Tag Archives: Morten Lauridsen

Challenging the boundaries between sound and silence

Last night’s rehearsal involved singing quietly. A lot of quiet singing. In fact, most of the session was spent exploring just how quietly we could sing some of the pieces in next week’s concert programme.

From the opening of Handel’s Hear Thou My Weeping, through to various passages of contrasting light and shade in Lauridsen’s O nata lux, and the entirety of Tavener’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer, last night was an exercise in seeing just how intimate a sound we could make.

Image: subrealism.blogspot

Image: subrealism.blogspot

The idea, particularly with the Tavener, which never moves away from pp throughout the whole piece, is to draw the audience to us, to make an intimate performance space into which the listener has to lean, in order to be involved. There are moments in the Lauridsen where the dynamics change quickly, and briefly – as I said to the Choir, it’s as though you are standing in a church on a cloud-darkened day, and suddenly, for a brief moment, the sun appears from behind a cloud and comes streaming through a stained-glass window, filling the space with colour. These transient moments of contrast, where radiant colour suddenly blossoms in a passage that crescendos and then diminuendos swiftly, are what give the Lauridsen piece its life.

Sustained pp singing is the cornerstone of Tavener’s The Lord’s Prayer, too; the dynamic remains unchanged through the piece, a quiet meditation on the prayer that, in its contemplative serenity, actually does what music can often do – transcend time, for a while, and take the listener into a very different realm. We hope to blur the distinction between the music and the silence surrounding it, creating a hiatus where it will be unclear whether the piece has actually finished, drawing out the moment of listening. It will be a lovely, intimate way in which to close the first half of the concert.

So, listen hard a week on Friday, if you’re coming to the concert; you might just hear the Choir singing very quietly indeed…

Light and shade with the Cecilian Choir

On the heels of the Chamber Choir earlier this week, the Cecilian Choir sprang back into rehearsals this afternoon, assembling to rehearse our programme for June.

The theme to this year’s programme uses movements from Victoria’s mass, O Magnum Mysterium, as a skeleton framework, which will be interspersed with other works, using the mass as the unifying thread. The programme will conclude not with Victoria’s setting of the motet, but Lauridsen’s meditative and enduringly popular incarnation.

The ‘Kyrie’ of the Mass opens with a single note, held suspended for four beats in isolation; the effect is that we don’t know what we’re hearing, which degree of the scale it is, or if it is even the tonic. The phrase descends a fifth for the second note, at which point the altos also enter, and we realise the opening note was in fact the dominant of the scale. The motionless nature of the opening contrasts with the gradual polyphonic build-up as the other voices enter and begin to weave their lines.

The Lauridsen setting requires some fine intonation, and whilst there are some beautiful colours, some of the movement between chords is not necessarily as linear as one might like – occasionally angular intervals creep in which sound lovely in context, but aren’t always going where one might expect. We explored several sonorities, practicing stepping between difficult chords to make sure we all knew where we were going.

The same is true of the last piece we rehearsed, Lauridsen’s deft, ephemeral En une seule fleur, which presents even more challenges in the same regard! Good fun, though; the programme will provide contrasting light and shade as we move from Italian polyphony to rich American colours and elsewhere.

And here’s a foretaste of the motet in a richly colourful performance from the choir of King’s, Cambridge.