The Indianapolis Symphonic Choir offered a program of debuts last weekend at the behemoth 91st Street Christian Church with a theme entitled "Voices of Hope." Accompanied by a Thursday evening workshop and a Saturday morning symposium, this once solely adjunct group to the Indianapolis Symphony began its own season Saturday evening with the first podium appearance of Dr. Eric Stark as its recently appointed artistic director. American composers Kyle Gann and Morten Lauridsen, both present and both of whom spoke, had two of their religious works featured: the debut performance of the ISC commissioned Transcendental Sonnets by Gann and Lauridsen"s Lux Aeterna (1996).
American composer Kyle Gann had a religious work featured at the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir season opener.
Gann, 47, has impressive credentials as a composer, author, teacher and new-music critic for the Village Voice since 1986. He received his commission for Sonnets in the summer of 2000 from former ISC Director James Bagwell. Set to verses of the obscure American poet Jones Very (1813-1880 - yes, that is his name), Gann"s six-part work - scored for soprano, tenor, chorus and orchestra - deals with such "transcendental" themes as The Son, Enoch, Love, Faith and The Word. Though Gann has delved into microtonal composition (where pitches vary less than our standard half-tone), in Sonnets he avoids it. Though Gann has strongly condemned in his writings the "tyranny" of 12-tone equal temperament (meaning equal pitch separation between the 12 half-step keys within an octave - an ironclad standard in Western music for the last 150 years), in Sonnets he embraces it. For the audience, for choral music and for our ingrained sensibilities, this is all to the good. It gives his work the possibility of employing common chords with tonal centers, and Gann makes liberal use of both. For example, he ends "Enoch" in a clear G minor, and begins the ensuing "Love" in F-sharp minor. His shifting through various key centers is skillfully done, adding tension and zest to his use of consonant chords. Other key centers, F minor in "Faith" and an amalgam of keys nicely modulate to a final E-flat minor. This forms a cadence - repeated while fading away at the end of "The Word" - which brings the work to a moving close. Whether or not the experience is transcendental to most or to any, Sonnets is unarguably resonating and is, at minimum, a candidate to survive the public non-acceptance of much contemporary music. Lauridsen"s Lux Aeterna, written solely for chorus and orchestra and borrowing verses from the Catholic Mass for the Dead, is less successful. With the theme of "light" in each of its five parts, Lux, though employing (according to the composer) styles from the Gregorian Chant to the later medieval period, remains too pervasively in D major, except for his Part 2, "In te, Domine, Speravi." By the time we get to "Alleluia, Amen," this key has more than worn out its welcome. Soprano Kathleen Hacker and tenor Christopher Paul Aspaas, along with an understated Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, nicely augmented the choir, which demonstrated its characteristic polish in an acoustic not amenable to clear diction.