Opus 7’s Northwest roots blossom into pure harmony
Imagine an entire choral concert of music written recently in the Northwest, with only a couple written before 1980. Then imagine a large, interested audience to hear it. Unusual, you’ll agree.
It says much for chamber choir Opus 7 that it could draw such an audiencefor its concert Saturday night at St. Mark’s Cathedral; and more for its director, Loren Pontén, that he could bring off in such style a performance with four premieres and 16 composers, 10 of whom were present.
Pontén’s discriminating choices underlined the high quality of choral composition going on here. Virtually all the works performed, many of them for use in church or synagogue, sustained the interest musically, illuminated the text and moved the heart.
Jeff Kunins’ effective “Shema Yisrael” (1999), a highlight of the concert, used a soprano solo in a clarion call to prayer, bracketing the spoken word over quiet chorus. Lisa Cardwell Pontén achieved the high solo confidently. It was simple to listen to, extremely difficult to sing. Her voice was rich, clear, pure and accurate.
Other standouts among this fine collection included Joan Szymko’s peaceful “Ubi caritas” (1996), with gorgeous harmonies, a piece that wouldn’t work without pure voices and accurate intonation, both of which Opus 7 provided; two of “Three Medieval Lyrics” (1993) by Karen Thomas, one charming and gentle, the other a sensuous color washing (though pitch was temporarily off here); Alan Hovhaness’ traditional “A Rose Tree Blossoms” (1971); Michael Young’s positive, joyful and well-shaped “Give Glory All Creation” (1991); and, not least, Bern Herbolsheimer’s ravishing “David Mourns for Absalom,” which, however, substituted a peaceful mode for the anguish in the words.
Opus 7 has instigated a Student Composer Choral Competition for Washington. Its first two winners’ works received their premiere performances, and both held their own in this excellent collection.
Deborah Kelley (a senior at Mount Rainier High School in Des Moines) created in her “Jesu Dulcis Memoria” a work that uses deceptively simple rhythms and open harmonies with sophisticated use of the voices. The music mirrored the text’s straightforward, pure prayer.
Kristin Gordon, a graduating senior at Gonzaga University, composed a well-structured, jubilant setting of “Regina Coeli.”
I haven’t space to mention individually each of the remaining works, deserving though they be, by composers Gerald Kechley; Peter Hallock; Diane Thome (whose work, chosen from a trilogy, seemed truncated); John Muehleisen, who wrote a fine tribute to the late Roy Cummings; David Asplin; Robert Scandrett; William Bergsma; and David Dahl, whose contribution was four short organ works, performed by himself.