"Peace in Our Time" was recorded live in concert at St. James Cathedral, Seattle, Washington, May 18, 2002.
From earliest recorded times the duality of war and peace has shaped human history and society, and continues to define our cultural relationships to the present day. War has built and destroyed nations, caused incomprehensible human suffering and inspired great deeds of heroism. The idea and program for this concert were conceived and planned just a few months prior to the tragic events of September 11, 2001 - it is a gross understatement to say that by the time of the May 18, 2002 performance we found ourselves in a changed world. The events of September 11 and its aftermath have brought an intimate knowledge of the realities of conflict to all in a way that would have been unimaginable only a short time ago.
The program of this live concert recording is comprised of sacred music by English composers of the 20th century. The two devastating global wars and numerous other conflicts which engulfed the 20th century also engendered an enormous outpouring of poetry and music, giving expression both to the anguish of war and the profound human yearning for peace. It is perhaps in this arena that the unmistakable power of music is most keenly felt - to give voice to emotions which are beyond words, to express deep fear and sorrow, to offer solace and to lift up the human spirit with visions of a better world and a nobler humanity.
Herbert Howells is remembered primarily for his Anglican church music - motets, anthems, canticles, organ works, and three major choral works with orchestra. In 1935 Howells' only son Michael died of spinal meningitis, and Howells struggled to come to terms with this great personal tragedy during the remainder of his life. Many of his choral works from 1935 and later deal with the themes of death and loss, chief among them the hauntingly beautiful Requiem. Howells began sketches for the Requiem in 1932, and completed it in 1936 after Michael's death. For personal reasons, the score was not published until 1980 - his friends reported that until the last two years of his life the Requiem was too painful for Howells to hear. Much of the music of the Requiem was incorporated into his Hymnus Paradisi for chorus and orchestra, which was completed in 1938 and also withheld for personal reasons (finally performed in 1950 at the urging of Ralph Vaughan Williams).
Benjamin Britten, the most widely recognized and respected British composer of the 20th century, was an ardent pacifist. As a conscientious objector during WWII, he refused military service, but served in a morale-boosting capacity, performing throughout England under the auspices of CEMA, the wartime Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts. Though he rose quickly to national and international prominence, Britten was primarily a composer who responded to the needs of his own time and place. As he himself said, "I certainly write music for human beings - directly and deliberately. I do not do it for posterity... I want my music to be of use to people." Britten established the Aldeburgh Festival with Peter Pears in 1948 to provide performances for the community in which he lived, and throughout his lifetime he composed numerous works for children, providing a lasting and significant body of works for young singers. The Missa Brevis in D was written in 1959 for the Westminster Cathedral boys' choir and organ. The final movement, Agnus Dei, is a particularly striking prayer of peace, set as an anguished cry for solace.
Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer, writer, teacher and conductor, was a key figure in the revival of 20th-century English music, and is credited with re-creating an English musical vernacular. His significance in English music extends to the realm of traditional music as well - he collected over 800 folk-songs and variants during his lifetime, and his own compositions are imbued with the essence of English folk music. His great humanity is often remarked upon, as well as his unerring ability to illuminate the human condition in music. Regarded as one of Vaughan Williams' greatest and most visionary choral works, Dona Nobis Pacem was intended as a warning against the increasing possibility of war which was sweeping across Europe in the mid 1930's. Vaughan Williams was no stranger to war - he served in France during WWI, and lost many friends in that war. In writing Dona Nobis Pacem, Vaughan Williams incorporated Biblical texts with the Civil War poetry of Walt Whitman, as well as an excerpt from a speech made by John Bright in the House of Commons during the Crimean War ("the angel of death".) The work opens and closes with an impassioned plea for peace, sung by the soprano soloist - a supplication as urgent today as it was in 1936. The Whitman texts detail the savagery of war, but are also filled with tremendous empathy for those living in the midst of conflict and, indeed, for all humanity. Dona Nobis Pacem was premiered in 1936 to much acclaim, and performed again the following year at the famed Three Choirs Festival. The following year, in September of 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler, and told the cheering crowds in front of 10 Downing Street: "I believe it is peace for our time." Sadly, this was not to be so - within a year the people of Europe were once again at war.
Liner notes by Karen P. Thomas
Seattle Pro Musica, winner of the ASCAP/Chorus America award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, is a critically-acclaimed and award-winning choral ensemble, recognized as one of the Pacific Northwest's finest choral organizations. With a repertoire ranging from Medieval chant to world premieres of new works, Seattle Pro Musica is known for its unique and innovative programming, as well as its sensitive interpretations of early and modern music. Critics have praised the group for its precision, its fine-tuned balance and the beauty of its choral sound.
Seattle Pro Musica has received international recognition and acclaim for its CD recordings and live performances. Of the CD Alnight by the Rose, Choir and Organ magazine (Great Britain) writes: "...there is great depth and purity in this performance... Seattle Pro Musica presents a cappella singing at its best; combine this with an excellent recording in the reverberant acoustic of St James Cathedral, Seattle, and you have a disc to be savoured slowly." The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has praised the group's "crystalline textures and precise musicality..." as well as its "technical finesse... taste and impeccable musicianship..." Seattle Pro Musica is a Resident Ensemble of St. James Cathedral.
Karen P. Thomas, conductor and composer, is the Artistic Director and Conductor of Seattle Pro Musica. Her conducting repertoire includes a wide variety of choral and orchestral music, from Medieval music performed on period instruments to world premieres of new works. Her numerous compositions are performed and broadcast throughout the United States, Europe and Latin America, by international performers such as the Hilliard Ensemble. Ms. Thomas is a recipient of grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, ASCAP, New Langton Arts, and Artist Trust, among others.
Joseph Adam has been Cathedral Organist at St. James Cathedral since 1993, and is a member of the faculty at the University of Puget Sound. He received First Prize at the 1991 St Albans International Organ Competition; since then he has performed widely throughout the US and Europe. His second solo CD recording, L'organist parisien, features French romantic works recorded on the new Rosales organ at St. James and released by Gothic Recordings.
Amy Bils, soprano, has performed with Seattle Opera, singing in Le nozze di Figaro and previews of Die Zauberflöte. She also performed with Portland Opera as a Resident Artist. Ms. Bils has been a featured soloist with the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra, the Portland Symphonic Choir, Milwaukee's Bach Chamber Choir, Central Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra and Minnesota Opera. In 2000 she was recognized as a Regional Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and a finalist in Portland Opera's Lieber Awards.
Erich Parce, baritone, is a guest of opera companies throughout North America, including the Metropolitan Opera, San Diego Opera, San Francisco Opera, Opera Colorado, Portland Opera, Sarasota Opera and Opera Carolina. Mr. Parce frequently performs with the Seattle Opera. In Europe, Mr. Parce has appeared with Opera de Nice and at Italy's Spoleto Festival. He also has toured with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. He has performed with the Seattle Symphony and the New York City Chamber Symphony, among other companies.
Recorded live in concert at St. James Cathedral, Seattle, Washington on May 18, 2002
Each piece on this recording was performed in a different location within the cathedral, taking full advantage of the rich variety of performing possibilities which St. James affords. The listener will thus notice a distinct difference in the ambient sound of each piece, as well as a difference in the perceived presence of concert audience noise.
Seattle Pro Musica is a Resident Ensemble of St. James Cathedral