Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Sound of Spirit; the Spirit of Sound

I am moving to Music of the Spirit this week. Diverse musical, spoken, and spiritual languages are converging on the Tennssee Theatre stage this Thursday and Friday nights at 7:30. Music by Armenian-American composers Richard Yardumian and Alan Hovhaness will precede Swiss composer Ernest Bloch’s choral masterpiece Sacred Service.

Yardumian’s Veni Sancte Spiritus is based on an ancient plainsong and starts with a soulful clarinet solo. The harp also has a major solo passage, and the work as a whole has a contemplative tonal language. I am pretty sure that Nino Rota had heard this work before composing A Time for Us (Theme from Love Story) in 1969.

Alan Hovhaness was a free-thinking American Original. His music was influenced by that of many different cultures; Armenian, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, just to name a few. He wrote some 67 symphonies, but we will be performing his 2nd, Mysterious Mountain symphony. Right at the start, the wall of string sound envelopes you and you swear you are listening to Vaughan Williams. All three composers represented on this concert wrote magnificently for the individual instrument families of the orchestra, but Hovhaness plays the families off against each other with stunning results.

Bloch’s choral writing uses the same tonal language as Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, and many others, but the sung language is Hebrew. Bloch uses the orchestra in a much more dramatic, unhingedly passionate way than Schubert or even Mendelssohn, as the confines of the Classical period had long been rendered passé. The giant wall of vocals provided by the UT Choral Ensembles is brings youthful power to a work that is just as vital as any of the great Masses and Requiems. Our baritone soloist, Nmon Ford (pronounced “En-mon,” in case you were wondering) brings a commanding presence to the role of Cantor.

In philosophy circles, there is another Bloch. Ernst (only one “e” in his first name) Bloch was considered a leader in utopian thought. You can see where there might be some confusion there, especially since Ernst’s and Ernest’s lifetimes overlapped by 74 years. A certain KSO member is related, not to the composer Bloch, but the philosopher Bloch. (Uncle Ernie)?

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