Fresh Frozen

The Crossing rehearsed my Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus for the first time in The Icebox at Crane Arts yesterday. The space is a huge, very high-ceilinged plain white rectangle that was, so I am told, a meat locker. (Why on earth did a meat locker need to be so big, especially so tall? Were they storing cuts of dinosaur meat? Godzilla fillets?) The room is unusually resonant; cut off a loud chord, and you will still be listening to it 6 or 7 seconds later. It takes a little getting used to when you first hear the choir in there, especially if the music is something other than slow. Crossing Music Director Donald Nally wisely moderated the tempo in the faster portions of my piece, and I think the unavoidable – and in some passages desirable – blurring of the sound will not be a problem. The separation of the two choirs in my piece worked well, with the quartet and main choir on either side of the room across the shallow dimension. I take it the audience will be between the two groups.

The musicianship of The Crossing’s members is quite extraordinary, and the many short solos in my piece are being beautifully handled. Donald Nally is a highly efficient, meticulous conductor whose sympathy for the piece is apparent at every moment. I’m deeply grateful for everyone’s efforts. I hope to see you at this Saturday’s performance: June 28, 7 pm, Crane Arts, 1400 N. American Street, Philadelphia.

A few informal shots from rehearsal:

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Mass Meetings

I was excited to receive over the weekend the schedule of rehearsals for The Crossing’s performance of my St. Thomas Mass on June 28 at The Icebox here in Philadelphia. While the last rehearsal is specifically identified as a session that I will coach, I will attend all the rehearsals. Conductor Donald Nally has been offering positive comments on the piece. He also told me – regarding attending the first rehearsals: “Just be warned, I tend to wrestle pieces to the ground in the first rehearsal or so….then they get back up and start dancing a little.” I’ve heard The Crossing make pieces dance on several occasions, and I know they will bring this piece to vivid life.

The Icebox and The Crossing

I am happy to report that I have received a commission from the extraordinary chamber choir The Crossing, to compose a work to be premiered in the performance space called The Icebox, part of the Crane Arts Building here in Philadelphia.

Here is what I wrote about my proposed piece in my application to the commission competition:

In describing the Crane Icebox space, the competition guidelines refer to it as an “industrial cathedral.” This suggested to me a work that would reflect both the cathedral-like qualities of the space as well as the paradox inherent in the juxtaposition of those two terms. I propose a work that will set portions of the traditional Latin texts for the Mass alongside excerpts from Denise Levertov’s cycle of poems “Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus”. Levertov’s choice to refer to the apostle known as “doubting Thomas” in her cycle’s title reflects the struggles of her own faith journey. “Industrial cathedral”, with its suggestion of human effort set alongside divine possibility strikes me as resonating with the figure of St. Thomas, whose story in the Gospel brings together both the skeptical and the faith-filled.

My proposed work will call for a small group of singers, perhaps three or four, to function as a schola, singing the traditional Latin Mass texts using a musical vocabulary that evokes plainchant but in a modern harmonic idiom; something ritualistic, austere, stylized. This schola will be placed at one side of the Icebox space, while the main body of the choir will be positioned at another side, and will sing the Levertov texts in a more dramatic and expansive idiom, though motivically related to the music for the Latin settings. The possibilities for choral antiphony are obvious. At times the groups will simply be contrasted, at other times they may be more dramatically juxtaposed, with the schola being heard amidst openings in the larger choral texture, or with the larger group providing a contemplative sonic space in which the schola can perform its rituals.

I am very excited to be working on this. Although I have written a number of short motets (and am presently trying to finish another one for a January premiere at Emmanuel Church), this piece is the biggest unaccompanied choral work I will have attempted. The premiere will be June 28, 2014.