Season XVII Recap: Mozart to Mikado

Posted by on Nov 4, 2017 in 2017-2018 Concert Season, Blog, Concert Recaps | 0 comments

From Artistic Director Stephen Morton:

The title of this concert might raise the question: What is the connection between Mozart and The Mikado? Mozart wrote operas and The Mikado is an operetta, but they are completely different stylistically and place very different demands on the singers. What possible link could there be? 
Truthfully, there isn’t one other than the “smile factor” that exists in my mind. When I listen to Mozart’s music, I usually find myself smiling. There is just something I find innately humorous about much of his music, but not all of it. Some of it, like the second movement of his Concerto for Flute and Harp is simply so beautiful, it causes a swell of emotion. And, of course, there is little humor in his sacred music such as his Vesperae solennes de confessore. Sopranos who lack great range and flexibility would surely fail to see anything funny about attempting such arias as “Martern aller Arten”, although I must admit that I smile hearing those coloratura passages executed flawlessly. But how can anyone listen to the overture to Eine kleine Nachtmusik or the overture to Marriage of Figaro and not smile?
The humor of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas speaks for itself. In its day, it provided some biting commentary on English politics and society thinly disguised by placing the characters in remote and sometimes fictional locales. Without that commentary, there is nothing at all serious about the music except its ability to bring smiles to audiences. And I suppose that’s the real genius of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan: they transcend the time and place for which they were written. Maybe that’s the real link between Mozart and Mikado: they are timeless.
A few notable highlights:
Concerto for Flute and Harp
Mozart wrote only two double concertos. When he wrote the Concerto for Flute and Harp in 1778, the harp was not yet a part of the orchestra. This unlikely work was commissioned by a fine flautist of the day for himself and his daughter who was taking music lessons with Mozart. Requiring great skill from both soloists, it is standard repertoire for chamber and symphony orchestras and has been recorded many times. The second movement marked “Andantino” is truly beautiful and has a cadenza allowing the soloists freedom in writing their own development of the themes, followed by a coda reemphasizing the beautiful melody. Soloists Jennifer Adams, flute, and Megan Stout, Harp, both appear regularly with the Salem Chamber Orchestra.

 Vesperae solennes de confessore
Mozart composed Vesperae solennes de confessore in 1780 while serving as court organist in Salzburg. His duties included composing church music only for special occasions. What was the special occasion? The answer is unclear. 
Vespers is a prayer service that takes place in late afternoon or evening. “Solennes” or “solemn vespers” may be interpreted in different ways. Solemn in this case could simply mean a musical setting of vespers with orchestra and soloists. This more elaborate way of celebrating vespers in itself defines the vespers as “solemn” which explains “solennes” in the title. The term “confessore” is a reference to Christians who dared to declare their faith during the time of Roman persecution. In the 18th Century, it was common practice to celebrate the higher ranking confessor saints with a more elaborate, or solemn, vespers service. It is likely that Mozart wrote this Vespers for the evening before a feast day in honor of one of these high ranking confessor saints. However, since there is no reference to a particular saint in the title, the honoree’s identity is uncertain.
Of special note in this vespers is the fifth movement, Laudate Dominum. While Mozart does use the chorus in this movement, it is largely in the background. Laudate Dominum is a beautiful aria-like setting of Psalm 117 requiring a soprano soloist with exceptional breath control and power of expression and is often performed by soprano and orchestra apart from the full work.
Vesperae solennes de confessore possesses the charming qualities typical of Mozart’s music and deserves regular performances. 
Eine kleine Nachtmusik
The opening of the first movement of this popular work, a Mannheim rocket theme in fashion at the time, is one of the most recognizable tunes in all of classical music. The opening scenes of the movie Amadeus, shows the composer Antonio Salieri in his old age being visited by a young priest. When Salieri tells the priest he was once a well-known composer, the priest asks to hear some of Salieri’s music. Salieri goes to the keyboard and plays tune after tune that had been celebrated in days gone by. Although the priest wanted to hear something that he could say was familiar in order to encourage Salieri, he didn’t recognize any of the tunes. Then Salieri says, “How about this one?” As he plays four measures, the priest excitedly says that he does indeed know it and starts singing the tune. Then he, says, “That piece is so charming! Did you write that”? “No”, says Salieri. That was Mozart.
The tune in question was the opening bars of Eine kleine Nachtmusik, a “Mannheim rocket theme” in vogue at the time. It is still one of the most recognizable tunes in all of classical music.


Thank you to all of our patrons who helped make our debut concert of Season XVII another success. We look forward to seeing you again this Christmas.

Mozart To Mikado

Posted by on Sep 13, 2017 in Featured | 0 comments

The 2017 – 2018 season begins with music of Mozart as the Salem Chamber Orchestra presents the beautiful Andantino from Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp and Mozart’s Epistle Sonata in E flat. The American Chamber Chorale and Salem Chamber Orchestra join forces to present a missa brevis of Mozart: Vesperae Solennes de Confessore (K339).

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Posted by on Sep 13, 2017 in Featured | 0 comments

Our December concerts are a crowd-pleasing mix of traditional and modern Christmas music. The title of the concert foreshadows music on the concert that is new to the ACC from modern composer Ēriks Ešenvalds: O Emmanuel. The beauty of the music and of the Salem sanctuary by candlelight will evoke reverence and inspire listeners to lend their voices to the traditional sing-along carols, always a part of this concert.  As always, the concert ends with all singing Silent Night by candlelight.

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From a Golden Age

Posted by on Sep 13, 2017 in Featured | 0 comments

This concert has but a very small sampling of music of the period including some rarely heard gems and some of the world’s greatest music. German composer Franz Tunder is unknown to many current music-lovers, but was well known in his day. His charming cantata, Dominus illuminatio mea is an early example of the church cantata, an important invention of the Baroque brought to its fullest potential by Johann Sebastian Bach. Handel’s Water Music is fit for a king! These suites were written for King George I who liked them so much on the first hearing, he insisted they be played again, and then a third time!

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Hearts All Whole

Posted by on Sep 13, 2017 in Featured | 0 comments

We share a wonderful treat with our audiences as the Salem Chamber Orchestra and American Chamber Chorale welcome international singing star Christine Brewer as the guest star of our May, 2018 concerts.

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Not One Sparrow: A Recollection of Peace Through Suffering

Posted by on May 16, 2017 in 2016-2017 Concert Season, Behind The Music, Blog | 0 comments

From Artistic Director Stephen Morton…
The process of putting a concert together can be a bit odd and selection of music for this concert began in a most unexpected way: the death of my dog, Eddie. The decision to put Eddie down was a difficult one. Truthfully, it was horrible, just as it is for anyone who has to make such a decision. But as is seemingly always the case, good came from it. Like most dogs, Eddie found his greatest pleasure in pleasing his master and when he became very ill and there was no hope of his recovery, I was determined to do what was best for him. He deserved no less. I knew that, even while he was suffering, he didn’t want to be put down. I thought about how I don’t get everything I want and sometimes I get exactly what I don’t want. I thought about how thankful I am for that. So many times, the very thing I didn’t want to happen, did happen. Later, I look back and see that it was the very best thing possible. I just couldn’t see that at the time. That’s how things were with Eddie last summer: he who couldn’t see what was best for him and I had to make a painful decision.
I also thought about how unfair it seemed that, as far as I know, this would be “it” for Eddie. I know about God’s grace and know I don’t deserve it. But Eddie was good and so much more deserving of grace than I am. After all, his greatest joy was pleasing his master. For him to simply cease to exist with no self-awareness, no reward, and no grace, troubled me for several days. Then, one day as I was driving in my car with music from my phone playing, a song came on that I didn’t remember hearing before. The words struck me immediately. It began:
Not one sparrow is forgotten
E’en the raven God will feed,
And the lily of the valley
From His bounty hath its need…
I thought about how happy Eddie had always been and what a great life he had. He was well-fed, loved by my children and me, and had a big backyard with rabbits and squirrels to chase. God had indeed cared about and provided for Eddie, as He cares about the less-deserving, like me.
I’m sure this story will be foolishness to many, but the words I heard that morning gave me a new understanding and renewed peace that all is as it should be. Not One Sparrow was the genesis of this concert and the words of that hymn set the stage for the rest of this concert about life, death, grace, renewal, and the beauty of creation and our place in it. I hope our music brings you peace if you are troubled, solace if you are hurting, and hope for what is to come.

The Rutter “Requiem” – A Chorale Member’s Perspective

Posted by on Jan 21, 2017 in 2016-2017 Concert Season, Behind The Music, Blog | 0 comments

rutter requiem

Since joining the ACC, I have had the opportunity to sing many different settings of the “Agnus Dei” portion of the Latin mass text. Each one is unique in its own right, and I think to myself that each new one I learn is my favorite. I have experienced this again as I learn the Rutter Requiem that the Chorale and Orchestra will perform in March. This is not your typical Requiem, with English text and Psalms being interspersed with the Latin, and Rutter’s setting of the “Agnus Dei,” is, by far, my favorite movement of this work.

The opening text is familiar: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi is straight from the mouth of John the Baptist, “Behold the lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world.” What makes the Rutter unique is the English verses set between each reprise of “Agnus Dei” proclaiming such sentiments as, “In the midst of life, we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour?”

After a build-up, climax, and modal shift that reminds me slightly of Ravel’s Bolero, the Chorale and Orchestra do one more repetition of “Agnus Dei” and then enter the denouement in another English verse: “I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord: He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

It’s soul-stirring and goosebump-raising and I’m honored to be a part of sharing it and the entire Requiem with our audiences in March. Hope you’ll join us!

-Rachel Robison

John Rutter on the “Requiem.”

Posted by on Jan 14, 2017 in Behind The Music, Blog | 0 comments

Today, we share an interview series with John Rutter, a prolific composer and conductor. Born in London in 1945, Rutter founded the Cambridge Singers, his own choir, with whom he records and releases his own works. One of Rutter’s most well-known pieces is his Requiem, which the ACC will be performing on March 11 and 12. In this interview, Rutter “discusses the personal and musical impetuses which drove him to begin working on the piece: the death of his father, and an encounter with the original manuscript of Fauré’s setting of the Requiem Mass in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.” We hope this sheds some light on this magnificent work of art, and the Chorale looks forward to presenting this piece in concert for then enjoyment of all!

Ola Gjeilo’s “Northern Lights”

Posted by on Sep 26, 2016 in 2015-2016 Concert Season, Behind The Music, Blog | 0 comments

Today, we share with you an article written by Rachel Robison, a member and soloist of the ACC, concerning the work Northern Lights by Ola Gjeilo, which will be featured on our October 8 “Star-Made Shadows” concert…

In every concert’s repertoire, there is at least one piece that truly connects with me on an emotional or spiritual level, or both. I mean, makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up and everything. One such piece the ACC will be performing on October 8 is Ola Gjeilo’s Northern Lights. Gjeilo, a young Norwegian composer is well­ known for his sacred texts set to modern melodies, his hauntingly beautiful harmonies, and for naming his pieces after who or what inspired its creation in the first place. Northern Lights is no exception.

The text is from the Song of Solomon, chapter 6: You are beautiful, O my love…

“Sweet and comely as Jerusalem, As terrible as an army in full array. Turn your eyes away from me, For they overcome me.”

Gjeilo’s inspiration for this piece is beauty… the beauty of the exquisite prose reflecting the words of Christ to His bride, the Church… and the beauty ­ the terrible beauty ­ of one of nature’s most powerful phenomena, the aurora borealis . He wrote Northern Lights in the winter of 2007 while staying near Oslo, Norway. Having grown up in the southern part of the country, he had only seen the northern lights once or twice in his life. However, as he was reflecting on the text, he thought about the terrible beauty (in this case meaning “formidable”) that is so profoundly displayed in the aurora. “It is one of the most beautiful natural phenomena I’ve ever witnessed,” he says. “And it has such a powerful, electric quality that must have been both mesmerising and terrifying to people in the past, when no one knew what it was…”

While doing the real thing little justice, photographs of the aurora show a raw, primal beauty that pulls at the spirit of adventure in all of us. How can something so scientifically simple as solar particles colliding with Earth’s upper atmosphere inspire such awe? Or imagine viewing it from the
International Space Station as a swirling, green cloud reaching more than 250 miles above the Earth’s surface. Two years ago, the crew aboard the ISS was treated to a spectacular show as the station actually flew through the aurora during a period of particularly heavy solar activity. “Words can’t describe how it feels flying through an aurora,” said European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin… Swimming in an ocean of glow… In some moments it feels like Earth is actually alive.”

Gjeilo’s a cappella Northern Lights starts off very quiet and serene, with sopranos and altos taking turns with the melody. The lines build and then pause in a dissonant chord before moving on to the “B” section, which again features the melody being passed between the women’s parts. The piece climaxes with all parts coming together in another breathtaking dissonance on “…for they have overcome me, my love.”

The denouement features a reprise of the first section, with some slightly different harmonies, and then the piece ends with a sustained note from the altos and the rest of the parts slowly diminishing into a soft pianissimo. I can very clearly picture in my mind a crackle of green swirling above my head, coming to a peak, and then gradually dimming away.

“I’ve always wanted my music to reach as many people as possible and to hopefully touch as many people as possible,” Gjeilo says. I’d say he’s succeeded on both counts.

-Rachel Robison


Morten Lauridsen …. about his Lux Aeterna

Posted by on Sep 29, 2015 in 2015-2016 Concert Season, Behind The Music, Blog | 0 comments

Lux Aeterna–Eternal Light–is an intimate work of quiet serenity centered around a universal symbol of hope, reassurance, goodness and illumination at all levels. This work formed in my mind over several years, and I began serious work on the piece shortly following the completion of Les Chansons des Roses in 1993. I put aside the Lux in early 1994 to compose the Christmas canticle, O Magnum Mysterium. The serenity and the uncomplicated and lyric style of O Magnum Mysterium are continued in Lux Aeterna, which is fashioned on texts from several different Latin sources, including the requiem mass, each containing a reference to Light.

Paul Salamunovich, conductor of the Los Angeles Master Chorale for whom I composed this cycle, considers Lux Aeterna to be one long chant. That did not happen by accident–I was writing for one of the world’s foremost experts not only on Gregorian chant but of Renaissance music in general–and while I do not incorporate an overt reference to the single line chant anywhere in the piece, the conjunct and flowing melodic lines contributing to the works’ overall lyricism and the chant-like phrase structures creating a seamlessness throughout certainly have their underpinnings in the chant literature. Renaissance procedures abound throughout Lux Aeterna.