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Boston Secession

LISTEN: Track #1 – From Boston Secession professional CD release “Afterlife: German Choral Meditations on Mortality” (Mar, 2005)
Track Title: Totentanz (Dance of Death), Verse IX - Op. 12, Nr. 2 [1934] – Hugo Distler


LISTEN: Track #2 – From Boston Secession professional CD release “Afterlife: German Choral Meditations on Mortality” (Mar, 2005)
Track Title: Totentanz (Dance of Death), Verse XI - Op. 12, Nr. 2 [1934] – Hugo Distler


LISTEN: Track #3 – From Boston Secession professional CD release “Afterlife: German Choral Meditations on Mortality” (Mar, 2005)
Track Title: Totentanz (Dance of Death), Verse XIII - Op. 12, Nr. 2 [1934] – Hugo Distler

  • Artistic Director Notes about the tracks: These selections are from Boston Secession’s first professional CD release. I patiently waited to record the Distler—a piece that captured my imagination 20 years ago—and felt it was a hidden choral masterwork that deserved a recorded world-class performance. I also felt Boston Secession’s sound was well suited to the piece. Distler uses a disciplined, skillful economy of composition to create an austere landscape enriched by a lush contrapuntal interior. This creates a moving, theatrical experience for the audience. I felt it was important that this piece be given its due.
LISTEN: Track #4 – From Boston Secession professional CD release “Afterlife: German Choral Meditations on Mortality” (Mar, 2005)
Track Title: Missa Canonica, op. posth. [1856] - “Kyrie” - Johannes Brahms

  • Artistic Director Notes about the track: This is a young Brahms at work, and this piece became the seed composition for his important later masterwork, Zwei Motetten, op. 74, No. 1 - “Warum ist das Licht gegeben den Mühseligen?” [1877].

    Young Brahms received negative feedback about this piece and put it away. As far as we know, it was never performed in his lifetime, but luckily the score was rediscovered in the 1980’s in Germany. The piece is marked by sweeping line, quick harmonic changes and an extreme tessitura. I included it on the “Afterlife” CD project as another hidden jewel in the choral repertory.
LISTEN: Track #5 - Live Concert Recording (May, 2004)
Program: “Transitive Venus: Women’s Perspectives in Music” – Cambridge, MA
Track Title: O Viridissima Virga [1992] - Janika Vandervelde

  • Artistic Director Notes about the track: The point of the concert was to feature great women choral composers who are literally unsung. Janika Vandervelde is one of the best contemporary women writing today and the piece is a joyful, rhythmic rendering of the great Hildegard of Bingen chant of the same name. An interesting technical note about this recording: the piece called for Indian tabla, but we couldn’t find a player in Boston. So I convinced my accompanist to replicate the sound by preparing the piano with detachable pencil erasers between the strings.
LISTEN: Track #6 - Live Concert Recording (Mar, 2004)
Program: “Bach Again” – Cambridge, MA
Track Title: O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (Chorale-Cantata for Good Friday, 1903-05) - Max Reger

  • Artistic Director Notes about the track: This concert looks at how the long shadow of JS Bach fell on many generations of composers after him. And I’d argue Max Reger is one of the most under-appreciated choral composers around. Unlike Distler, his is not an economical compositional style. His is a compositional blow-out: extreme dynamic markings, quick dynamic changes, lines that go on for days and incredible fast changing internal harmonies. And Reger is a master of ensemble writing, creating equal play between the singers and instrumentalists, all as equal voices. He was an organist, but I think he has an orchestral ability to understand and write beautifully for other instruments including voices.
LISTEN: Track #7 - Live Concert Recording (Mar, 2004)
Program: “Bach Again” – Cambridge, MA
Track Title: American Tune (1973) - Paul Simon, arr. August Watters

  • Artistic Director Notes about the track: This was on the “Bach Again” program to demonstrate the flip side to the Max Reger formal-excess model. Paul Simon uses the same St. Matthew’s Passion tune—a German tune—to create an ode to the American immigrant experience. The piece serves a musically rhetorical function within the “Bach Again” program as German folk tune a long way from its homeland. And it also has a profound effect on the audience because it’s so familiar and—more complicated still—expresses a sentiment of disappointment about the American dream (“…and I wonder what went wrong…”).
LISTEN: Track #8 - Live Concert Recording (Apr, 2005)
Program: “The Stravinsky Code” – Cambridge, MA
Track Title: Requiem Canticles [1965-66] - “Libera Me” - Igor Stravinsky

  • Artistic Director Notes about the track: This concert program traced the history of the octatonic scale, running from Schubert and Mussorgsky through Stravinsky and—ultimately—leading to Leonard Bernstein. This piece shows the older Stravinsky working in a highly theatrical style. He has left straight octatonic writing behind, but continues to explore the dissonance associated with his earlier faux-primitive style.

    This piece pits half of the chorus in a free-rhythm Sprechstimme against a more traditional sung chorus. The juxtaposition makes the audience uncomfortable—maybe even a little scared and confused—and this is what Stravinsky is provoking with the clash of styles. Once again, this is on a Secession program because it’s a fascinating choral work that’s rarely performed.
LISTEN: Track #09 - Live Concert Recording (Dec, 2004)
Program: “The Festival of Women Composers” – Brandeis University
Track Title: Testimony of Witnesses - “Lokomotywa” [2003] - Ruth Lomon

  • Artistic Director Notes about the track: Ruth Lomon is Boston Secession’s composer-in-residence and a very successful commissioned and awarded composer. “Lokomotywa” is one movement from her oratorio-in-progress. This piece in particular is a poem memorized by every Polish child, and asks “where are the trains going…?”

    The project is a multi-lingual piece culled from great poetry from and about the Holocaust. Secession has slowly been premiering each movement as they’re completed, and we are looking to premier the entire oratorio during the 2007-08 season. (For more info and to contact Ruth Lomon)
LISTEN: Track #10 - Live Concert Recording (Apr, 2005)
Program: “The Stravinsky Code” – Cambridge, MA
Track Title: Boris Godunov [comp.1868-9, first perf.1928] - Part 1, Scene 2 (Coronation Scene: “Long Live Tsar Boris Fyodorovich”) - Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky

  • Artistic Director Notes about the track: This is the entry point into Stravinsky’s use of the octatonic scale. It’s also coming out of Russian Orthodoxy—the scale becomes the seed idea that takes the composer from nationalism to modernism.

    I also programmed the piece so that the ensemble could demonstrate a much more operatic vocal style—versus the normal Boston Secession style, where the individual voices are blended and subjugated to the whole unified sound.
LISTEN: Track #11 - Live Concert Recording (Apr, 2005)
Program: “The Stravinsky Code” – Cambridge, MA
Track Title: ““Illumina nos” - Don Carlo Gesualdo; From the book of Sacrae Cantiones for six and seven voices [1603]; The missing Sextus and Bassus parts composed by Igor Stravinsky [1957, 1959]

  • Artistic Director Notes about the track: In the latter part of his composing career, Stravinsky turned to the works of Don Carlo Gesualdo, pre-eminent composer of 16th century madrigals and motets. The colorful, chromatic and audacious musical style of Gesualdo’s late works and the tragic events of his personal life (planning and executing the murder of his first wife and her lover) have earned him notoriety unequaled in musical history. Stravinsky’s interest in Gesualdo resulted in his own musical composition of two of the missing parts in Illumina Nos. You will hear Gesualdo’s authentic Renaissance style merged with Stravinsky’s witty harmonic and rhythmic shifts.
TRACK #12 & 13- Live Concert Recording (Oct, 2005)
Program: “Save Room for Dessert: Unlocking the Guilty Pleasures of High-Calorie Choral Favorites” – Cambridge, MA
LISTEN: Track #12 Title: Bourrée (English Suite No. 2 in A minor) [c.1720] - J.S. Bach (1685-1750), arr. Ward Swingle [1985]
LISTEN: Track #13 Title: “Flight of the Bumble Bee” - Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) from the Tale of Tsar Salton [1899-1900], arr. Ward Swingle [1985]

  • Artistic Director Notes about the track: This concert was designed to face very squarely the problem of the “choral chestnuts” syndrome. Each piece on the program is itself a choral chestnut and—unfortunately—we’ve loved them to death (literally). They’re so familiar they’re not taken very seriously and choruses often ruin them with sloppy, sentimental and undisciplined performances.

    To the contrary, I believed that—if masterfully performed—it was possible to use these familiar pieces to unlock important personal memories of artistic experience. It was a kind of perfect recall concert, where upon hearing a careful, respectful performance, people were suddenly back in high school, remembering how exciting it was to learn to sing Wilhousky’s arrangement of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

    Boston Secession does a lot of sophisticated programming, but this concert was a gut-buster—much more about the heart than intellect—and it had a tremendous emotional impact on the audience. That said, these tracks were some of the concert’s (technically interesting but) sillier moments.
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