One of the most active regions for choral music in the United States is the Upper Midwest, due to the strong Lutheran heritage of its German and Scandinavian settlers. The private Lutheran colleges of Minnesota are of prime importance in maintaining and enlivening this tradition. One such musically important institution, Concordia College in Moorehead, MN, is home to renowned choral director and composer René Clausen (b. 1953), who also serves as director of the René Clausen Choral School, a summer institute at the college. We are delighted to present three of Professor Clausen’s works on this disc: his velvety, impressionistic Tonight Eternity Alone (1991); his 1988 setting of passages from Isaiah, Seek the Lord, showcasing his gifts for lyrical melodies and gentle harmonies; and 1989’s Set me as a Seal (from the larger work, A New Creation). Clausen says he was “struck by the phrase ‘for love is strong as death,’ because when I wrote it my actual feeling was, ‘love is stronger than death’ … If the piece is about anything, it is about the simple but powerful conviction of permanent love that seeks to overflow the boundary between life and death.”
A former student of William Albright and William Bolcom at the University of Michigan, Frank Ticheli (b.1958) is now Professor of Composition at the University of Southern California. Among his many honors is a seven-year stint as Composer-in-Residence of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra in Orange County from 1991 to 1998. His tender There Will Be Rest was written in 1999 on commission for the sister ensemble of the PSO, the 160-voice Pacific Chorale, directed by John Alexander. The text is the last published poem of Sara Teasdale (1884–1933), one of America’s great lyric poets and recipient (in 1918) of what was in effect the first Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Haunted in later years by depression and panic about her health, Teasdale took her own life by an overdose of barbiturates in 1933 at the age of 48. Her final collection, Strange Victory, which she prepared for publication before her death, appeared posthumously the same year. The poem she chose to close the slim volume, There Will Be Rest, brims with her long obsession with the stars, in whose very aloofness and order she read a promise of permanence and an assurance of cosmic design. Ticheli’s choral setting beautifully captures the poem’s purity of resignation and delicate hope. (Teasdale had an unexpected connection with Santa Barbara which gave the Quire’s performance of this work extra resonance: with her husband away on business trips to South America and Europe, she resided from September 1919 to April 1920 at the city’s El Encanto Hotel, recuperating from what she called the “sexual messiness” of Jazz-Age New York. Towards the end of her stay, when a foggy March had considerably dampened her earlier infatuation with the town, Teasdale got to meet her literary idol William Butler Yeats when he addressed the Santa Barbara Women’s Club on April 7, 1920.)
Eric Whitacre (b. 1970, M.M. from the Juilliard School under John Corigliano and David Diamond) is one of America’s rising stars in contemporary concert music. His evocative compositions have earned awards from ASCAP, the Barlow International Composition Competition, the American Choral Directors Association, and the American Composers Forum, as well as a Grammy nomination. The American Record Guide named his first recording, The Music of Eric Whitacre, one of the top ten classical albums in 1997, and the Los Angeles Times has praised his music for its “electric, chilling harmonies [in] works of unearthly beauty and imagination.” More recently, he has received acclaim for “Paradise Lost”, a cutting-edge musical combining trance, ambient and techno/electronica with choral, cinematic, and operatic traditions. Winner of the ASCAP Harold Arlen award, this musical also gained Whitacre the prestigious Richard Rodgers Award for most promising musical theater composer. In 2001, he became the youngest recipient ever awarded the coveted Raymond C. Brock commission by the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA).A resident of Los Angeles, active as a conductor and clinician, Mr. Whitacre has also served as composer-in-residence of the Orange County’s Pacific Chorale; the Quire of Voyces has been honored to host him several times in Santa Barbara, as well. hope, faith, life, love and i thank You God are the second and third of Three Songs of Praise set to poems by E.E. Cummings and commissioned by Dr. Edith Copley, conductor of the Northern Arizona University choirs, for their 1999 centennial. Mr. Whitacre writes: “i thank You God is such a beautiful and joyous poem that the music was at times almost effortless,” and he has dedicated it “with love to the poet Charles Anthony Silvestri and his beautiful wife and son.” Lux aurumque (2001) is dedicated to Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe, director of the University of Miami Chorale and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. The poem was written originally in English; Whitacre’s decision to have it translated into Latin (reminiscent of Stravinsky’s translation of Cocteau’s libretto for his Œdipus Rex) gives it an iconic, austere, monumentalized quality, providing an apt counterpart to its opulent chords which waft like clouds of incense or gold dust.
Born in Danbury, Connecticut, the maverick Yankee composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) enjoyed one of the most curious careers in American music history. Inspired by the transcendentalist philosophy of Emerson and Thoreau, Ives developed a highly personal musical language using the most radical technical means available to him. He had been encouraged in music by his bandmaster father George, who fostered in him an iconoclastic and avant-garde attitude toward musical materials, telling the boy, “You won’t get a wild, heroic ride to heaven on pretty little sounds.” At thirteen, he began composing; as a practicing musician, he specialized in the organ, becoming at age fourteen the youngest salaried organist in Connecticut. Ives attended Yale, where he studied with Horatio Parker, chairman of the university’s recently-established music department. After graduation in 1898 he moved to New York City, where he decided to enter the business world in order to pursue his musical interests free from financial pressure. During his first four years in the city, he held side jobs as an organist and choirmaster, but by 1902 he had had enough of this double life and “quit music,” as he put it. From this time on, his musical experimentation with bitonal forms, polyrhythms, superposition, and quotation became more radical. Given his bristling artistic attitude (“I don’t write music for sissy ears,” he often harrumphed), we might profitably view him as the Teddy Roosevelt of music. Insurance company executive by day and private composer by night, Ives’ business career and creative maturity blossomed in tandem. He co-founded the insurance agency Ives & Myrick, which by 1915 had grown into the largest in the country, and he introduced the concept of estate planning. As a composer, Ives’ challenge was to harness his passion for experiment in order to meld classical European genres with American vernacular music. The result was kaleidoscopic music of great power, optimistic music which reflects a fragmented, changeable, modern reality, but also quests for oneness and transcendence. Most of Ives’ work was not performed in public until after 1930, when he was forced to retire from business due to ill health. Significant figures in the contemporary music scene of the time, such as the conductor Nicolas Slonimsky and the composers Lou Harrison and especially Henry Cowell, played key roles in introducing Ives’ music to American and European audiences. In 1947, Ives was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his Third Symphony; soon thereafter, his works were championed by leading conductors such as Leonard Bernstein so that, by the end of his life, he had experienced a rise from obscurity to eminence. His Sixty-Seventh Psalm was written around the time when Ives moved from New Haven to New York City, in 1898 or 1899 (it is often difficult to date his works precisely, since often 30 years or more separate their composition and their publication or first performance). It is a bitonal work (that is, it is in two keys at the same time, the women’s parts in C major, the men’s in G minor); the opening sonority which juxtaposes those two chords was a particular favorite of his father’s, who felt it had “dignity and a sense of finality.” The chordal chanting of the final verse recalls Anglican psalm chanting.
Another young American composer and conductor, J. Aaron McDermid (b. 1977), is Director of Choral Activities at Jamestown College in North Dakota. A native of Saint Cloud, Minnesota, McDermid received his bachelor’s degree from Concordia College (where he studied with René Clausen) and graduate degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Arizona. He was named 1999 Outstanding Young Choral Conductor by the American Choral Director’s Association of Minnesota. The Dale Warland Singers commissioned him through their 2001 Choral Ventures Program to compose Visions of Heaven, a multi-movement work on sacred texts of Wordsworth, Whitman, and Donne. Mr. McDermid is an alumnus of The National Lutheran Choir and is a member of the a-cappella male sextet, Chanson. Of his Compline hymn Te lucis ante terminum (1998), he writes: “It is a prayer for blessing and sanctuary through the evening’s rest. I was immediately struck by the color and imagination inherent in the language, particularly in the second stanza where the deep calm of the previous verse is replaced by foreboding images of the shades of night. Through the patient and fluid unfolding of the Latin, St. Ambrose has imbued this hymn with a sense of comfort and warmth, offering hope for a light to illumine the dark hours to come.”
Stephen Paulus (b.1949) has achieved his greatest compositional success for his nine operas (The Postman Always Rings Twice was the first American production to be presented at the Edinburgh Festival), but his catalogue of over two hundred works touches on many genres, including music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, chorus, solo voice, and keyboard. Trained under Dominick Argento at the University of Minnesota (where he received his PhD in 1978), Paulus has also been professionally active as a co-founder and current Board Vice President of the American Composers Forum, and since 1990 as Concert Music Representative on the ASCAP Board of Directors; he has received Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships and a Kennedy Center Friedheim Prize. His Evensong (1990, commissioned and premiered by the Dale Warland Singers) showcases his twin gifts of lyricism and drama, as well as setting his typical traits of rugged angularity and lean astringency in dialogue with moments of great tenderness. The Road Home, also commissioned by the Dale Warland Singers, is written around the old hymn-tune Prospect (“The Lone Wild Bird”) from the classic American folk-hymnal The Southern Harmony (first published in 1835). Poet Michael Dennis Browne, a frequent collaborator with Paulus, has written a poignant new text for this yearning melody. Paulus’ Pilgrim’s Hymn also uses lyrics written by Browne, here based on an old prayer. In its original context, the hymn forms the meditative, yet stirring, close to Paulus’ opera The Three Hermits. Mr. Browne remarks, “we modern pilgrims are linked to those of another time and place, who sing ... a song of homage, praise, and love to God.”
Santa Cruz native Robert H. Young (b.1923) taught for 30 years on the music faculty at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, before retiring in 1993. His numerous choral compositions include There is no rose of such virtue, a richly-voiced setting of the anonymous 15th-century English carol text “Ther is no rose of swych vertu.” The poem uses the common medieval metaphor of identifying the Virgin Mary with a rose, and employs a macaronic text (combining Latin with vernacular). Professor Young’s setting, composed in 1980, evokes an antique mood through chant-like unison passages which alternate with more contemporary harmonizations. At the conclusion, the choir fades off with a receding diminuendo on the word “Transeamus,” a lovely mimesis of the shepherds’ departure for Bethlehem.
Williametta Spencer graduated from Whittier College in 1949, subsequently earning master’s and doctoral degrees from USC where she studied with Ernst Kanitz, Halsey Stevens, Ingolf Dahl and Arend Kolle. She subsequently won a Fulbright Award to Paris for composition studies with Tony Aubin and the piano masterclasses of Alfred Cortot. Winner of numerous national awards in composition, her Suite for Flute Orchestra was performed in 1999 for the 60th birthday celebration of James Galway in London; the American Guild of Organists commissioned a new work from her for their National Convention of 2004. Dr. Spencer has been a visiting scholar at Ohio University, and more recently has been visiting composer-in-residence at Whittier College, her alma mater. She also serves as organist and director of music at Whittier Presbyterian Church. Spencer’s 1968 setting of the John Donne sonnet At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners, with its fanfare motifs, compelling homorhythm, and block-like opposition of high and low voices, achieves an effect very much like the Venetian polychoral music of Gabrieli, but updated with a modern harmonic idiom.
The legendary choral arranging team of Robert Shaw (1916–1999) and Alice Parker (b. 1925), each individually a giant of American choral music in their own right, has long been involved with the sacred folk music of America, from the African-American spiritual to Southern shape-note hymns like Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal. Robert Shaw got his start in 1938, fresh out of Pomona College, helping to organize and direct the Fred Waring Glee Club; he went on to head the choral departments at the Juilliard School and the Berkshire Music Center, while working with Toscanini at the NBC Symphony Orchestra. From 1948–1965 he directed the Robert Shaw Chorale, the premier professional American chorus of its day; in 1967 he became music director of the Atlanta Symphony. On his retirement from that post he founded the Robert Shaw Institute at Emory University in Atlanta. He was the first conductor to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, in 1944; in 1992 he received the National Medal of Arts. His collaborator Alice Parker is a graduate of Smith College and Juilliard, where she studied with him and with Vincent Persichetti. She worked as the arranger for the Robert Shaw Chorale from 1949 to its dissolution in 1965, and taught at Westminster Choir College in Princeton. In 1985 she founded Melodious Accord, Inc., a musical non-profit whose motto is “Unleashing the imagination of the ear through creative sound.” The Musicians of Melodious Accord, a sixteen-voice professional chorus, present an annual concert series in New York City, and maintain a steady recording schedule. As an organization, Melodious Accord presents symposia, encourages new composers, offers post-doctoral seminars, and has created a network of like-minded musicians through the Melodious Accord Newsletter. Now a resident of western Massachusetts, Ms. Parker continues to write books, make documentaries on choral singing, and travel as a conductor and workshop leader, as well as composing music. Her arrangements of American folksongs and spirituals are particularly fine and well-known.
The Quire of Voyces is a non-profit organization dedicated to the performance of sacred choral music in historic settings. The Santa Barbara Quire of Voyces was founded in 1993 by Nathan J. Kreitzer, Director of Choral and Vocal Activities, and Music Department Chairman at Santa Barbara City College. The annually auditioned volunteer group, made up of professional singers from the Central coast area, is dedicated to the highest quality performances of the sacred choral music of the Renaissance and 20th Century, in historic settings. It gives ten concerts annually, and has been featured several times on The First Art, a production of Chorus America on National Public Radio, as well as on Radio KDB 93.7 and KEYT-TV of Santa Barbara. The ensemble has appeared as part of the Midwinter Music Festival, the Gotland Medieval Festival in Visby, Sweden, and at the Music Academy of the West. The enthusiastically received performance in Visby (June 2000) was the highlight of a concert tour that featured performances in seven other cities including Kalmar (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia) and Copenhagen (Denmark). The success of this tour inspired Nathan Kreitzer and the Quire’s Board of Directors to plan for a tour in the year 2003 to Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Most recently the ensemble has been asked to perform with the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra in performances of Mozart's "Requiem" and J.S. Bach's "Bminor Mass". The Quire of Voyces is host to a major annual education and outreach event for high school choruses from throughout California. This Chamber Choir Festival introduces young singers to the literature and performance of great choral music. The choirs are adjudicated by three of California’s most highly respected professional choir directors.