Creative Choices

posted in: News

When people come to a classical music concert and look over the program for the evening, they generally have a pretty good idea of what to expect—some recognizable composer names, standard musical forms like symphonies, concertos, sonatas, etc.

Every once in a while, the performer does something entirely unexpected. That’s what Kari Turunen, conductor of the Vancouver Chamber Choir has done in planning the program the group will bring at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium on Friday, March 15, at 7:30 p.m.

When I saw the title of Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir on the program, there was nothing startling. I had to look up Frank Martin’s name to learn that he was a Swiss composer of the twentieth century. That’s fine.

Martin wrote a mass. I expect to hear the Latin text of the Catholic liturgy that has been exactly the same in hundreds of masses composed over the past several centuries. And of course, I assume the six sections of the mass will follow in the proper order: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei.

And then I observed the entirely unexpected. Instead of singing the mass straight through, he has scattered the movements throughout the program. After an opening song, we get the Kyrie and Gloria, and then it’s off to something entirely different for the rest of the first half.

When the choir returns to the stage after intermission, he takes up the mass again with the Sanctus and Benedictus. Once again, it’s off to something different until the end of the concert when he closes it with the Agnus Dei.

Looking up and down the program, there is no sign of the Credo. So now we know that Turunen is making a conscious choice to build a program in a non-standard way, and we listen not just for the music but to discover his concept for the evening.

Let me offer some of my own guesses. The program opens with Balfour’s Trapped in Stone, the haunting cries of Scottish prisoners trapped in Durham Cathedral and left to die. The next words we hear are from the mass: Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy. What a poignant juxtaposition!

The second half opens with the Sanctus: Holy, holy, holy. That leads directly into a love song to the Holy Spirit. The words come from the pen of Edith Stein, a German-Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism, became a nun, and ultimately died in Auschwitz. Vancouver’s Ramona Luengen used her poem in O süßes Licht (O sweet light).

Closing the concert with the Agnus Dei is just beautiful. The last line of music we hear is Dona nobis pacem. Grant us peace.

This is my attempt to suss out the logic of the program. There is much more to this wide-ranging concert. It will be fascinating to follow the winding path that Turunen and the choir take us down. I would love to hear what you make of it on Friday.

Tickets for this performance are available online at at $32 for adults/seniors and $20 for students. Call 604-289-3377 for more information.

I look forward to seeing you at the concert.

John Wiebe - President
The Valley Concert Society