Join us as we—mere stardust-made mortals—meditate on our capacity to exert power and change the universe that we inhabit. The program features the World Premiere of Joel Thompson’s consortium commission piece, Love Songs from Lonely Letters, that explores individual agency and transformative joy. Arvo Pärt’s cosmic Berlin Mass drifts over the atmosphere with an expanded chorus and string orchestra. We are pleased to welcome Sphere Ensemble to share the stage with us.
We are thrilled that Joel Thompson will be making a special appearance at these concerts!
Download the digital concert program here.
We are stars, we are literally made of the cosmos, we are what remains, what becomes, what is becoming, of that which isn’t separable. – from The Lonely Letters by Ashon Crawley
Joel Thompson (b.1988) is an Atlanta-based composer, conductor, pianist, and educator, best known for the choral work Seven Last Words of the Unarmed, which was premiered November 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club and Dr. Eugene Rogers and won the 2018 American Prize for Choral Composition. His pieces have been performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Master Chorale, Los Angeles Master Chorale, EXIGENCE, and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. Currently a student at the Yale School of Music, Thompson was also a 2017 post-graduate fellow in Arizona State University’s Ensemble Lab/Projecting All Voices Initiative and a composition fellow at the 2017 Aspen Music Festival and School, where he studied with composers Stephen Hartke and Christopher Theofanidis and won the 2017 Hermitage Prize. Thompson taught at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta 2015-2017, and also served as Director of Choral Studies and Assistant Professor of Music at Andrew College 2013-2015. Thompson is a proud Emory alum, graduating with a B.A. in Music in 2010, and an M.M. in Choral Conducting in 2013.
Thompson’s new work Love Songs from Lonely Letters was commissioned by a consortium including Ars Nova Singers, Harvard University, Grinnell College, Macalester College, and the University of St. Thomas.
The program features Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s Berlin Mass. Composed in 1990 for soloists and organ, Pärt soon created a version for choir and organ before finally producing the version for choir and strings that will be performed by Ars Nova Singers and Sphere Ensemble. The composer sets the ordinary of the mass, plus two Alleluia movements and the hymn Veni Sancte Spiritus. The music is varied, ranging from the slow spareness of the Kyrie, through the vigor of the Gloria to the sublime austerity of the Agnus Dei.
The sounds in the composition are strictly structured accounting for the number of syllables, emphasis and other parameters of the text. “Each step is derived from the text. Hence, this is not a result of a so-called inspiration, but something more objective,” the composer has said about his piece. Pärt has described his compositional technique, which he calls “tintinnabuli” (from the Latin, little bells), like this:
“I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played. This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me. I work with very few elements—with one voice, two voices. I build with primitive materials—with the triad, with one specific tonality. The three notes of a triad are like bells and that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”
“Pärt’s Berlin Mass [strikes] the perfect balance between the ethos of the ancient and the aural palette of the modern. The Berlin Mass is a piece which conjures the weight of a thousand years of devotion yet one whose tones are complimentary to the modern world.” – Adam Garrie, Estonian World, November 2013
Full biography, from the Arvo Pärt Center
NPR Classical interview with Arvo Pärt, June, 2014
"Even in Estonia, Arvo was getting the same feeling that we were all getting... I love his music, and I love the fact that he is such a brave, talented man… He's completely out of step with the zeitgeist and yet he's enormously popular, which is so inspiring. His music fulfills a deep human need that has nothing to do with fashion."Composer Steve Reich