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Gerald Carpenter: Santa Barbara Choral Society to Perform Old and New Masters

The Santa Barbara Choral Society, under the baton of artistic director JoAnne Wasserman, will present a pair of concerts it calls "Choral Masters, Past and Present" at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the sumptuously remodeled Lobero Theatre.

Morten Lauridsen
Morten Lauridsen is one of our best-known choral composers. (Michael Stillwater photo)

Guest soloists for these performances will be soprano Tamara Bevard, mezzo-soprano Niké St. Clair, tenor Tyler Thompson and baritone Ralph Cato.

Representing the past on the program are two Austrian masters, Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and Anton Bruckner (1824-96), who have contributed a "Te Deum" each, while the present masters we will hear are American Morten Lauridsen (born in 1943) and Norwegian Ola Gjeilo (born in 1978). The Choral Society will sing Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna" and "Sure On This Shining Night" and Gjeilo's "Prelude," "Ubi Caritas," "Northern Lights" and "The Ground."

A "Te Deum" is a hymn of praise, often of thanksgiving, rather than supplication. Haydn's is in the "festive" key of C-major; it is rather brief and totally uplifting. Bruckner's is more than twice as long and, of course, a good deal more solemn than Haydn's, though it, too, is in C-major. Bruckner dedicated it "to God in gratitude for having safely brought me through so much anguish in Vienna." The composer wasn't simple minded, but often seems not quite all there.

When the Emperor Franz Josef was pinning a medal on his chest, he asked Bruckner if there was anything else he could do for him. "Yes," the composer said. "Please stop (Eduard) Hanslick from panning me so much!" (Hanslick the critic was a great champion of Johannes Brahms, and Bruckner was an ardent supporter of Richard Wagner.)

Someone asked Erich Leinsdorf about "Bruckner and Mahler," as if the two were business partners. "I can discuss them together, if you like," Leinsdorf replied, "so long as you remember that Bruckner was a Catholic mystic and (Gustav) Mahler a cosmopolitan Jew." Bruckner was, I think, basically a religious composer, producing more than 70 explicitly sacred works, while even his allegedly "secular" works are saturated with what can only be thought of as a religious attitude.

Few composers can have been as profane as Wagner, yet Bruckner worshipped him as if he was divine. When he was dying, and knew that he would never finish the last movement of his Ninth Symphony, Bruckner suggested tacking on this "Te Deum," turning it into a choral ninth in emulation of his other musical deity, Beethoven (though, in fact, Bruckner's symphonies are much closer in construction to those of Franz Schubert). Theodore Rättig published the "Te Deum" in 1885, and gave the composer 50 gulden for it. According to the magisterial Bruckner authority, Leopold Nowak, it was "the only money he ever earned as a composer in the whole of his life."

Lauridsen is a mystic, one might almost call him an American Arvo Pärt. His best-known work, Lux Aeterna, is an uncanny evocation of the "Eternal Light" of the title.

Gjeilo's work is also ethereal, but more in the manner of a super Protestant hymn — even when the text is Latin and apparently Roman Catholic (the Lutheran church retained the Latin Mass for a long time after the Reformation), the four-line periods click into place with Calvinist regularity.

Tickets to these concerts are $24 to $44 and can be purchased at the Lobero box office at 33 E. Canon Perdido St., by phone at 805.963.0761 or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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