20 February 2011

Part of the Tale of the Opus 62

Can it really be as recent as 2002 that I composed Pascha nostrum? It feels so much older a piece, somehow. Well, all right . . . for that inaugural performance for the Easter service at the First Congregational Church in Woburn, I don’t think I quite had the time to prepare a vocal score. The scoring is choir SATB, brass quintet and organ, and (again, IIRC) the small choir read from full score. What a nuisance that must have been! For some reason I had the parts (as I learn from puttering with the Finale files last night) laid out to legal size paper. The choir writing, while stylistically straightforward (and strongly reminiscent of a Russian Orthodox liturgical style), was rather demanding (mostly in its being true four-part writing) of the small and musically modest choir at First Church; for that reason, I have the choir part ghosted in the organ manuals, to reinforce the choir ad libitum. The brass parts are toothsome, often brilliantly fanfarish and amply endowed with my characteristic rhythmic ‘tricks’. The quintet hired by music director Bill Goodwin were professionals, we had all worked together some few times before, and we made sure that they had the parts well ahead of time. Still, more players than not were reading the music for the first time on Friday’s rehearsal (or did we rehearse Saturday that year?) . . . so, to be sure, not all the moving parts were interlocking as smoothly, ahead of the actual performance, as the composer might have wished in a perfect world.

The performance went . . . tolerably well. The piece was very warmly received. There is no document of it, though.

Years go by. I try as I may to shop the piece around — I have this idea, you know, that for such a piece, there may be some demand, and that it is the sort of piece which makes friends of its hearers — but, nothing.

In late 2005 when I was appointed Interim Choir Director at Boston’s Cathedral Church of St Paul, I already formed the idea of ‘extracting’ the choral writing of Pascha nostrum, and presenting it as an a cappella work for Easter 2006 (this is the Opus 62a). In a way this is a simple rediscovery of how I composed the piece — I wrote out the choral setting of the entire text, and then went back and added the instrumental ‘environment’. About half of the choir at St Paul’s in those days were professional singers, so naturally the choral performance was a step above the première. Not a perfect performance, but very good, and a lot of verve. A fair recording exists of the event.

At this point, I have given up trying to shop the piece around. Two years later, though, I was elated to receive an e-mail inquiry after the piece from Steven LeGall, music director at St Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. Could the brass component be performed by a quartet instead (paired trumpets and trombones)? Thus was born the Opus 62b for Easter of 2008. I imagine that it was for this occasion that I hunkered down to prepare a vocal score; I don’t believe that I took the time to prepare an actual full score with the modified brass parts. No document of this performance.

Now, I am yet more pleased at another e-mail inquiry for Pascha nostrum, from a choir director in Pittsburgh. Fact is, the message was sent mid-January, yet it was a couple of weeks before I saw it. My heart sinks at such a chance (someone is actually interested in a piece of yours — but you haven’t responded for weeks — what should he think but the message evaporated in cyber-space). But happily contact has been established. Per the first paragraph above, I spent some time last night modifying the brass parts so that they fit letter sized sheets.

Now . . . we shall see.

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