement of Canadian composer Stephen Chatman’s Time Pieces which all set texts or sounds relating to the idea of time. It was inspired by the composer’s antique grandfather clock and is a textual and musical glossary of clock sounds, consisting of soft, delicate, repetitive “tick-tock” motives, the occasional “cuckoo”, and low, loud Westminster chime sounds (“dong” and “bong”).

Sweet and Low
Sir Joseph Barnby

The singing of part songs in Britain grew out of both the madrigal singing tradition and 18th century Glee. It meant to provide an accessible singing avenue for amateur singers with simpler, more homophonic harmonies. There was even the creation of a monthly publication called “The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular” which included one simple piece of choral music inside every issue to distribute to members and singing clubs. This sweet lullaby by Sir Joseph Barnby appeared in one such issue and became fairly well-known among the English part song community. It sets a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson written in 1849 (the title of which served as the inspiration behind the popular artificial sweetener brand “Sweet’n Low”). Barnby was known for his post as conductor of the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society, a position that earned him a knighthood and one that he held until his unexpected death at the age of 57. His lengthy obituary from 1896 was featured in the Times where editors mourned his passing with a beautiful and coincidentally fitting poem for tonight’s performance: Beyond the flight of time, Beyond this vale of death. There surely is some blessed clime Where life is not a breath, Nor life's affections transient fire, Whose sparks fly upward and expire. Sweet and low, sweet and low Wind of the western sea, Low, low, breathe and blow, Wind of the western sea! Over the rolling waters go, Come from the dying moon, and blow, Blow him again to me, While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps. Sleep and rest, sleep and rest, Father will come to thee soon; Rest, rest, on mother’s breast, Father will come to thee soon; Father will come to his babe in the nest, Silver sails all out of the west Under the silver moon! Sleep my little one, sleep my pretty one, sleep.

The Telephone
Randall Thompson
telephone no background.png

Randall Thompson’s compositional style remained fairly diatonic and conservative despite other innovations happening in music during the 20th century. He never delved into dodecaphonic writing or compositions inspired from folk melodies like other composers of the day, but he was nonetheless an American icon known for his choral compositions and his ability to beautifully set texts. “The Telephone” is the fourth movement from his seven-movement suite Frostiana which sets the poetry of another American icon, Robert Frost. Thompson wrote it in 1959 for the bicentennial celebration of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, where Robert Frost had lived for some years. It speaks to how the connection between loved ones can transcend time and space even though it can sometimes lead to misinterpretation. Did we include it on tonight’s program just for the word play of the title? Perhaps so, but it’s worth it to hear Cantorum’s tenors and basses shine. ‘When I was just as far as I could walk From here today, There was an hour All still When leaning with my head against a flower I heard you talk. Don’t say I didn’t, for I heard you say – You spoke from that flower on the window sill – Do you remember what it was you said?’ ‘First tell me what it was you thought you heard.’ ‘Having found the flower and driven a bee away, I leaned my head, And holding by the stalk, I listened and I thought I caught the word – What was it? Did you call me by my name? Or did you say – Someone said “Come” – I heard it as I bowed.’ ‘I may have thought as much, but not aloud.’ ‘Well, so I came.’

Christopher Tin

The lyrics of Astronomy are adapted from the preface to Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ seminal work “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” (1543)--a book which forever changed the course of astronomy by placing the Sun, and not the Earth, at the center of the universe. Copernicus called the study of the stars the ‘noblest of sciences’, as it concerned itself with the greatest of all beauties: the heavens. It was in this spirit of reflective dignity and grandeur that I composed my piece. --Christopher Tin Tin’s adaptation is centered around key phrases from the original Latin text, which he then had translated and poeticized into modern Polish. In the work’s original orchestration, Tin actually drew out various constellations in the conductor’s score using noteheads instead of stars. Our sincere thanks to Eric Johnson who coached us in our Polish pronunciation for this piece. Astronomio, gwiezdna drogo, Tyś jest matką wszelkiej wiedzy Choćby człowiek żył ubogo, Jego domem kosmos świetny. Nic czystszego ponad gwiazdy. Sięgaj wyżej, gdy nad sobą Przewspaniałe śledzisz Widowisko. Astronomio, piękne nieba Ty poznajesz, masz za swoje. Wobec twojej szlachetności Bledną ziemskie niepokoje. Patrząc w gwiazdy widzisz dzieło Boże Gwiazdy, księżyc, i planety. Astronomy, you’re a path of stars, The mother of all knowledge. Even the poor Have the Universe as their home. There is nothing purer than the stars. Reach higher, and follow This most exquisite Spectacle. Astronomy, beautiful skies Are yours to study. Your dignity is so great That all earthly troubles are nought. Looking at the stars, You see the work Of God. Stars, moon, and planet.

Kleiner Anfang
John Kameel Farah

In my repertoire search for this concert, I scoured the internet far and wide to try and find a piece to express (in a very small way) our concern about the crisis currently happening in Gaza. I couldn’t find a choral work that was just right for this concert, but I found this beautiful piano solo by Palestinian Canadian composer John Kameel Farah on an album called “Letters to Palestine.” I found the composer’s website and sent him an email asking if we could perform it tonight, and he agreed. We are so thankful to John for the opportunity to bring this piece to our Austin audience and to Benjie Dia for agreeing to perform it, and we hope and pray for peace in Gaza. –Adrienne Pedrotti Bingamon "Kleiner Anfang" or (“Little Beginning”) is an internal dialogue between musical eras or cultures which shaped my identity. This dialogue is characterized by alternating sequences of English Renaissance counterpoint, answered by quasi-improvised sections of ornamented Arabic melodies, evocative of the "Taqsim", the Middle-Eastern idiom of solo improvisation. The ending of one phrase is the beginning of another, until they collapse into a swell of rolling arpeggios. I wrote this piece as a poetic opening and closing to my own concerts, as bookends to both begin and end with, although it could just as well serve as a transition between larger pieces. –John Kameel Farah

Nature Boy
eden ahbez, arr. Anders Edenroth

In 1941, a 33-year-old George McGrew arrived in Los Angeles and began playing piano in a small health food store and raw food restaurant on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. The café was owned by John and Vera Richter, who followed a Naturmensch (nature person) and Lebensreform (life reform) philosophy influenced by the Wandervogel (Wandering Bird) movement in Germany. Their followers, known as "Nature Boys", wore long hair and beards and ate only raw fruits and vegetables. McGrew adopted the philosophy and chose the name "eden ahbez", writing and spelling his name with lower-case letters. It was there, while living in a cave near Palm Springs, that ahbez wrote "Nature Boy". Partly autobiographical, the song was a tribute to his mentor Bill Pester, who had originally introduced him to Naturmensch and Lebensreform. In 1947, ahbez approached Nat King Cole's manager backstage at the Lincoln Theater in Los Angeles, handed him a tattered copy of "Nature Boy", and asked him to show it to Cole. However, his pleas were ignored and a disappointed ahbez left the sheet music of "Nature Boy" with Cole's valet, Otis Pollard. From him, Cole learned of the song and loved it. Cole began playing "Nature Boy" for live audiences, and received much acclaim. In order to record it, he needed ahbez’s permission, but was unable to find the songwriter since ahbez had disappeared without providing any contact details. After ahbez was discovered living under the Hollywood Sign, Cole got his permission and recorded the song on August 22, 1947. –adapted from Wikipedia

Railroad (Travel Song)
Meredith Monk

Attendees of our concert last November may remember our performance of another piece by Meredith Monk, “Earth Seen from Above”. Monk is an innovative and versatile composer and I was delighted when Benjie approached me with the idea of adding this piece to our Sparks concert repertoire, since it gives us the opportunity to consider the development of railroads which, as they were first being developed over 200 years ago, people worried would make passengers unable to breathe due to their speed, or would shake passengers unconscious by their vibrations. (Early misunderstandings of technologies are so charming, aren’t they?) The steam-powered locomotive saw the golden era of US train travel from the 1880s to the 1920s but was then replaced by cars and planes as the primary mode of transportation for people. Cargo trains these days are powered by electricity or diesel, but you can still see some steam-powered heritage and tourist trains keeping the tradition alive. In fact, my family and I just took an old-fashioned steam train ride out to Burnet last weekend for its Bluebonnet Festival. It. Took. Forever. Maybe someday long after we’re all dead, we’ll get some of those fancy European-style 200 mph trains in the US… –Adrienne Pedrotti Bingamon “Railroad (Travel Song)” was originally part of my opera Specimen Days (1981). The inspiration for the piece was Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s travel diary, Notes of a Pianist, in which he describes touring and concertizing during the American Civil War. He would travel by train from place to place transporting his piano in the baggage car. –Meredith Monk

Immortal Bach
J.S. Bach, arr. Knut Nystedt

Immortal Bach, arranged by Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt (born 1915), is essentially a derivative work, based upon temporally prolonging and overlapping the successive chords of Bach’s ‘Komm, süsser Tod’ (‘Come, sweet Death’), a funeral song originally for solo voice and basso continuo. The device (called “phasing”) may, at first glance, strike one as an intellectual gimmick; but the result may be described as ‘theology expressed in sound’: Bach’s ‘immortality’ is symbolized by making his music literally ‘time-less’. In the process, his simple chorale setting is elevated into something far more profound, allowing us to catch a little glimpse, however fleeting, of eternity. --adapted from notes by Vladimir Morosan © 1997 Komm, süsser Tod. Komm, selge Ruh! Komm führe mich in Friede. Come sweet death. Come blessed rest. Come and lead me to peace.

Rivers of Light
Ēriks Ešenvalds

This piece is a Cantorum favorite, one that we performed back in January of 2020 at our Symphony of Light concert. By Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, it celebrates the Northern Lights and incorporates folk tunes from the Sámi people of Scandinavia, text from Arctic explorers Fridtjof Nansen and Charles Francis Hall, and various writings on the Northern Lights compiled by the composer. Ešenvalds’ music is known for the incredible ambiance it creates with smooth drones and vivid harmonies. He achieves an exciting choral texture by mixing exotic modernism with a ritualistic old world palette. Kuovsakasah reukarih tåkko teki, sira ria tåkko teki sira ria, sira siraa ria (Northern lights slide back and forth, fa la la Back and forth, fa la la) Guovssat, guovssat radni go, libai libai libaida Ruoná gákti, nu nu nu (Northern Lights, Northern Lights, blanket shivering, fa la la Green coat, fa la la) Winter night, the sky is filled with symphony of light. The sky is flooded with rivers of light. The doors of heaven have been opened tonight. From horizon to horizon misty dragons swim through the sky. Green curtains billow and swirl. Fast-moving, sky-filling, the tissues of gossamer. Nothing can be heard! Light shakes over the vault of heaven… Its veil of glittering silver: changing now to yellow, now to green, now to red. It spreads in restless change, into waving, into many-folded bands of silver. It shimmers in tongues of flame. Over the very zenith it shoots a bright ray up, until the whole melts away, as a sigh of departing soul in the moonlight, leaving a glow in the sky like the dying embers of a great fire.

When I Am Laid in Earth
Henry Purcell

Dido's Lament ("When I am laid in earth") is the closing aria from English Baroque composer Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas from 1688, in which Dido, distraught at the betrayal of her lover, sings of her yearning to be remembered before killing herself. The aria illustrates Purcell’s brilliant use of the descending chromatic fourth in the ground bass–an uneven 5 measures long–which appears 11 times throughout the piece. Purcell lays out the melody, slightly shifting it with each entrance so that the cadences you would expect from the ground bass are not fulfilled and instead add to the drama and expressiveness of the piece. We include it tonight not only to hear it beautifully sung by soprano Jenny Houghton, but also to reflect on the fact that sparks are both ignited and extinguished, and we hope that our individual sparks make a difference to those around us while we’re here. Thy hand, Belinda! Darkness shades me, On thy bosom let me rest. More I would, but Death invades me. Death is now a welcome guest. When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create No trouble, no trouble in thy breast. Remember me, remember me. But ah! forget my fate. Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

Holding  the Light
B. E. Boykin

B. E. Boykin is a composer, pianist, and conductor based out of Atlanta, Georgia. In “Holding the Light”, with text from poet Stuart Kestenbaum, she tells a story of healing, perserverance, and finding metaphorical light in the global community. Gather up whatever is glittering in the gutter, whatever has tumbled in the waves or fallen in flames out of the sky, for it’s not only our hearts that are broken, but the heart of the world as well. Stitch it back together. Make a place where the day speaks to the night and the earth speaks to the sky. Whether we created God or God created us it all comes down to this: in our imperfect world we are meant to repair and stitch together what beauty there is, stitch it with compassion and wire. See how everything we have made gathers The light inside itself And overflows? A blessing.

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine
Eric Whitacre
flying machine.JPG

Leonardo da Vinci wasn't just mildly interested in flying machines — he was fascinated by them. He wrote over 35,000 words and drew 500 different sketches just on flying machines, birds, and the nature of air movement, including writing a whole codex on bird flight right around the same time he was painting the Mona Lisa. He mainly drew "ornithopters", bat-like flying machines with huge wings that a pilot would try to flap using cranks and pullies, but he also devised designs for parachutes, hang gliders, and "aerial screws" that look like big screw drivers. The main problem with all these theoretical devices is that humans are just too scrawny to get off them the ground. We're wimpy little things compared to birds! So these designs never got to be used in any practical way, but that doesn't mean that they weren't game-changing and inspirational. Composer Eric Whitacre and Lyricist Tony Sylvestri used Leonardo as their inspiration for this work, wanting to create something that sounded like the music they imagined would be playing inside the mind of such a genius. They approached the piece as if they were writing an opera breve and it has since become a choral classic. It premiered back in 2001, but it still feels amazingly fresh and energized with epic dissonances, gorgeous harmonies, and an exotic hybrid of old and new. Tormented by visions of flight and falling, More wondrous and terrible each than the last, Master Leonardo imagines an engine To carry man up into the sun… And he’s dreaming the heavens call him, Softly whispering their siren-song: “Leonardo, Leonardo, vieni à volare.” (“Leonardo, Leonardo, come fly.”) L’uomo colle sua congiegniate e grandi ale, facciendo forza contro alla resistente aria. (A man with wings large enough and duly connected might learn to overcome the resistance of the air.) As the candles burn low he paces and writes, Releasing purchased pigeons one by one Into the golden Tuscan sunrise… And as he dreams, again the calling, The very air itself gives voice: “Leonardo, Leonardo, vieni à volare.” (“Leonardo, Leonardo, come fly.”) Vicina all’ elemento del fuoco… (Close to the sphere of elemental fire…) Scratching quill on crumpled paper (Rete, canna, filo, carta.) (Net, cane, thread, paper.) Images of wing and frame and fabric fastened tightly. …sulla suprema sottile aria. ( the highest and raret atmosphere.) As the midnight watchtower tolls, Over rooftop, street and dome, The triumph of a human being ascending In the dreaming of a mortal man. Leonardo steels himself, Takes one last breath, and leaps…. “Leonardo vieni à volare! Leonardo, sognare!” (“Leonardo, come fly! Leonardo, dream!)

Thank you so much for coming!
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Nathan Fulmer
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First English Lutheran Church

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Benjie Dia

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