Oregon Repertory Singers presents
Duruflé Requiem
3pm, October 21 & 22, 2017
First United Methodist Church

PROGRAM NOTES

Requiem means “rest.” It is also the first word in the Catholic Mass for the Dead, so for many of us the word Requiem has come to mean “death.” But it doesn’t; requiem means “rest.” Oregon Repertory Singers begins our 44th Season with a quiet, contemplative, even meditative concert. A place of rest away from the stress of our daily lives, where we contemplate universal concerns rather than the ones that distract and even overwhelm us in our day-to-day routines.

Requiem has come to symbolize death for many Classical musicians. The famous requiems by Mozart, Brahms, and Verdi are dramatic, with loud and violent passages in which the composers’ fears of their own mortality spill out onto the musical page. Twentieth-century French composer and organist Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem stands in stark contrast to those of his German and Italian predecessors. Duruflé infuses his Requiem with the sense that those who have left us are indeed at rest and at peace, surrounded by eternal light. It is a vision that people of all faiths can comprehend and only hope is waiting for us. It is a musical place in which the singers and I have loved immersing ourselves every Tuesday night since August. I have left each rehearsal feeling more calm, centered, and hopeful—all feelings that have been elusive for me, and I’m sure for many of you lately. We invite you to share this space with us for a weekend.

I had initially planned to precede the Duruflé with a longer work by the young British composer Jonathan Dove called The Passing of the Year, a collection of poems that lead naturally to a Requiem. But last spring our plans changed. Our guest composer, Morten Lauridsen, was so enthralled by our performances of his Madrigali last April that he insisted we record them professionally, and he convinced Gothic Records to release the recording. But the Madrigali are only 25 minutes long, so we needed more music. It would have been natural to record more music by Lauridsen, but he preferred to have the rest of the disc feature music by other composers from the Pacific Northwest. The first half of this weekend’s program presents music that will comprise the remainder of this album. Taken together, I believe these pieces lead us to seek the calm that Duruflé’s Requiem will provide after intermission.

We begin the program with Joan Szymko’s Illumina le Tenebrae, a text of St. Francis of Assisi asking for light to fill the darkest hollows of our heart. Giselle Wyers’ A Lonely Land contemplates humanity’s threat to the natural world, and Stacey Philipps’ Sudden Light creates a musical box in which we feel as though our sense of loss has all happened before and is destined to happen again. By contrast, Roderick Williams’ O Guiding Night depicts the soul finding true communion with the divine through nature. Morten Lauridsen’s Prayer asks for divine protection for those who are most vulnerable and who are most dear to us. Finally, Steve Goodwin and Naomi LaViolette’s Melancholy Flower encourages us to step out of the shadows and sing to dispel them.

Music is not a panacea for death or the other worries and threats that confront us; but it can leave us calmer and more centered, knowing we are not alone in facing life’s challenges. Music can bring us just a little closer to the paradise Duruflé imagines for his loved ones who are at rest.

Program notes by Ethan Sperry
October 2017