Sunday, November 14, 2010

Inner Illumination

"Music exists to elevate us as far as possible above everyday life"
Gabriel Faure

Have you ever had a transcendent moment when life is suspended and all that exists is the sound that surrounds you? I experienced that twice last night during a concert in the stunningly renovated Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Centre.

The White Light Festival is a new annual fall festival that according to its VP of programming, "explores music's unique power to illuminate an interior universe far larger and more fulfilling that the narrow strivings of our egos." It has provided 4 weeks of the most reflective and spiritual moments from different cultures and centuries. Judging by the near impossilbilty to get tickets, clearly these moments of mediation are needed for us frazzled New Yorkers! Last night focused on works by Bach and Arvo Part, sung by the Latvian National Choir and conducted by Tonju Kalijuste from Estonia.

I have been a huge admirer of Part's music for over a decade. Born and living in Estonia, his music has often been referred to as "mystical minimalism." He is a deeply religious man who often sets alot of his music to sacred texts, some of which include a Magnificat, Te Deum, Stabat Mater and De Profundis. He began composing in the 1950's and found his true compositional voice in the 70's when he introduced chant-like melodic phrases, heart wrenching and sometimes discordant harmonies and wonderful periods of silence. He relies on the power of the human voice to create different timbres, with a small string orchestra or organ to support but never detract or take over from the voices.

Last night the two Part pieces had their US debut. The first was Stabat Mater composed in 1985. The second was Adam's Lament, which was commissioned this year on the occasion of Part's 75th birthday. Deviating slightly from his usual Christian bent, Part created this piece with a ecumenical intent and an awareness that it would first be heard in Istanbul, still a predominantly muslim nation. "When composing this piece," he stated, "I only had one wish, and it was that the work should be something to address the Turkish culture. It must be something that connects us all together."

Part used a text written by the monk Silouan of Athos (1866 - 1938) as the basis for his lament. The versus combine the two concerns of Adam; losing the garden of Eden but more so the loss of God's love. It focuses on the suffering of humanity and a longing to reconcile wtih God. Part saw Adam, the first man, as symbolically joining two great religions, Christianity and Islam. "[Adam] is our common forefather. His name carries our human history and at the same time represents each one of us. He marked the tragedy of mankind; By committing a sin, he lost the love of God. And he is still suffering."

The composition was heard for the first time on June 7th 2010 in Hagia Irene, a formerly Eastern Orthodox church and now a museum in the Topkapi PAlace. The choir and orchestra were conducted by last night's conductor, Tonju Kalijuste.

I can't find a recording online of Adam's Lament for you to listen to. But if you want to be transported to an other-worldly agony and despair and at the same time be wrapped in the exquisite sound of the human voice, please go and buy it. Meanwhile, I have embedded the Stabat Mater to tempt you!

images: ltc4940, all the cool spots,  panoramio, history for kids, 

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