Now try that last part again in 40-part harmony!
By MIKE DUNHAM Alaska Dispatch News
On Tuesday night I got a sneak preview of what may be the most awesome musical event of the season. Conductors Grant Cochran and David Hagen stood shoulder to shoulder facing opposite directions more or less in the middle of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Each had an enormous folio of sheet music with pages somewhat larger than a commercial baking sheet. Arrayed around the walls of the church were members of the Anchorage Concert Chorus Chorale and Alaska Chamber Singers, clustered in eight groups and positioned like points on a compass. With the downbeat the choir stationed behind the altar began singing, in five-part harmony, “Spem in alium” by the English renaissance master Thomas Tallis. The choir to their left then joined in with five separate melodic lines. One by one, the other ensembles opened their throats, sometimes blending, sometimes contrasting, sometimes working singly or passing musical ideas back and forth. It had the effect of making the building itself seem alive, the space between the floor and rafters filled with intangible but undeniable beauty. The Tallis motet, part of the groups’ upcoming concerts this weekend, consists of 40 parts that is, 40 vocal lines going at the same time. A standard symphony score has about 16 parts. Understandably, the mind-boggling “Spem in alium” is not heard very often; this will be the first performance in Alaska as best I can tell. The words (“I have never put my hope in any other but in you, O God of Israel”) are from the book of Judith in the Old Testament. The work is said to have been composed for the birthday of Queen Elizabeth around 1570, which seems both appropriate and ironic. It’s ornateness can be likened to the frothing patterns seen on her dresses in various portraits of the queen, but it possesses a somber glory that is at once weighty yet weightless. I listen to a lot of choral music on radio and recording. But to hear it coming from live bodies is a totally different experience. It’s like hiking above the timberline in the Chugach on a fine day compared to a photo on a postcard. The conductors busied themselves correcting details of pitch and volume, entries and diction, but what I heard was pretty close to being ready for prime time. The rehearsal contained several other pieces for multiple choirs to be presented this weekend: “Amazing Grace,” music by Gabrieli, Handel and contemporary composers. Performances will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 3900 Wisconsin St., and 4 p.m. Sunday at St. Andrew Church, 16300 Domain Lane in Eagle River. Both venues feature remarkable acoustics for this kind of music. Tickets are available at centertix.net . Adams’ latest work premieres in St. Louis John Luther Adams’ latest composition, “Ten Thousand Birds,” was premiered outdoors at the Public Media Commons in St. Louis by the Alarm Will Sound ensemble on Sunday, Oct. 19. Adams, a longtime resident of Fairbanks now transplanted to New York, won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for music with his sprawling “Become Ocean.” A recording of the work by the Seattle Symphony, which commissioned and premiered it last year, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Chart this month and has maintained that ranking as of this writing though we are wondering how the Billboard folks define “traditional.” The 40-minute “Ocean” is written for three orchestral ensembles that “wash” around each other (shades of Tallis, above). The release is a two-disc package with a CD of the work and DVD slideshow of ocean images by National Geographic photographers Paul Chesley and Sebastian Meckelmann. William Paul honored The Sealaska Heritage Foundation announced last week that the archives facility at the new Walter Soboleff Center in Juneau will be named for William L. Paul Sr., who is described as “a major force in Alaska history ... recognized as the father of the Alaska Native land claims.” For once, the language in a press release may be an understatement. Paul (1885-1977) was Alaska’s first Native attorney and legislator. He helped expand the Alaska Native Brotherhood as a political force and fought for the desegregation of schools, voting rights and citizenship for Alaska Natives, revisions in the federal Indian Reorganization Act and land claims. He’s credited with coming up with the idea of regional corporations. He was also a newspaper man, co-publisher of the Alaska Fisherman, which advocated for the common interests of working-class non-Native Alaskans as well as indigenous residents. In a famous editorial, he expressed the opinion that a “real Alaskan” was someone who expected to be buried here. The archives named in his honor will house historical manuscripts and papers, audio and visual recordings and more than 60,000 historic photos. Alaska artists chosen for residencies The Rasmuson Foundation has selected four Alaska artists to spend two months in residence with arts groups in the Lower 48 next year. They are Juneau writer Ernestine Hayes, who will participate in the Djerassi Resident Artists Program near Woodside, California; Anchorage painter Linda Lyons, who will be at the Santa Fe Art Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in partnership with the Institute of American Indian Arts; Fairbanks artist and art therapist Mary Matthews, who will be in residence at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in Charlotte, North Carolina; and Homer media artist Michael Walsh, who will work on a new process of combining film and print technology at Zygote Press in Cleveland. Two art venues seeking submissions Gina Hollomon of blue.hollomon gallery is looking for more artists to display work at either Snow City Café or Fire Island Bake Shop in the coming year. The application is online. Ask for details at email@example.com . All Alaska juried art show winners announced Michael Walsh was also among the Merit Award winners selected by juror Bonnie Laing-Malcolmson for the 35th All Alaska Juried Art Exhibition. Others selected for Merit Awards, worth $500 each, include James Behlke, Betany Porter and Amy Meissner of Anchorage and Kate Boyan of Homer. The $1,000 Juror’s Choice Award went to Cody Swanson of Anchorage for his oil painting “Beluga Point Ferris Wheel.” “Oil painting” may not be completely accurate. Swanson says it began as a photo taken with a pinhole camera that produced an image which he then painted additional details on. We’ll try to get more precise information after the opening. Meanwhile, what’s sort of fascinating is the camera itself, which Swanson said is a sculpture of his own head; the pinhole through with the photo was taken is located in the pupil of the sculpture’s eye. Laing-Malcolmson, curator at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, winnowed down 600 submissions to pick 40 works for the exhibit, considered Alaska’s premier art show. It will be on display at the Anchorage Museum along with the juried photograph exhibit “Rarified Light” Nov. 7- Feb. 1 and then travel to other Alaska towns. Cellist Zuill Bailey honored by alma mater Cellist Zuill Bailey, artistic director of the Sitka Summer Music Festival, will receive the 2014 Johns Hopkins University Distinguished Alumnus of the Year award on Saturday. Bailey graduated from the university’s Peabody Institute in 1994. In addition to the award, he’ll perform the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Peabody Symphony Orchestra. The concert will be available online at 4 p.m. Alaska time at ustream.tv/channel/johnshopkinsu. Please try your call again Frustrated readers who tried to call me or anyone else at Alaska Dispatch News at various times last week should know that there were issues with the phone system. The problems should now be resolved we hope and email is up and running. My apologies for any inconvenience. Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@alaskadispatc h.com or 257-4332.
BILL ROTH / Alaska Dispatch News Singers rehearse at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Tuesday. BILL ROTH / Alaska Dispatch News Alaska Chamber Singers conductor David Hagen, left, and Anchorage Concert Chorus conductor Grant Cochran rehearse at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on Tuesday.