In a concert focused on imagination and illumination, Fresno Master Chorale strives for choral insights

By Donald Munro

Just before I opened the email telling me the program for the Fresno Master Chorale’s upcoming concert (2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12, at Shaghoian Hall), I said aloud:

“I bet it includes Gjeilo.”

I was right.

Ola Gjeilo is a Norwegian composer (currently working in New York City) who writes mesmerizing choral works. I was introduced to him through Anna Hamre, music director of the Fresno Master Chorale, simply because of the number of times she has featured him on her programs.

“Indeed, he is one of my favorites,” Hamre tells me.

If I had one word to describe Gjeilo, it would be lush. There is something so filled-to-the-brim about his harmonies, so all-encompassing, that his music feels rich, thick and almost decadent. (His “Sunrise Mass” is one of my high-repeaters on my playlist.)


Gjeilo’s “Song of the Universal,” using texts by Walt Whitman, opens the concert.

Hamre says it is the perfect piece to open a concert designed to address the great existential questions of this life and the next one.

“The text of unmitigated joy and hope is spiritual in a very broad, all-encompassing way. That is reflected in soaring melodic lines undergirded with vital rhythmic activity in the orchestra.”

“Illumination/Imagination” is the theme for the Fresno Master Chorale’s 2023-24 season.

After the Gjeilo piece comes Tarik O’Regan’s “Triptych.” It includes a variety of texts, Hamre says, including poetry and some Biblical excerpts. The composer’s aim is to draw similarities across cultures and centuries about the way humans view this life and the afterlife.

For those who think of choral music as somehow old and irrelevant, “Triptych” dashes that notion.

Hamre points to a program note written by O’Regan that seems haunting and overwhelming, given current events:

“Relatively new to living in New York, I am much more aware of the independent, vibrant cultural plurality that exists today; it’s probably the single most dazzling facet of the City and is largely responsible for the infamous ‘edginess’ that pervades daily life there. With this in mind, I set to work on Threnody (movement I of Triptych) in 2004; I wanted to write something that was relevant to the Israeli/Palestinian issue without losing that City ‘edge’.”

Morton Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna” closes the concert. It draws its texts from sacred Latin sources, each with a reference to light.

Looking ahead: The spring concert includes a new work entitled “Illuminare” by Elaine Hagenberg. The “backwards” writing on the poster is partly in reference to the mind-bending work of Leonardo daVinci, who occasionally wrote backwards.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (1)

  • JIm Mendez

    Don, Thank you for bringing this program to the attention of your readers. I think the time you listed is incorrect. The website says the performance starts is on “Sun, Nov 12 at 2:30 PM (PST).” Those of us who call the Valley home have been blessed by the intellect, the skill, the passion and the art of Anna Hamre. I am always moved emotionally by the musical performances from the Fresno Master Chorale.


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