Concerts June 3–5 feature new work by Theofanidis and Pizzetti’s 1922 Requiem
By Peter Alexander May 23 at 9:12 p.m.
Guitarist and CU music professor Nicolò Spera was shocked by things going on the U.S. after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He wanted to respond in the best way he knew—with music.
The musical work that came from that desire, Door Out of the Fire by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Christopher Theofanidis, will be the centerpiece of a concert by Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers, under the direction of Thomas Edward Morgan. The Ars Nova performance will be the Colorado premiere, following a performance by Spera in Michigan in October, 2021.
Also on the program is the Requiem of Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti. Performances will be June 3, 4 and 5, in Denver, Boulder and Longmont, respectively (see details below). In addition to the live performances, the concert will also be available by livestream. Information and tickets for the concerts, which close out Ars Nova’s 2021–22 season, are available here.
After Ginsburg’s death, “I wanted a composer to write some ‘postcards to the future,’ in music,” Spera wrote in a recent email. He turned to Theofanidis, who had recently written an orchestral work, On the Bridge of the Eternal, for the 2020 centennial of the CU Boulder College of Music.
Writing for and with Spera, Theofanidis composed four choral “messages in a bottle” based on poems by Melissa Studdard. Each of the four choral settings is preceded by a prelude for guitar.
The texts reflect some of the major issues of our time, including the threat posed by climate change. They are titled “Burning Cathedral,” “The Book of Rahul,” “Ruth’s Aria”—to be sung by CU music faculty member Abigail Nims, mezzo soprano—and “Migration Patterns.” The work is dedicated to “le nostre speranze”—our hopes—Spera’s children, Julia and Giacomo.
Pizzetti’s Requiem will be presented in observance of the 100th anniversary of its composition. The Requiem, Pizzetti’s only liturgical music, is written for a-capella choir. The musical setting includes Gregorian chant as well as movements that recall Renaissance madrigals. The texture varies from single-line chant to eight voices to multiple choirs in the manner of 17th-century Venetian polychoral music.
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Made Real Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, director With Nicolò Spera, guitar, and Abigail Nims, mezzo-soprano
Christopher Theofanidis: Door Out of the Fire
Ildebrando Pizzetti: Requiem
7:30 p.m. Friday, June 3 St. Paul Community of Faith, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 4 First United Methodist Church, Boulder
7 p.m. Sunday, June 5 Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum
“Made Fragile” welcomes a fragile spring season with consoling music
By Peter Alexander March 29 at 10:20 p.m.
It’s a common theme: Boulder conductors look to program music that recognizes the stress and trauma their audiences have been through in the past two years.
For Thomas Morgan and the Ars Nova Singers, that means turning to music that is more comfortably familiar than much of the Renaissance and contemporary music that they usually perform: the gentle, consoling Requiem by French composer Gabriel Fauré. On the same program will be Fauré’s popular Pavane, in a version for orchestra and chorus; Brahms’s choral song “Abendständchen” (Evening serenade); and four works by Indian/American composer Reena Esmail.
The program, titled “Made Fragile,” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Denver (April 1) and Saturday in Boulder (May 2; details below).
Featured performers with Ars Nova will be flutist Christina Jennings; violist Matt Dane, who will be concertmaster of the orchestra; Ars Nova assistant conductor Brian Dukeshier, who will lead the Brahms; and soprano Magdalena Kadula, a senior at Tara Performing Arts High School in Boulder who won a competition to sing a solo with Ars Nova.
The Fauré Requiem is probably the most familiar work Morgan and the Ars Nova Singers have performed. “We did it in our second season, 1987, and haven’t done it since,” Morgan says. “It is outside where our usual repertoire is. But one of the things we realized coming out of the pandemic is that there’s so much community grief that’s left unprocessed.
“We wanted to do something that would really appeal both to the audiences and to our singers. And Fauré’s really gentle that way.”
Ars Nova likes to include educational activities in their schedule, but during the pandemic they have been unable to go into schools. Instead, Morgan decided to reach out to students by offering the opportunity to sing “Pie Jesu,” the soprano solo movement of the Requiem. It is relatively short and not difficult, which made it ideal for young singers.
“We had a competition,” Morgan explains. “We sent it out to public music teachers and private voice teachers and offered a little scholarship (and) we had 13 entrants. It’s just a two-page piece and we had the first round where the kids recorded it on their phones. We evaluated those 13 entries and selected five to do in-person auditions.
“From that we selected Magdalena Kadula, who will be our soprano. She’s a senior at the Tara High School of the Arts here in Boulder. It was a good way for us to outreach to young people at a time that’s very challenging.”
The other major element of the program is a selection of four pieces by Reena Esmail. An Indian-American composer, she has studied at Juilliard and Yale in this country, and with Hindustani music teachers in India. She often incorporates elements of Hindustani music into her compositions, along with Western classical music.
Esmail’s music was added to the program through a suggestion by violist Matt Dane. The orchestra for Fauré’s Requiem only calls for violas and cellos, with no violins, so Dane serves as concertmaster. He suggested Esmail’s “When the Violin” for chorus and viola as a good companion piece to the Requiem.
That led to adding another piece by Esmail for viola and flute, which Dane will play with his wife, flutist Christina Jennings from the CU faculty. That in turn led to adding two other pieces by Esmail, “She Will Transform You” for flute and chorus, and “Tarekita” for a capella chorus, which will open the concert.
Esmail wrote “TaReKiTa” for a choir of homeless people in Los Angeles that she was working with. “It’s taken off in the choral world,” Morgan says. “A number of people have recorded it. It’s very accessible, kind of like Indian scat singing. It’s a short piece that sets the stage well for the rest of her music, (which is) infused with who she is as an Indian-American.”
With Jennings included on the program, Morgan then decided to add Fauré’s Pavane, which is popular in a version for small orchestra and featuring a prominent flute solo. Originally written for piano, it was adapted by Fauré for orchestra and chorus, including a text that Morgan says “is not high art in terms of poetry,” about men’s and women’s romantic helplessness. “The beautiful melody carries the whole thing,” he says.
Morgan chose the Brahms “Abendständchen” to complete the program, both for its musical qualities and the opening line, “‘Hark the flute laments again, and the cool springs murmur,” which fits the occasion perfectly. The performance is a farewell for Dukeshier, who has been Ars Nova’s assistant conductor for several years, and recently completed a doctorate at the University of Northern Colorado.
Morgan says that the COVID protocols for the two performances are always subject to change. “We’re watching week to week as to how we implement our COVID strategies,” he says. “At the moment we’re planning to go with the singers masks-optional, but we’re also watching what’s happening. It makes for an interesting time right now.”
In other words, be sure to check the Ars Nova Health and Safety page on the Web before attending the concert. Or as Morgan puts it, “As the name of the program says, everything’s very fragile.”
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“Made Fragile“ Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Morgan, director With Christina Jennings, flute, and Matt Dane, viola Magdalena Kadula, soprano Brian Dukeshier, asst. conductor
Reena Esmail: “TaReKiTa” for chorus —“When the Violin” for chorus and solo viola —“She Will Transform You” for chorus and solo flute —“Nadiya” for flute and viola
Brahms: “Abendständchen” (Evening serenade)
Gabriel Fauré: Pavane (arr. Thomas Morgan) —Requiem
7:30 p.m. Friday, April 1 Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver
7:30 pm. Saturday, April 2, First United Methodist, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder Also available by livestream
“We wanted to bring the music from one of our finer performances,” Tom Morgan says.
The conductor of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers wanted to offer a free online gift to the disaster-wearied local community at the start of 2022, before the choir starts having in-person rehearsals and performances later in the spring. But he faced one problem: the group has made a lot of sound recordings of their concerts, but not any videos.
What he wanted to share was a pre-COVID performance from October 2018, of Will Todd’s Mass in Blue, a jazz-inflected, modern setting of movements from the Latin Mass. Morgan decided that rather than showing a static image or series of still images, which he says are “not particularly interesting to look at,” he would create his own video with abstract and natural imagery to accompany the music.
Under the title “Made Cool,” the resulting video will be offered free to the public at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, through the Ars Nova Web page.
With imagery that responds to the music rather than any specifics of the liturgical texts, the video transcends specific religious or doctrinal interpretations. Morgan feels that style of video fits well with the score, which brings together a jazz trio of piano, bass and drums with a virtuosic soprano solo and the choir.
“Todd in his conception and setting is making a pretty clear attempt to universalize the mass,” Morgan says. “He’s trying to make it more both modern and universal by taking it into this musical language.
“I thought we should go even a step further with the visuals. It adds another layer of meaning to the music. To establish the intent of universalizing the mass and bringing it to a wider audience, I thought a video overlay that also universalizes the mass opened it up to more interpretation, (by) not being overly literal with the mass.”
The video is very much a COVID-era product. To build his skills in video editing, Morgan took online video-editing classes during the early months of pandemic. He first used his newly-developed abilities in his former job as music director at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder. With that experience, he then transferred those skills to his work with Ars Nova.
Morgan plans to make more use of his video editing experience in future work with Ars Nova. Now that he has retired from his church job, he has “more opportunities to think about how we do the art that we do, in ways that is not the usual concert,” he says. Since the pandemic, “we’re having to think in new ways and broaden what we do. It’s a good challenge, but a necessary one right now.”
In creating the “Made Cool” video, Morgan selected a different visual theme for each of the six movements of Todd’s Mass. These range from photos he himself took in a church in England to visuals of nature and natural phenomena. Other than the photos Morgan took in the Sanctus movement, they mostly came from online sources.
“There’s online libraries of all kind of video possibilities, used for advertising,” Morgan explains. “There’s also wonderful public libraries like from NASA, and those have been valuable and interesting to work with, too.”
In some cases Morgan was able to connect with specific photographers whose online material he responded to, and get more material from them. He could use the visuals in that way to create continuity within a movement, for example—“so that it’s not completely a mishmash,” he says.
“I thought about how a narrative might come through each particular movement, and also something that would connect across the piece. I tried to find little arcs within the movements and then find an overall one that would allow the music to expand into that space. That also ties into what an actual Mass is, in terms of a sequence that has a relationship to redemptive history.”
Many of the videos were available for a small fee, although Morgan and Ars Nova drew the line at paying one videographer in England £45 per second for his video. “That’s way out of our price range,” Morgan says. “We said, ‘Let’s find something else!’” Other material however they paid for the rights to use, the same as they did for the music and the performances of the musicians involved.
With the video, Morgan is taking part in the development of new forms of art—a kind of classical choral-music video. “It’s a different take on the traditional choral concert,” he says.
“I hope it will get out to a wider audience than our usual concert supporters.”
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“Made Cool” Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director With Kathryn Radakovich, soprano; Scott Martin, piano; Mark Diamond, bass; and Russ Meissner, drums Video editing by Tom Morgan
Concert features music of Renaissance composer Palestrina
By Peter Alexander Oct. 14 at 5:35 p.m.
The music of Renaissance composer Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina was regarded as having been “made perfect” by the generations that followed him.
Boulder’s Are Nova Singers will present a concert devoted largely to Palestrina’s perfectly made music, along with a piece by the contemporary English composer John Tavener, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 at St. Pauls’ Community of Faith in Denver, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, in First United Methodist Church in Boulder. Tickets are available for both in-person attendance, and also for an online audience for the Oct. 15 performance, on the Ars Nova Web page.
Proof of vaccination must be shown for admission, and masks must be worn indoors throughout the concert.
The leading composer of sacred music in the 16th century, Palestrina spent his entire life in or near Rome, having been born just outside the city. He served for many years as director of the Capella Giulia, the papal choir at St. Peter’s Basilica. His reputation then and later was so great that he was long and falsely credited with having “saved” polyphonic (multi-voice) sacred choral music during the Council of Trent, which was tasked with purging and clarifying church doctrine as part of the 16th-century Counter-Reformation.
It was Palestrina’s mastery of counterpoint that was so widely admired by musicians and theorists. The teaching of counterpoint for several generations after was based on his works, which were characterized by the smooth movement of voices, with very few leaps between notes, and careful control of dissonance. In fact, his style is still taught today as “Renaissance polyphony.” It has been the verdict of history that he was the greatest composer of sacred music of his generation.
Palestrina wrote at least 104 polyphonic settings of the mass, more than 300 motets, 35 magnificats, and 140 madrigals, among other works. From this vast output, Are Nova will perform a Missa Brevis (short mass), a movement from another setting of the mass, and three motets.
Twentieth/twenty-first century composer John Tavener (1944-2013) was also known for his extensive output of sacred choral music. His “Song for Athene” became particularly well known when it was performed in 1997 at the funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales. The “Exhortation” is written for double chorus. It was commissioned for the 2003 Festival of Remembrance in London’s Royal Albert Hall and is based on the poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, which begins “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.”
Like much of Tavener’s music, “Exhortation” conveys both serenity and a mystical quality that seems related to his extensive spiritual exploration by means of Russian and Greek orthodox Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Tavener described himself as “essentially Orthodox,” which became an important aspect of his musical identity.
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Ars Nova Singers Thomas Morgan, director 2021–22 Season
Palestrina: Missa Brevis
—Surge amica mea
— Diffusa est gratis
—Accepit Jesus calicem
—Agnus Dei (Missa Benedicta es)
John Tavener: Exhortation
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 St. Paul’s Community of Faith 1600 Grant St, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16 First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St, Boulder
“A Celebration of Colorado Artistry,” April 26 and 27
By Peter Alexander April 24, 2019 at 2:15 p.m.
Works of art can inspire other works of art. A poem may inspire a composer to write songs or choral music with the poem as the text. Operas and films are often based on literary works.
Ars Nova Singers
Paintings can also inspire music—think for example of Mussorgsky’s great piano piece, best known in various orchestral versions, Pictures at an Exhibition. Debussy’s La Mer was inspired in part by Hokusai’s painting “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” and there are other examples.
Thomas Edward Morgan, director of Ars Nova Singers, has decided to help the inspirational process along while adding another layer with a project titled “A Celebration of Colorado Artistry: Shared Visions 2,” which culminates this weekend in two concerts by Ars Nova (Friday in Cherry Hills Village, Saturday in Boulder; details below).
This is the second iteration of Shared Visions, which Morgan and Ars Nova first presented in 2016. The process of getting from one artwork to another was the same both times: Colorado visual artists were invited to submit artworks for consideration; Colorado poets were then asked to write a new poem inspired by one or more of the artworks; and Colorado composers were invited to choose one of the resulting poems to set for chorus to be premiered by Ars Nova.
“Synapse Tapestry” by John Bonath, one of the artworks included in Shared Visions 2, 2019
For the current project, Ars Nova assembled an online gallery of 24 artworks by eight visual artists in the summer of 2018. Eight poets viewed the gallery and used the images as a basis for poetry. The resulting 47 poems were gathered into an anthology of poems and images of the artworks, and Ars Nova then commissioned four composers—Paul Fowler, Leanna Kirchoff, Jeff Nytch, and Morgan—to select poems from the anthology to be set as new works for chorus.
“Healing Grace—Lungs” by Grace Gee, one of the artworks in Shared Visions 2
The poets whose work they selected to set are Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer (two works), Erin Robertson and Christine Weeber. The visual artists who inspired the poems are John Bonath. Elizabeth Woody, Grace Gee and Kimmerjae Macarus.
“It was so successful when we did it three years ago that we decided that we would do it again in about three years,” Morgan says. “It takes a couple of years to pull it together.”
The rules for the composer were to write a piece for mixed chorus, either a capella (unaccompanied), or with a single solo instrument other than piano. As it turned out, all the pieces this year are for voices alone.
Morgan says the four pieces are quite different. “They come from different aesthetic places,” he says. “All of our composers have done really interesting stuff with these texts.
“The last time we did this project it was just the energy of these people meeting. It really is unique to see the chain of inspiration, and see (the artists) connect on a human level because the painters and visual artists are having their works sung to them.”
Sometimes, Morgan says, the connections made through the project reach beyond the initial collaborations and performance. “It has opened up some connections for some of (the artists) already,” he says. “I know that Paul Fowler and Rosemary Trommer have done a couple of other projects together since the last one.
“We had one poet, Karen Robertson, who was so taken with the project (this year) that she wrote a poem for each visual art piece in the gallery, and another poet, Rosemary Trommer, wrote 14 poems.
“Getting that level of engagement out of our literary artists was really quite gratifying.”
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Ars Nova Singers
“A Celebration of Colorado Artistry: Shared Visions”
Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, director
Paul Fowler: Synapse (poem by Rosemerrry Wahtola Trommer; visual art by John Bonath) Leanna Kirchoff: Holy Water (poem by Erin Robertson; visual art by Elizabeth Woody) Jefffrey Nytch: Thank You Letter to My Lungs (poem by Rosemerrry Wahtola Trommer; visual art by Grace Gee) Thomas Edward Morgan: Heart Vessels (poem by Christine Weeber; granite sculpture by Kimmerjae Macarus)
7:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder
Conductor Thomas Edward Morgan and Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers must really like Renaissance music that has many more than the usual four or five separate voice parts.
About this time last year, they performed a 36-voice canon by Johannes Ockeghem. The year before that, it was a 19-voice motet by Robert Carver. And in 2016, it was two separate pieces for 40 voices, the largest number ever called for in the Renaissance, by Thomas Tallis and Alessandro Striggio.
The original manuscript of Brumel’s “Earthquake Mass” (1570)
This year’s offering is not quite on that scale, but it is unusual: a Mass by Antoine Brumel for 12 voices—the only Renaissance choral setting of the Mass for such large forces (performances Saturday in Boulder and Sunday in Denver). It is known as “The Earthquake Mass,” not because of the earth-shaking nature of the music, but because it is based on a tiny bit of sacred chant, originally sung to the words “Et ecce terra motus” (“And behold, the earth moved”).
It was customary in the Renaissance to build larger pieces on a short phrase of chant. This is not unlike jazz that is based on the bass line from a standard song, except that in the Renaissance the quoted phrase would be placed in an inner voice and might not be heard or recognized by the listener.
In this way, Brumel’s Mass was composed “just from that one little snippet of chant, which is the basis of the whole thing,” Morgan says. On the other hand, he adds, “there’s a section where he probably was thinking about the ground moving or something dramatic, because there’s a couple of vigorous and dramatic shaking moments in the piece.”
Such a large number of different voices creates a rich sound that Morgan and the choir relish. “For the ensemble it’s fun because there’s not many groups that can have 12 independent lines and really be confident that they’re going to all be there,” Morgan says.
“So it’s building on the capabilities of the group, but I just find that there’s nothing quite sonically like it again until the 20th century. I find (multi-part pieces) to be very interesting, because you’re listening for small changes in texture, and being able to hear it go from large sonic structures to much more intimate things, and to hear places where the voices come together and present something at the same time.”
At the same time there is a drawback to presenting music with so many parts intricately woven together. “It’s very dense, to the point where you just hear a lot of activity in the voices, and you hear little snippets of melody that go around the choir. Some (fragments of melody) are very clearly presented one after the other and some are layered in such a way that you can’t even perceive them any more because they’re right on top of each other.”
Morgan has structured the program so that the more dense music is not heard in a single, unbroken stretch. The five movements of the Mass will be performed in three sections at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the program, with other, more intimate pieces presented in between.
Ann Marie Morgan
Ann Marie Morgan, a member of Ars Nova and an internationally known instrumental performer, will play a variety of music on the viola da gamba, and at one point the singers will present a four-voice motet by Josquin Des Prez, conducted by Brian Dukeshier, Ars Nova’s new assistant conductor.
“I decided to give the singers a little break, and when you have a world-class viola da gamba player in your midst, it’s nice to use her occasionally,” Morgan says. “She’s put together a couple of little sets of (pieces). The intention is to create a context that draws the ear of the listener out of these large, dense textures and into a very intimate space.”
The viola da gamba pieces would not have been heard in services of the Mass in Brumel’s time, but it is not inauthentic to interrupt the larger musical portions of the program. In the church of the time, the various movements of the Mass would be heard at different times during the service, with chant and other events between, so that the listeners would not sit straight through 30 minutes of dense choral music.
Renaissance music is often performed that way in concerts, but listening that way “can be a bit of a challenge,” Morgan says, “because it’s just so much of the same kind of texture. Even within the mass we’re varying the texture in that we have sections that are being done by one voice on a part. So we have two little 12-tet groups that are presenting certain parts.”
Josquin’s motet introduces another kind of variety into the program. “It’s a four-part piece in the midst of all of this,” Morgan says. “It’s for choral variety, but it’s also a little bit for tessitura (voice range) variety, because it’s a considerably higher-pitched piece than the Mass. So we hear the sopranos go up in their register a little bit.”
Morgan has no hesitation recommending the Brumel Mass to new listeners of Renaissance music. “It’s so sonically lush that I think people will enjoy it,” he says. “You don’t perceive the underlying chant, but you hear the changes of harmony, and when it moves from one large tonal area into another, it has this kind of surge like a wave that arrives and then it recedes.
“It’s very gracious to listen to. I find it meditative in a way, because it does transport you into a place where you’re not trying to figure it out.”
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Music of the Renaissance: “The Earthquake Mass”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, artistic director
With Ann Marie Morgan, viola da gamba
Antoine Brumel: Missa Et ecce terra motus (“The Earthquake Mass”)
Josquin Des Prez: Ave Maria…virgo serena Music and arrangements for viola da gamba by various composers
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, St. John’ Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder Tickets
4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, St. Paul Community of Faith, 1600 Grant St., Denver Tickets
Program includes the first performance in 400 years of a 16th-century motet
By Peter Alexander Feb. 22 at 11 p.m.
Ars Nova Singers and director Thomas Edward Morgan
The young composer Orlando di Lasso wanted to impress Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria.
The year was approximately 1555, Lasso was in his 20s and Albrecht was one of the most important and powerful patrons of music in Europe. Lasso decided to write a set of choral pieces — motets — on the mystical Christian texts known as the Prophetiae Sibyllarum (Sybylline Prophecies) and write in the most advanced musical techniques of the time: harmonically complex and highly chromatic. It was a way of saying, “Look what I can do!”
Because the pieces are difficult, they have not been performed often. This makes them perfect for a concert called “Hidden Masterpieces of the Renaissance,” to be presented by conductor Thomas Edward Morgan and the Ars Nova singers, with the male quintet Solis as guests.
The concert will be sung a capella, with no instrumental accompaniment. In addition to music by Lasso, the “hidden masterpieces” will include pieces by John Taverner, Johannes Ockeghem, Orazio Vecchi, William Byrd and other 16th-century composers.
Hidden Masterpieces of the Renaissance
Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan director, with Solis
7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, Heart of Longmont United Methodist Church, 350 11th Ave
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, St. John Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder
4 p.m. Sunday, Feb 25, St. Paul’s Community of Faith, 1600 Grant St., Denver
Program features the complete choral works of Maurice Duruflé
By Peter Alexander
If Monet’s paintings were music, they would be the choral works of Maurice Duruflé.
That’s the view of Thomas Edward Morgan, director of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers, who open their season Oct. 6 and 7 in Denver and Boulder with an all-Duruflé program, featuring the composer’s entire output for chorus.
Thomas Edward Morgan and Ars Nova Singers. Photo by Julie Afflerbaugh.
“Our mailing for this [concert] used a Monet painting of Rouen Cathedral,” Morgan says. “Duruflé was a choir boy at that cathedral, and [his music] is as close as we get in the musical world to how Monet was seeing the world.”
Duruflé’s name is probably better known to choral singers than to the general public, largely because his music is very rewarding to sing, but there’s not very much of it. “He was a perfectionist,” Morgan says. “He didn’t release very much material, but all of what he did is just extremely well crafted, and a joy to do.”
The anchor of the program will be Duruflé’s best known work, his Requiem, composed in the 1940s. The other choral works on the program are a set of four motets, composed in 1950; the Cum jubilo Mass of 1960, for male choir and organ; and Notre Père (Our Father), an a capella work composed in 1977.
Music of Renaissance England forms “Voices and Viols” program
By Peter Alexander
A choral piece for “only” 19 parts is almost too easy for the experienced voices of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers.
Ars Nova Singers
Last year they sang two pieces in 40 parts, which artistic director Thomas Edward Morgan admits was “a challenging thing to do — in the middle of winter and flu season!” Each of the 40 parts had to be sung by only a single singer, so any absences would have scuttled the performance.
With those works successfully performed last year, the group is now adding a 19-voice motet from the Renaissance to their list of musical accomplishments. “The group discovered that having done [the 40-voice pieces] last year, this other piece is considerably more accessible,” Morgan says.
The piece is “O bone Jesu” (Oh, good Jesus), by the 16th-century Scottish composer Robert Carver, which Morgan has wanted to perform for a long time. It will be part of “Voices and Viols,” a joint concert between Ars Nova and STRING, a viola da gamba trio directed by Ann Marie Morgan. “Voices and Viols” will be performed Saturday evening, Feb. 25, in Boulder and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 26, in Denver.
The viola da gamba is a fretted string instrument of the Renaissance period that is played with a bow. The name, meaning “viol for the leg,” refers to the fact that the instruments are held between the legs, like a modern cello. STRING was formed in 2016 by Anne Marie Morgan with fellow gambists Sarah Biber and Sandra Miller to perform music for gamba as it was originally heard.
Because the gamba was particularly popular in England during the 16th and 17th centuries, that was the music that was the natural fit for their joint program with Ars Nova. “Voices and Viols” will include verse anthems works by William Byrd, Thomas Morley and Orlando Gibbons, three of the most important Renaissance English composers. STRING will also play works for gambas alone on each half of the concert.
Morgan is excited about the opportunity to perform with the gambas. “Because they don’t use modern vibrato, the gamba doesn’t have as directly emotional a sound,” he says. “It’s a much more subtle thing.
“It makes for a unique showcase of this repertoire, and challenges both the singers and the audience to tune in to the details.”
Music by Striggio, Tallis and Gesualdo form a “Renaissance Retrospective”
By Peter Alexander
In the history of European choral music, there are two major works that were composed for 40 different voice parts.
Ars Nova Singers
Yes, that’s four-zero, 40 parts, which is really a lot, and the size alone has made these Brobdingnagian works well known. For the same reason they are not often heard live, but both will be performed on the same concert by Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers and director Thomas Edward Morgan.
Titled “Renaissance Retrospective,” the concert will be performed in Denver Friday (7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church) and in Boulder Saturday (7:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at St. Johns Episcopal Church).
Both works were written in the 16th century, and indeed one probably inspired the other. The first was Ecce beatam lucem by Italian composer Alessandro Striggio from the 1560s. Shortly after it was introduced in England in that decade, it was followed by the more famous Spem in alium by English composer Thomas Tallis. Those two works serve as bookends on the program, which opens with Striggio and closes with Tallis, recalling the order in which they were written.
In between, Ars Nova will perform music by Carlo Gesualdo and Orazio Vecchi, Italian composers who were working a couple of decades after Striggio and Tallis. All the music will be sung a capella.