The theme of this fall’s New Hampshire Master Chorale two-concert series is “The Heart of the Singer.”
That’s also the title of the concluding section of the concerts’ centerpiece, The Wound in the Water, a new work for chorus and chamber orchestra that laments our damaged environment, humanity’s anxious and wounded psyche, and the redemptive power of music.
The work is a collaboration between the rising young Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen and Welsh librettist Euan Tait, premiered just last year. That accounts for its up-to-the-moment sensibility.
The Master Chorale will perform “The Heart of the Singer” on Saturday, November 18 at 7 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Concord, and on Sunday November 19 at 4 p.m. at the Plymouth Congregational Church.
When he first encountered The Wound in the Water last spring, Master Chorale Music Director Dan Perkins was struck by its immediacy. “The text, in particular, resonated with the general angst I was (and am) feeling about the disastrous human (social/political) and physical (pollution, global warming) condition in which we find our world,” Perkins says.
His decision to perform The Wound in the Water turned out to be even more timely than Perkins anticipated.
“Since choosing The Wound in the Water last spring,” he says, “it seems to have become even more relevant, considering myriad recent environmental and social disasters – if that is the right term for mass shootings.”
The text can certainly be read in a literal way. Some passages plainly allude to climate change: “What now are the seasons? Where will we go to be at home as the ground melts under our feet?” Others mourn the “poisoned” environment, damaged by humankind’s headlong pursuit of Mammon – the drive for material gain, the inborn desire to possess “what we think we want.”
Still other passages paint pictures of exiles set adrift on a terrifying sea. They might well be the desperate refugees from current headlines who flee from war-torn Syria, or the persecuted Rohingya Muslims pouring out of Myanmar. The chorus sings of “the strangers who came to us guessing, full of troubled beliefs,” only to meet the “unexpected hiss” of hate and rejection. They too are called “victims of mammon.”
But at the same time, The Wound in the Water is a more abstract and universal metaphor. The polluted seas stand for wounded human souls, “the Mind’s Ocean” in the depths of which lurks the monstrous creature Mammon, whose bellow “tears the waters and leaves them wounded, poisoned.”
In this less literal reading, we are all refugees exiled from our souls’ home and tossed on an “endless sea” of anxiety and unwholesome desire.
But where is that home from which 21st-century humans are exiled? The Wound in the Water points to it in a concluding section called “The heart of the singer” – the phrase Perkins has chosen as the theme of the entire concert. That longed-for home is located in the shared desire of connection, of love and empathy for our fellow human travelers in a broken world.
Music is the grand metaphor for that yearned-for connection, the piece tells us – and specifically the experience of a shared song: “…We know we are helplessly singing,” the lyrics say, “and seeking whatever in us we cannot stop, the song ceaseless, leaping, our utter yes.”
Perkins hopes audiences will hear The Wound in the Water in this metaphorical way, not as merely topical. “I prefer to allow the entire piece to serve as an acknowledgement, a call to action and, as the composer notes, ‘a journey towards healing,’” he says.
Arnesen’s musical setting of the troubling themes of The Wound in the Water is unexpectedly lush and lyrical. Perkins says he’s “drawn to the accessibility and direct beauty of his harmonic language. Considering the darkness of the text, I think the musical language helps to balance the experience for both singers and the audience.”
Also on the program are uplifting movements from Sunrise Mass for chorus and strings by Ola Gjeilo, another contemporary Norwegian composer; and Cells Planets, a playful a cappella song about the unity of the universe, from the microscopic to the cosmic, by Erika Lloyd, in a bubbly arrangement by Vince Peterson known from a recording by the singing group Chanticleer.
Tickets are available at nhmasterchorale.org and at the door for $30, or $25 for seniors and $15 apiece for groups of 10 or more. Admission is free for undergraduates and students from kindergarten through high school.
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