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.