From the upcoming July issue of Paros Life:
After more than half a decade of twice yearly choral concerts, Maestro Orfeas had stimulated in many of us an almost Pavlovian response: it is the end of the season, the angels are gathering, time for a concert. It may be a miracle that there is a chorus singing the greatest a cappella music on little Paros, but for music lovers here it has become a component of our cultural wellbeing, a June wedding with beauty.
The group has nine singers now, all but one permanent residents. The nine muses comprise sopranos Niki Chasapi and Apollonia Ikonomou; mezzo sopranos Jane Morris Pack, Ute Maria Troussa, Birgitte Karavia, and Stella Skordalellis; altos Konstantina Andreakou and Vicki Preston; and baritone Joshua Warren. I attended
the second of three performances, and got there early enough to secure a place in the front stiffbacked pew.
Dressed in white, the chorus processed into the small church singing “Veni, Creator Spiritus”, a hymn by Gilles Binchois (1400-1460), one of his century’s greatest composers; the maestro gave the beat on a drum. And the evening’s first part consisted entirely of ancient church music. “Gaudens in Domino”, a hymn by favorite composer, Anonymous, followed: it was uplifting, lovely, in tune. The third was a duet between Niki’s pure soprano and Stella’s luxurious mezzo; a Benedictus by Antoine Brumel (1460-1513), it may
have been my favorite of the evening. With its long melisma, it reveled in the polyphonic fluidity which was about to become the stylistic norm of the Josquin generation.
Anonymous again demonstrated his superiority with Crucifigat Omnes. Well, not really anonymous, since it is pretty sure this is the work of Notre Dame de Paris’ Pérotin, who flourished at the start of the 13th century, which is when classical music – accurately notated music with more than one part – also started. Art
has its fluctuations, but does not progress the way science does; as proof, founding father Perotinus Magister wrote surpassingly beautiful music, realized with beauty and exactitude by Apollonia, Ute, and Jane.
The French may have been tops for a century or two, but England also produced fine music. The concert’s first part closed with a beautiful Sanctus by Richard Chirbury (1380-1454), an English master new to me.
For the second half of the evening, the chorus jumped five-and-a-half centuries. But writers of true polyphony – who keep things separate but united, melodic but harmonic, sharp and sweet – are never as far apart as all that, and the pieces now performed were audibly in the same tradition.
Aulis Sallinen (b.1935), sometimes considered Sibelius’ rival for greatest Finnish composer, wrote a lot for the voice. His “Sea Danger” from 1974 frightened us islanders: “Deep in the ocean unfathomable danger is awaiting you.” The chorus then accompanied Stella in Sallinen’s “Ballad”, in which a pretty young lady (Stella
looks the part) leaves her love to cross the sea – a dolorous theme also common in Greek folk music; Stella imbued the solo part with throbbing tenderness.
After a simple and direct selection of the Magnificat by the contemporary Oregonian composer Lana Walter, the spiritual ambience was increased by “Ego, O Proaionios Tragoudistis” (I, the Eternal Singer), by Orfeas himself. This was a strophic setting in a minor key with semi-cadences on the major second, of a mystical text by Panayiotis Papadopoulos. Jane and Apollonia, who performed it to perfection, have clearly been heeding the maestro, who knows things I do not, and not only musical things. It is a haunting piece.
Hugo Distler (1908-1942) is known mostly for his church choral music, and his setting of Psalm 42 is a splendid example. Depressed by the war – the Nazis deemed his music degenerate – he committed suicide in his home town of Berlin at 34. His pieces are free and virtuosic, but that proved no problem for our chorus, who gave a thrilling performance.
Anonymous American hymnals have proved a mine of lovely, heartfelt music, as Apollonia, Ute, and Jane demonstrated with “Wondrous Love”. This served as a prelude to the closing spiritual, “Set Down Servant”: the chorus wailed, Stella and Joshua preached the truth, Orfeas presided and guided, and indeed afterwards I couldn’t sit down – though I would have had they done it all again.