Show at SOU’s Music Recital Hall will feature three world premieres
By Jim Flint for Ashland.news
Three world premieres are on the program for Southern Oregon Repertory Singers’ James M. Collier First Light Festival Saturday and Sunday, May 13-14, at Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall, 450 S. Mountain Ave., Ashland.
“Rivers of Light,” featuring new music for choir and orchestra, will showcase three commissioned works — one by British composer and jazz pianist Will Todd, and two by Rep Singers composer-in-residence Jodi French.
Todd is best known for combining jazz and blues with traditional choral music. French, wife of Rep Singers Music Director Paul French, sings with the group and often accompanies them on piano or organ.
Todd has collaborated with award-winning choirs the Sixteen and Tenebrae, as well as with the Welsh National Opera, BBC Singers, the Bach Choir, St. Martin’s Voices and many others.
French has been with Rep Singers for 25 years. She also has performed with other musical organizations in the Rogue Valley, playing recitals, concertos, and giving solo performances. She is the organist at Trinity Episcopal Church in Ashland.
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. May 13 and at 3 p.m. May 14. To purchase tickets, go to repsingers.org or call the box office at 541-552-0900. A video recording of the concert will be available one month following the performance.
Todd’s new work, a five-movement piece commissioned by Rep Singers, is composed in the Catholic Mass form. Its title, “m=pV,” refers to the density calculator that uses the formula p=m/V, or density (p) is equal to mass (m) divided by volume (V). You can use any two of the values to calculate the third.
Todd relishes the wordplay inherent in his choice.
“The title ‘m=pV,’ or mass equals density times volume, follows the shape of the Latin Mass,” he said, “but the words are my own and are focused on a secular understanding of existence, with references to science and the universe. At the same time, it’s based on the texts of the Mass. Therefore the ‘mass’ in the title has a double meaning.”
Having sung the Mass and set it many times in both English and Latin, Todd understands the form within the context of liturgy.
“This piece explores beyond that linking to physical and scientific reasoning,” he said. “I am comfortable with both science and faith, although I realize that is by no means the case for everyone.”
As he often does when composing, Todd experienced a transition from a more purposeful approach to one more exploratory in writing the piece.
“I always have a moment at the start of any composition when I think of ‘How am I going to do this?’ But somehow as I work on things, I lose that feeling and become more involved in the journey of discovering the work.”
What does he hope listeners will take away from the experience?
“I hope the feeling will be one of connection to our life within the limits of our planet and the vastness of the universe,” he said.
Two by French
Rep Singers will debut two new works by Jodi French: “Earth Teach Me Peace” and “The Kiss of Peace,” a seven-movement piece. Both are arranged for choir and orchestra.
French said she enjoyed writing for the concert and felt comfortable and happy most of the time she was working on it — except for one little setback in composing the shorter piece.
“I had a very specific theme in mind for the text, a melody that was exactly what I wanted for it,” she said. “I walked around singing it for weeks, maybe months. I eventually started writing it down. And I was thinking, gosh, this sounds familiar.”
The next rehearsal after she started having that nagging feeling, the choir sang through the Dan Forrest piece they’re doing, “Light Beyond Shadow,” and it hit her like a brick.
“It’s a beautiful melody and I realized that it was my melody! Except that it wasn’t. It was Dan Forrest’s and I’d better give it back,” she said.
“It was funny, until I realized I had to start over with a completely different idea for the whole song. I had to learn to feel the text in a very different way. Eventually I did, but that was uncomfortable at first, like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. But now it feels right to me.”
The larger work is about different aspects and expressions of love.
“I gathered the texts for it because my daughter thought ‘Faces of Love’ would be a good title. And it is. I changed the title only when my searching led me to a Hildegard chant, ‘Love Overflows,’ which ends with the words, ‘kiss of peace.’ Well, once I read that I had to use it, because it’s a stunning phrase.”
French incorporated some unique elements into the piece.
“If you know anyone in my household for five minutes, you know we’re mad for all things Scottish,” she said. “Almost everything I write has at least a bit of inflection of that. There’s a directness and earnestness to the style that goes straight to my heart.”
Adding complexity to the orchestral arrangement will be the inclusion of a nyckelharpa, a “keyed fiddle” of sorts.
“The nyckelharpa is a most soulful Swedish stringed instrument,” she said, “that never, to my knowledge, is used in a traditional orchestra. We’re lucky to have a few friends who play it beautifully, and one of them is joining us for the concert.”
Forrest and Quartel
Pieces by Sarah Quartel and the aforementioned Dan Forrest open the program at the new works festival.
“Density of Light” by Canadian composer Quartel is an anthem for choir and organ that sets an evocative hymn by Thomas Troeger. The text is drawn from an Epiphany reading and explores the theme of light triumphing over darkness.
Known for her fresh and exciting approach to choral music, Quartel’s works have been performed by choirs around the world. She also works as a clinician and conductor, and has been a full-time composer since 2017.
“Light Beyond Shadow” by Forrest sets text by Paul Wigmore for choir, piano and strings, invoking light, joy, peace and hope.
His work is performed around the world, earning him numerous awards and distinctions, including the ASCAP Morton Gold Young Composer’s Award.
Reach writer Jim Flint at email@example.com.