Uģis Prauliņš’ Missa Rigensis: Here we go again!

Praulins' Message for Missa Rigensis

On 16 March 2013, The Learners Chorus presented the Asian premiere of Missa Rigensis, an a cappella mass by Latvian composer Uģis Prauliņš, written in 2002 for the Riga Cathedral Boys Choir.  Back then, we performed the piece at the School Hall of Sheng Kung Hui Tang Shiu Kin Secondary School in Wan Chai, in our concert titled “Masters for the Choir“.  Mr. Prauliņš graciously wrote us a little note for that occasion.

Five years has since passed and the choir has grown.  Our numbers has certainly increased.  In the Masters for the Choir concert we sang as a group of 38, including just 6 tenors, barely scraping by considering the mass calls for 3 part divisi for tenors at some point!  Now we will be performing as a group of over 80 singers.  The venue will be more favourable.  Instead of a school hall with thin windows and clunky central air-conditioning, we will be performing at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall with better acoustics.  Most importantly, true to the Learners name, we have been learning and improving.

So, on 30 September 2018, we will again be performing Missa Rigensis, hopefully to better bring out the nuances of Mr. Prauliņš’ great work, which combines the traditional polyphonic masses with modern harmonies and rhythmic devices.

Come hear us!

Of course, Missa Rigensis will only be one of the pieces to be performed in our upcoming concert.  Come hear us sing this beautiful mass along with Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms in our upcoming concert on September 30 at HK City Hall Concert Hall!

Tickets now available at URBTIX outlets or online at  https://ticket.urbtix.hk/internet/zh_TW/eventDetail/35837

Proceeds, after deducting necessary expenses, will be donated to Hong Kong Christian Council’s School Building Project in Myanmar to build the Kyawt Ogh Village School.

 

Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms: A messy premiere situation

Symphony of Psalms dedication

This symphony composed to the glory of GOD is dedicated to the “Boston Symphony Orhcestra” on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary

– thus was Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms dedicated.

The Symphony was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for their 50th anniversary project, for a sweet US$6,000 (in 1930 dollars. Adjusting for inflation that would be roughly $90,500 in current US dollars, or just north of $710,000 HK dollars). Naturally, if you have paid such a large sum to have a piece written, you must be premiering it, right?

Not quite. Stravinsky has stipulated into the contract that if the BSO didn’t premiere the piece by late November 1930, it would be premiered by a European orchestra instead – and that’s exactly what happened.  Rather unfortunately for the BSO, Koussevitzky, music director of the orchestra who suggested the commission and who was scheduled to premiere the piece, fell ill and was unable to conduct the originally scheduled premiere.

The Symphony of Psalms, now one of Stravinsky’s best known works, was therefore premiered in Brussels by the Société Philharmonique de Bruxelles under the baton of conductor Ernest Ansermet, followed by the BSO and Koussevitzky just a few days afterwards.

Come hear us!

Of course, there is way more to the Symphony of Psalms than this messy premiere situation.  Come hear us perform this very interesting symphony along with Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass and Praulins’ Missa Rigensis in our upcoming concert on September 30 at HK City Hall Concert Hall!

Tickets now available at URBTIX outlets or online at  https://ticket.urbtix.hk/internet/zh_TW/eventDetail/35837

Proceeds, after deducting necessary expenses, will be donated to Hong Kong Christian Council’s School Building Project in Myanmar to build the Kyawt Ogh Village School.

 

Esenvalds’ Northern Lights: A sense of wonder through music

Northern Lights by Valerie

How can a composer evoke in music the sense of wonder, bewilderment and excitement one feels when they first see in person the elusive Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights?  Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds did so by combining an ancient Latvian folk song imagining Kavi soldiers battling away in the skies with the diaries of explorers explorers Charles Francis Hall (1821-1871) and Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930).

Whenever, at night, far in the north / I saw the souls of the dead soldiers / having their battle up in the sky / I was afraid: what if they bring their war to my land, too?”  The solo sings in Latvian as the choir describes in the explorers’ words the silence of the cold, dark arctic night before the Northern Lights burst out.  Water-tuned glasses with their sometimes wobbly sound add to the mysterious atmosphere until the captain exclaimed: “come above, Hall!  The world is on fire!”

As the explorer rushed up the stairs and swung open the door, the music burst into constantly moving and shimmering melodies just as the awe inspiring Northern Lights light up the sky.  Between bouts of excitement the music calms down somewhat and the glasses return, now with the addition of chimes as the explorer muse on the beauty of the scene.  Eventually tranquility returns, again with the Latvian text – “Cik naksnīnas pret ziemeli / Redzēj’ kāvus karojam” as the music gradually fades out and floats away like the elusive northern lights.

* Photo by Valerie Liauw

Come hear us perform Ešenvalds’ addictively beautiful Northern Lights with soloist Sandy Leung, Arvo Pärt’s Credo with world-renowned pianist Warren Lee, Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang and more in the upcoming Learners concert on September 23, 2017!  Tickets now available at URBTIX outlets or online at http://www.urbtix.hk/internet/eventDetail/32901

Donations will be made to the Hong Kong Christian Council’s “School Building Project in Myanmar” to build a new middle school for graduates of the Mayangone Primary School.

 

Arvo Pärt’s Credo: A scandalous premiere

The premiere of Arvo Pärt’s Credo was, to say the least, scandalous.  It was 16 November 1968 in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic.  The law at the time required that all new scores must first be shown to the composers’ union before a premiere.  Knowing the sensitive nature of the piece and the likelihood that the premiere would have been cancelled had they shown the score to the officials, the conductor Neeme Järvi and the Estonian Philharmonic organization decided to not jump through the hoops and did the premiere without the Soviet officials’ blessing.

The story goes that had a certain official not been out of town at the time, the premiere would have been blocked.  In any case, the religious nature of the work was no favourite of the Soviet government.  From the initial proclamation of “Credo in Jesum Christum” (I believe in Jesus Christ) to the following text from Matthew 5:38 “Audivistis dictum: oculum pro oculo, dentem pro dente” (Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth), the work was seen as politically provocative and the Soviet saw it as a manifesto of passive resistance.

That certainly didn’t play well with the officials.  Whilst Järvi was relatively fine as the officials couldn’t find anyone to replace him, quite a few were fired from the Estonian Philharmonic organization and official commission for Pärt dried up.  The work was promptly banned by the Soviets and Pärt went into an extended hiatus in composing in search for a new musical language.

Come hear us perform Arvo Pärt’s Credo with world-renowned pianist Warren Lee, Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang and more in the upcoming Learners concert on September 23, 2017!  Tickets now available at URBTIX outlets or online at http://www.urbtix.hk/internet/eventDetail/32901

Donations will be made to the Hong Kong Christian Council’s “School Building Project in Myanmar” to build a new middle school for graduates of the Mayangone Primary School.

Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang: Symphony No.2 or Not?

Symphony No.2 Lobgesang. It is easy to misunderstand that this is Mendelssohn’s second symphony, subtitled Lobgesang. This was not the case. If we look at when Mendelssohn’s symphonies were composed – No.3 Scottish was done in 1829-1842. No.4 Italian in 1833 and revised in 1834. Lobgesang? 1840. By timing alone Lobgesang couldn’t have been the 2nd symphony. What happened then?

Turns out that when Mendelssohn published his Scottish Symphony, he published it as No.3. Perhaps “No.2” was reserved for the Italian Symphony that eventually became his No.4 when it was published after the composer’s death. No.2 was left empty until an editor of the Mendelssohn complete edition entered Lobgesang as No.2. In the latest editions, however, it is no longer “Symphony No.2” – but it is already known as such!

Anyway, what’s in a name? Be it Symphony No.2 or Lobgesang, this is 70 minutes of pure vocal and orchestral bliss. Come hear us perform this monumental work in the upcoming Learners concert on September 23, 2017!

Come hear us perform Ešenvalds’ addictively beautiful Northern Lights with soloist Sandy Leung, Arvo Pärt’s Credo with world-renowned pianist Warren Lee, Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang and more in the upcoming Learners concert on September 23, 2017!  Tickets now available at URBTIX outlets or online at http://www.urbtix.hk/internet/eventDetail/32901

Donations will be made to the Hong Kong Christian Council’s “School Building Project in Myanmar” to build a new middle school for graduates of the Mayangone Primary School.

The New Mayangone Village Middle School

At Su Hta Village and Thay Yar Yu Village we have recently opened two primary schools for the students.  At Mayangone Village, however, things are a bit different.  The village is larger and somewhat less remote than the other two and already have one of the open plan primary school building.  The problem here was that there is no middle school for the students to go to once they’ve finished primary education.

Our effort here will therefore be to support the construction of a middle school for the kids to further their studies.  In February 2017 our Vice-Chairman Kevin Cheng has joined Ms. Winnie Wong (our partner at the Hong Kong Christian Council) and their local engineer representative at the negotiations with government officials for the school.  Approval for the school was granted earlier in the year and the meeting determined the funding and execution details of the project.

Construction of the Mayangone Village Middle School in Myanmar soon began. Progress photos below are from various visits by the local partners of the Hong Kong Christian Council.  In the few months since February the foundation has been laid.  The frame for the building has gone up and the walls are being built. The steel beams to support the roof has also arrived to be erected. If all goes well, the roof should be up before the rainy season.

This school is supported by proceeds from the Learners Orchestra and the Learners Chorus’ recent concert 10 May x 10 Years: A French Celebration and our next concert in September.

Mayangone netogation

Negotation with government officials alongside the HKCC’s local partner – an experienced engineer who will help to monitor the progress of the project.

Mayangone negotiations

Ms. Winnie Wong of Hong Kong Christian Council making a speech after the negotiations concluded.

Mayangone negotiations

The execution details for the Mayangone Middle School are determined. A deal was made! Our engineer partner shakes hand with a local representative.

Mayangone Gorundwork

Construction began in March 2017. Ground works being carried out.

Mayangone groundwork

Construction began in March 2017. Ground works being carried out.

Mayangone construction

The frame and some walls were up by the end of April 2017.

Mayangone construction

The frame and some walls were up by the end of April 2017. Frames for the roof have arrived

Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony: Dedicated to… oh he died.

Composers often dedicate their works.  Most of the time the dedicatee would be members of the aristocracy, kings, wealthy patrons and the like, hoping for their support for the composers’ music.  Sometimes, however, the dedicatee would be friends or peers.  Rachmaninoff famously dedicated his second piano concerto to Nikolai Dahl who helped him with his depression, and Mahler dedicated his Symphony of a Thousand to his wife Alma Mahler.

Saint-Saëns intended to dedicate his 3rd Symphony (Organ Symphony) to Franz Liszt, who was 24 years his senior and one of the early supporters of his music.  The composer’s popular opera Samson et Dalila, for example, owed its Weimar premiere to the efforts of Liszt after not seeing any interest from French opera houses of the time.  When Liszt heard Saint-Saëns play the organ at La Madeleine in Paris, he declared him the greatest organist in the world.

Unfortunately, that was not to be.  Liszt died on 31 July 1886, shortly after the premiere of the Organ Symphony on 19 May of the same year, before the score was published – with the inscription “Á la Memoire de Franz Liszt” – to the memory of Franz Liszt.

Come hear us perform Saint-Saëns’ “Organ Symphony”, Poulenc’s Gloria and more in the upcoming Learners concert on May 10, 2017! Contact us at 9234 6057 or by email at learnershk@gmail.com for ticketing and donation enquiry.

Donations will be made to the Hong Kong Christian Council’s “School Building Project in Myanmar” to build a new middle school for graduates of the Mayangone Primary School.

Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony: The birth of a favourite

A few weeks ago we talked about Poulenc’s open commission for an “orchestral work of major proportions” which he turned into a 6 movement Gloria.  Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony, which we will be performing in our upcoming concert, was not an open commission – but the composer got to write what he wanted anyway.

In 1886, the Royal Philharmonic Society invited the composer to give a performance in London of one of his concertos, old or new.  Eventually, however, the two parties reached an agreement whereby the French composer would create an entirely new symphonic work under the commission of the Society.  Being considered by many as the greatest living French composer of the time certainly had its perks.

*with* organ… but that’s fine.

Thus born was his Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, the third and last of his completed symphonies published with an opus number.  Thanks to the composer’s inscription of it as Symphonie No. 3 “avec orgue” (i.e. “with organ”), the symphony later became dearly known as the “Organ Symphony”.  The fact that this is a symphony where the pipe organ is used, rather than a true symphony for organ, does not affect the popularity of the work.

The composer considered the Organ Symphony as one of his greatest works, packed with innovation of the time.  In his own words:

I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again.

Come hear us perform Saint-Saëns’ “Organ Symphony”, Poulenc’s Gloria and more in the upcoming Learners concert on May 10, 2017! Contact us at 9234 6057 or by email at learnershk@gmail.com for ticketing and donation enquiry.

Donations will be made to the Hong Kong Christian Council’s “School Building Project in Myanmar” to build a new middle school for graduates of the Mayangone Primary School.

Poulenc’s Gloria: Benedictine monks playing soccer?

Gloria Laudamus Te

The second movement caused a scandal; I ask why?  I was merely thinking, in my writing, of those Gozzoli frescoes in which the angels stick out their tongues; and also of some serious Benedictine monks whom I saw one day playing soccer.

Thus spoke Poulenc in response to criticism on the second movement of the Gloria.  Marked Très vif et joyeux (very lively and cheerful), the score certainly calls for a mood vastly different from what usually associated with a Gloria.  The music itself was also surprisingly cheerful and somewhat carefree.

From the short trombone call at the beginning of the movement (that was actually a bouncing of notes between TWO trombones), to the short-long-long-short rhythm of the choir when the “Laudamus te” text is introduced, to the ostinato rhythm of the orchestral accompaniment and the frequent and abrupt key changes, nothing showed the usual seriousness of the religious text.

Except, perhaps, for the very brief chant-like passage and the short strings section that followed for the text “Gratias agimus tibi” that sounded a bit more serious.  Soon though, the music would revert to the carefree bouncing of phrases between the upper and lower voices of the choir.

It was therefore unsurprising that early audiences and critics were disturbed by this joyful second movement, prompting Poulenc’s comparison with the soccer-playing Benedictine monks!

Come hear us perform Poulenc’s Gloria, Saint-Saëns’ “Organ Symphony” and more in the upcoming Learners concert on May 10, 2017! Contact us at 9234 6057 or by email at learnershk@gmail.com for ticketing and donation enquiry.

Donations will be made to the Hong Kong Christian Council’s “School Building Project in Myanmar” to build a new middle school for graduates of the Mayangone Primary School.

Fantasia & Fugue in C minor: Deal? No deal!

Many say that Elgar’s Cello Concerto was his last notable work.  After the premiere of the Cello Concerto in late 1919 and his wife Alice’s death in 1920, it seemed like he has lost the willingness to compose.  His wife has always been a source of inspiration and support to Elgar.  Her death and the lack of public demand of music from him (his work went out of fashion) led to the refocus of his attention to other hobbies.

Instead of any new major works, Elgar turned his attention to orchestrating the works of the old masters.  He was no newcomer to transcribing – before he committed to pursuing a career as a composer he used to transcribe such works for the various performance groups he was associated with.

No deal!

When Elgar met with his long-time friend Richard Strauss in 1920, the 1st World War was still on people’s mind and they were eager to heal the rift.  He suggested a joint project to orchestrate Bach’s Fantasia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 537.  Elgar would do the Fugue whilst Strauss would do the Fantasia.

Nothing came of the deal.  Whilst Elgar did finish orchestrating the Fugue, Strauss did not.  Subsequently, when he was asked to “write something” for the 1922 Three Choirs Festival, he remembered this incomplete orchestration and set about to do the Fantasia as well.  Thus the orchestrated version of the Fantasia & Fugue was born.

Come hear us perform Elgar’s magnificent orchestration of Bach’s Fantasia & Fugue in C minor, Saint-Saëns’ “Organ Symphony” and more in the upcoming Learners concert on May 10, 2017! Contact us at 9234 6057 or by email at learnershk@gmail.com for ticketing and donation enquiry.

Donations will be made to the Hong Kong Christian Council’s “School Building Project in Myanmar” to build a new middle school for graduates of the Mayangone Primary School.