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Gerald Carpenter: UCSB Chamber Choir to Let ‘Water Music’ Flow

Sail along with Friday night's program at St. Anthony's Seminary Chapel

UCSB’s internationally famous Chamber Choir, which will celebrate its 15th anniversary with a tour to France this June, will perform a concert under founder and director Michel Marc Gervais at 8 p.m. Friday, March 4, in St. Anthony’s Seminary Chapel, 2300 Garden St. in Santa Barbara.

Finnish composer Jaako Mäntyjärvi composed a choral memorial to a maritime disaster that claimed 857 people.
Finnish composer Jaako Mäntyjärvi composed a choral memorial to a maritime disaster that claimed 857 people.

The title of the program, “Water Music,” must surely be a deliberate echo of the title of a competition put up in 2003 by a Danish choral group, the Chamber Choir Hymnia. The group invited composers to submit new or recent works on the theme of water — subject and treatment open, so long as water gets the lead. In November of that year there was a concert in Copenhagen, featuring the seven winning compositions. Two of the works on UCSB’s program (Kelly Crandell’s Blessing of the Boats and Jaako Mäntyjärvi’s Canticum Calamitatis Maritimae) premiered at that concert.

In addition to the Crandell and Mäntyjärvi pieces, we will also hear: There Will Be Rest (2000) by Frank Ticheli (USA), Sound Canticle on Bay Psalm 23 (1996) by Gregg Smith (USA), Earth Teach Me (2000) by Rupert Lang (Canada), Shimmering Water (1996) by Bruce Sled (Canada), Deep River arranged by Roy Ringwald (USA, 1910-95), Oh Shenandoah arranged by Alf S. Houkom (USA) and Le Pont Mirabeau by Lionel Daunais (Canada, 1901-82).

Alas, each work on this program deserves an essay all by itself. Practically any audience will find much of it unfamiliar, except for the two American folk songs, of course, nor have I been entirely successful in my Internet trawling (to use an appropriately maritime image), but the pieces I have managed to hear — particularly the Lang, the Gregg and the Ticheli — are completely sublime.

Those inclined to express impatience with the theme, like an assistant sleuth in Chinatown — “This guy’s got water on the brain!” — might reflect that while there could certainly be water without life, there could be no life without water. Or, as T. S. Eliot put it in The Dry Salvages:

We cannot think of a time that is oceanless
Or of an ocean not littered with wastage
Or of a future that is not liable
Like the past, to have no destination.

“Throughout the history of music,” Maestro Gervais observes, “composers have worked with the subject of water as their source of inspiration — water, an element which can be calm, soothing and give life, or which can be tumultuous, treacherous and also take life.”

Admission to “Water Music” is $15 for the general public or $7 for students, with the donation collected at the door. For more information, click here or call 805.893.7001.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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