Music Review: Camerata, Galbraith premiere stirring prayer for peace
Monday, March 20, 2006 By Eric Haines
Pittsburgh composer Nancy Galbraith's 30-year career continues to take on new dimensions. Her latest endeavor, "Sacred Songs and Interludes," gracefully integrates her characteristic rhythmic harmonic progressions with Middle-Eastern and Far-Eastern tunes and modes in a work that is both a sensitive celebration of humankind's rich diversity and a powerful musical prayer for wholeness and peace. The composition was commissioned and premiered by the Pittsburgh Camerata in a stirring concert on Saturday at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill.
Galbraith based each of the 10 movements of "Sacred Songs and Interludes" on texts borrowed from the poetry and canonical literature of the world's seven principal religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism. Scored for 35 instruments, including percussion and seven different flutes, the work is folk-like and linearly through-composed, foregoing the pro forma approach to setting religious writings.
The work begins with the Buddhist chant and mantra, "Sabbe sattaa sukhi hontu" ("may all things be well") and "Namu Amida Butsu," which then becomes a leitmotiv and the coda. The percussion instruments, electronic keyboard and the array of flutes maintained an Eastern flavor, corresponding to the geographical origins of the majority of the religions. But Galbraith morphed the Buddhist "Enlightenment" sixth movement seamlessly into two diatonically structured sections from the Christian Ordinary of the Mass.
"Sacred Songs and Interludes" is not a meandering collection of miniatures. The over-arching process builds to a gentle but satisfying climax followed by the blissful coda.
The work features solos for mezzo-soprano and baritone, and the Camerata's music director, Rebecca Rollett, chose two top-notch singers. Kara Cornell's voice was lyric and flexible, and soared through her top register beautifully. Thomas Octave sang with effortless power and expression throughout his entire range. Flutist Alberto Almarza shaded his various instruments to fit the diverse styles.
The concert repeats Saturday at 8 p.m. at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Highland Park. Eric Haines is a freelance music reviewer
From Nancy Galbraith
Each movement of Sacred Songs and Interludes is based upon a text borrowed from the poetry and canonical literature of the world’s seven principal religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. With the use of indigenous scale materials, harmonies, and instruments, the music creates atmospheres suggested in the texts. The overall tone is folk-like, foregoing the abstract pro forma approach to setting religious writings. The work celebrates mankind’s rich diversity in a musical prayer for wholeness and peace within the human family. Sacred Songs and Interludes, commissioned by Richard and Linda Shaw, is dedicated to the Pittsburgh Camerata and music director Rebecca Rollett.
“O Magnum Mysterium” was premiered along with the composer’s “Novena” in a program titled “Interfaith Concert for Peace in the Holy Land.” The concert was presented in support of the Beit Benedict Interfaith Peace Center at Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem. “O Magnum Mysterium” was commissioned by Mr. Allen Krynicky.
“Ave Maria” was commissioned by Virginia R. Cordoba for her daughter Dr. Alicia Cordoba Tait in loving memory of their husband and father, John L. Cordoba. Dr. Tait, a professor of music at Benedictine University, performed the premiere with baritone Thomas Octave and pianist Svetlana Krasnova at St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois.
Composer Nancy Galbraith (b. 1951) resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, where she is Professor and Chair of Composition at Carnegie Mellon University. In a career that spans three decades, her music has earned praise for its rich harmonic texture, rhythmic vitality, emotional and spiritual depth, and wide range of expression. Her works have been directed by some of the world’s finest conductors, including Gennady Rozhdetsvensky, Mariss Jansons, Keith Lockhart, Sidney Harth, Samuel Jones, and Robert Page. Her compositions are featured on numerous recordings, including three anthologies. With major contributions to the repertoires of symphony orchestras, concert choirs, wind orchestras, chamber ensembles, and soloists, Galbraith plays a leading role in defining the sound of contemporary classical music. Her works are published exclusively by Subito Music in Verona, New Jersey.
For more information on Nancy Galbraith and a listing of her compositions and recordings, visit www.NancyGalbraith.com
A native of New Mexico, Rebecca Rollett studied organ and composition with David N. Johnson, accompanying with Jean Barr, and choral conducting with Douglas McEwen at Arizona State University. She completed her degree in Organ Performance at Oral Roberts University, where she studied organ and voice, and she holds an Associate Certificate with the American Guild of Organists.
While resident in New Mexico, Mrs. Rollett performed with the Orchestra of Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, directed the Chamber Singers of the Chorus of Santa Fe, and served as Principal Keyboard of the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra. She was also Chorus Director for the Santa Fe Symphony for three seasons. As part of Serenata of Santa Fe, a chamber music group, she was selected for both the Artists-in-Residence and the New Mexico Touring artists programs. For seven seasons, she was Artistic Director of Coro de Cámara, a chamber vocal ensemble. During her tenure, the ensemble earned a reputation for unusual programming (even Tom Lehrer said that his music had never before shared a program with Henry Purcell) as well as fine singing. In the spring of 1994, the ensemble toured Great Britain with performances in London, Oxford, Edinburgh, and the Newberry Spring Festival.
In 1995 Mrs. Rollett moved with her husband and four children to Pittsburgh, and in 1998 she earned a Masters degree in Choral Conducting under Robert Page at Carnegie Mellon University. That same year she was chosen as the new Artistic Director of The Pittsburgh Camerata. Under her baton, The Pittsburgh Camerata has developed a reputation for unusual collaborations and creative programming. Their collaboration with Chatham Baroque and The Renaissance & Baroque Society of Pittsburgh was declared "an overwhelmingly gratifying evening" by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's David DeAngelo, and it earned a place in the “10 Best Classical Concerts of 2000.” The Christmas CD, A Pittsburgh Wassail with the Pittsburgh Camerata, was dubbed "one of the richest and loveliest albums of the year" by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Pittsburgh Camerata was an invited performer at the Chorus America National Conference in June of 2004.
Mrs. Rollett is currently an adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University, where she teaches Baroque Performance Practice and harpsichord. In 2005 Mrs. Rollett decided to resume organ performance, after a hiatus of almost 10 years, and has performed in numerous locations in the U. S., Britain, and France.