in: Reviews

November 24, 2015

Praises and Prayers: Different Worlds, Same Songs

by

Mohammed Fairouz (Samantha West)

Mohammed Fairouz (Samantha West)

Multiculturalism constitutes a strong antidote to the ailments of a divided world. Sometimes, in music, we are able to witness that coming together of diverse cultures, and the Spectrum Singers’ “Praises and Prayers” on Saturday provided just such an evening. Director John W. Ehrlich and his chorus of talented volunteers presented a wonderfully varied selection of 20th-century American and British praise pieces, most notably a choral triptych Different Ways to Pray from Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz, a New England Premiere and the result of a joint commission.

Lukas Foss’s homegrown Behold! I Build an House was written for the dedication of BU’s Marsh Chapel Interestingly, though the score calls for mixed voices and organ, no organ part actually existed. Organist Heinrich Christensen collaborated with John Ehrlich to create a part for the performance, and did a wonderful job, fully realizing Foss’s score and providing an exciting accompaniment to the choir’s first piece of the evening. As soon as they seemed warmed up, they really filled the sanctuary at First Church Congregational with precise and thrilling sound. Foss is a composer who demands clean, in-tune singing, and the Spectrum Singers delivered amply.

Fairouz’s triptych held the center of the first half. Different Ways to Pray  set poems by Naomi Shihab Nye for the second and third movements, and a selection from a non-Quranic Arabic prayer source for the first. A definitely a striking moment came at the onset: a choir of ethnically diverse Americans, singing an Arabic text written for a burial, underneath a Christian cross. It was easily the most profound moment of the concert. Fairouz’s music, Nye’s words, and the skilled performance of the Spectrum Singers gave the audience a moment in which, just for a few blessed minutes, the deafening roar of a world in chaos was drowned out by a multicultural harmony. Indeed, music can be a powerful way to tear down walls between cultures, and it seems Fairouz has dedicated much of his work to such a pursuit. The subsequent two movements dealt with prayer in a more metaphorical way. Nye’s words in the second sounded a joyful eulogy for her Palestinian father, presenting his life as a prayer, an affirmation of his life and spirituality. Fairouz’s music reflected that quality, and instead of presenting us with a dirge, gave us an elegiac, yet exuberant meditation on the passing of a loved one. In the third, Nye’s text focused on the quiet, simple prayers of daily life in her father’s village. One line had striking resonance given recent geopolitical events:

“And all the men ate heartily,
and were happy in spite of the pain,
because there was also happiness.”

Though the second and third movements seemed less striking than the first, the fine performance brought an overall a success.

Vaughan Williams’s “Lord thou hast been our refuge,” which featured choir soloists and  trumpet player Paul Perfetti, rounded out the first half. Baritone Donald Wilkinson delivered warm, inviting tones, and the soloists from the choir were equally solid.

ERic Whitacre (file photo)

Eric Whitacre (file photo)

The evening continued with two American composers. In Charles Ives’s Sixty-Seventh Psalm, the composer was up to his usual shenanigans, juxtaposing the female voices (written in C major) against the male voices (written in G minor) to create a singular sonic landscape. The singers again demonstrated their ability to sing cleanly and precisely in tune, with the requisite dedication to the Ivesian tonalities. Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque shone as a real highlight of the evening, as Spectrum Singers, and the soprano soloist Tricia Kennedy put across the composer’s signature shimmering harmonies. During his lively introduction, Ehrlich even went as far as to invite the audience to sing along to the Whitacre in a reprise—a very welcoming way to invite us all along.

Ives’s Psalm 90 marshaled all available forces including three sets of tubular chimes, and three members of the Christ Church Cambridge Handbell Choir (Director Melissa Hirshson) for a lively finale. The group made ample use of their dynamic range throughout the concert, but it was on particular display in this closer, alternately filling the space during the louder moments, and drawing the audience in for the quieter, more profound ones.

The engaging and relevant programming and high-level execution made for an exciting evening for all.

Garry McLinn is a Boston-area operatic tenor, blogger, and voice actor.

1 Comment

  1. I enjoyed the concert as well as the Fairouz, however I enjoyed his second movement the most and Vaughan Williams was phenomenal.

    Comment by Jerry Sherman — November 29, 2015 at 5:21 pm

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