2013-01-20 Notes from the Bench

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James Gerber, Music Associate

“Agnus Dei: Phoenix” by Ola Gjeilo

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

For centuries this Latin text, or its equivalent translations, has accompanied the liturgical action of the Fraction, the breaking of the bread, and since has come to be associated with the distribution of Communion.  These words have inspired the countless composers; the abundance of musical settings available is the result of their work.  Today, our choir will present a setting by Ola Gjeilo.

The composer and pianist, Ola Gjeilo (pronounced Yay-lo), was born in Norway in 1978, and now resides in Manhattan.  He studied music at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, the Royal College of Music in London and the Juilliard School of Music in New York where he completed his Master’s degree in composition in 2006.  He is an international performer, recording artist and prolific composer who has received several notable commissions from artists and organizations from around the world.

Gjeilo was the composer-in-residence for the Grammy award winning Phoenix Chorale during their 2009-2010 season.  “Agnus Dei: Phoenix” was commissioned by and is dedicated to the Phoenix Chorale under the direction of Charles Bruffy in celebration of their 50th Anniversary.  The work was premiered in Phoenix, February, 2009 and is among the works by Gjeilo recorded by the Phoenix Chorale on their latest album, “Northern Lights,” which was named Best Classical Vocal Album of the Year in 2012 on iTunes.  This album, devoted to the choral works of Gjeilo, is a top selling album, climbing to # 4 on the Billboard Traditional Classical chart and # 5 on the United Kingdom’s Gramophone Specialist Classical Chart.

“Agnus Dei: Phoenix” was inspired by Gjeilo’s 2008 visit to Phoenix and his first experiences of the desert.  He writes that, “it made a very lasting impression on me, the quiet beauty and barrenness of the landscape, as did the city of Phoenix, which I have come to love dearly.”  He describes this composition as being “symphonic in nature, and is one of those pieces where the text is very much the servant of the music.”  He goes on to say that this piece is “more like film music set to pictures and memories from the city and the desert [rather] than the musical interpretation of a text.”

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