Illuminati Vocal Arts ensemble, a select chamber choir conducted by Dr. Tony Thornton, presents Modern to Baroque, a program spanning centuries and genres, from the astere "holy minimalism" of Adam's Lament by Arvo Pärt, to the joyful Baroque intricacy of Vivaldi's Gloria.
The concert is 7:30 PM, Saturday, June 17, 2017, at Phillips Stevens Chapel, the Williston Northampton School, Easthampton. Tickets are $20 general/$15 senior/$10 student, and are available below and at the door.
This concert is ambitious and expensive. Please consider sponsoring an instrumentalist to help us cover the costs.
“Performances at the level of Illuminati's give the listener a clear window into the composer's soul.” - Clifton Noble Jr, The Republican, Oct. 15, 2016
Arvo Pärt is one of the most admired and performed living composers. Beginning with the 1984 recording Tabula rasa, his influence and reputation steadily grew, until by this century his music could be found in scores for Hollywood films such as Fahrenheit 9/11, There Will Be Blood, and Gravity, and was cited as an inspiration by musicians as diverse as PJ Harvey, Rufus Wainwright, Nick Cave, Keith Jarrett, Lupe Fiasco, and Radiohead's Thom Yorke. The Icelandic pop star Bjork summed up this popular adulation - "Arvo Pärt is a so-called serious composer who, in a very sensitive way, has got the whole battle of this century inside him."
As a native Estonian, Pärt was, indeed, in the thick of one of the 20th century's most profound cultural battles. In Soviet-occupied Estonia, composers were expected to create works that were “socialist by content, national by form,” avoiding the influence of folk music or religion. Seeking his own voice within these constraints, Pärt flirted with dissent, exploring collage and twelve-tone serialism, techniques at first frowned upon and then embraced by cultural authorities. But by 1968, Pärt's frustration with contemporary Estonian culture and an increasing fascination with religion and music history boiled up in Credo, a work for piano, choir and orchestra that combined snippets of Bach with serial procedures and collage techniques. It proved too much for the cultural authorities. Credo was banned, ending Pärt's career as a state-sanctioned composer.
For the next eight years, Pärt composed little, and delved deeply into early music - Notre Dame organum, Obrecht, Ockeghem, Josquin, and, above all Gregorian chant, which he wrote taught him "...what a cosmic secret is hidden in the art of combining two or three notes." Religion became more important to him, and he even considered giving up music after a well-known Orthodox father-confessor advised him to devote himself to the church.
In 1976, Pärt emerged from this self-imposed sabbatical with a new style of composition, which he dubbed “tintinnabulation” after the ringing of bells. “Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises – and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this.... The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.”
Pärt's later style, though spare, reflects an austerity and purity of intent that strikes many as religious. Pärt's first biographer, acclaimed conductor Paul Hillier, writes "Pärt found a new way of writing tonal music. He doesn't use modulation to juxtapose tonalities, it's static. His music feels both familiar and yet still fresh. All his best pieces have somewhere in them a point at which you feel a deep compassion coming out of them for the human condition. I think that's what attracts people." Or, as Pärt has described his compositions, “One line is my sins. The next line is my forgiveness for sins.”
Though the first of Pärt's new works were performed in Estonia, they were frowned upon, and, in 1980 Pärt and his family were forced to leave the Soviet Union. Soon after, Pärt met Archimandrite Sophrony (1896-1993), disciple and biographer of the early 20th century Orthodox Saint Silouan. A fellow émigré, Fr. Sophrony became a spiritual guide, and encouraged Pärt's music. The Stavropegic monastic community Sophrony established in England became a welcome retreat, and St. Silouan's writings a source of both spiritual and musical inspiration.*
Adam's Lament is a setting of text by St. Silouan, a meditation on humanity's fall from Grace. A blend of Orthodox chant and ethereal orchestration, it is less serene than most of Pärt's recent work, and harkens back to Credo in its sudden crescendos and dramatic silences.
With the input Fr. Sophrony, Pärt began composing Adam's Lament in the early 1990's. Pärt worked on in intermittently for nearly 20 years, premiering it in 2010, his 75th year. In 2014, in the juxtaposition of the modern and the monastic that has defined Pärt's later years, the premiere recording of Adam's Lament won a Grammy Award.
*In 2000, when the British writer Lewis Owens sought to interview Pärt for a planned biography, Pärt insisted Owens visit him at the Stavropegic monastery. There he said to him “If anybody wishes to understand me, they must listen to my music; if anybody wishes to know my 'philosophy', then they can read any of the Church Fathers; if anybody wishes to know about my private life, there are things that I wish to keep closed.” Owens honored Pärt's request, and dropped the book. (http://www.spikemagazine.com/0600arvoPart.php)
Modern concertgoers may best know Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) for concerti like the Four Seasons, but in his day he was esteemed for his operas and choral works. Vivaldi spent much of his career affiliated with the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, a home for abandoned children, many of them the illegitimate offspring of nobility. It was here that he composed his Gloria in D (RV 589), during a stint as acting Maestro di Coro. An enchanting and joyful work, it somehow fell into obscurity in Vivaldi's lifetime, until rediscovered in a pile of forgotten manuscripts in the 1920's.
The Ospedale della Pietà served as a combined trade and finishing school. Children were trained to become craftspeople, but those with musical talent were given the finest musical education of the time. While boys were expected to leave at the age of 16 to seek their fortune, women had the option of becoming nuns, marrying, or staying at the institution as seamstresses, tutors and/or musicians.
The musical talents of the school were legendary. A contemporary, Charles de Brosses, wrote “The girls sing like angels, and play the violin, the flute, the organ, the oboe, the cello, the bassoon, in short there is no instrument large enough to frighten them.” The philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau was referring in part to the Ospedale when he wrote “Every Sunday... during Vespers, there are motets for a large chorus and orchestra. These are composed and conducted by the leading Italian maestri and performed from behind screened-off galleries by girls, the oldest of whom is not twenty years of age. I can think of nothing so delectable and touching as this music: the wealth of artistry, the exquisite taste of the songs, the beauty of the choices, and the precision of performance... what pained me were these cursed screens which let only sounds escape and kept hidden from me the angelic beauties of which the sounds were so worthy.”
These Vespers performances were important to Venetian economy, as they attracted tourists when opera houses and theaters were closed. However, they must have been particularly important to the young women themselves - screen or no screen, they provided a rare opportunity to attract the attentions of a suitor. Thus, the passion, drama, hope and pure joy of expression captured in Vivaldi's Gloria may have been inspired by its first chorus.
Four years ago, Tony Thornton began Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble with a mission to create a professional-caliber vocal arts ensemble with the heart and dedication of an amateur chorus. Dr. Thornton is well acquainted with professional ensembles, as you can see from his biography.
The Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble is beginning to realize Tony’s vision. A unique chamber chorus, we draw our volunteer singers from throughout Massachusetts and beyond. We have received rave reviews from audiences and newspapers, and have earned the respect of area cultural institutions.
The ensemble performs choral miniatures and masterworks from all periods and styles, and collaborates with other community/professional organizations.
Active as a conductor, educator, clinician, and author, Tony Thornton received his Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education and Voice from Westminster Choir College, a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Louisiana State University, and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Choral Conducting and Historical Musicology from the University of Arizona. He studied conducting with Joseph Flummerfelt, Kenneth Fulton, Frauke Haasemann, Margaret Hillis, Bruce Chamberlain, and Donald Neuen.
Trained first as a singer, Dr. Thornton has performed as a tenor soloist throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. As a member of the Westminster Choir, he performed at the Spoleto Festival in Italy and the United States, and he has recorded with Leonard Bernstein, Riccardo Muti, Robert Shaw, Claudio Abbado, and Zubin Mehta. He sang for seven years as a member of the Grammy Award-winning Robert Shaw Festival Singers.
As a guest conductor and clinician who is active on the national and international choral scene, Dr. Thornton has worked with over 300 women’s, men’s, and mixed choruses in public schools, colleges, churches, community, and professional organizations in 24 states, Japan, and throughout Europe.
Dr. Thornton is the author of The Choral Singer’s Survival Guide (giamusic.com) and he maintains a choral series in his name at Colla Voce Music. He is currently Director of Choral Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he oversees an extensive choral program, guides the graduate program in choral conducting, and serves as Director of the Choral Area for the UMass Summer Conducting Institute. He is the Founding Artistic Director of Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble.
Dr. Thornton holds active memberships in the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Chorus America, International Federation for Choral Music (IFCM), National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), and the National Collegiate Choral Organization (NCCO). He is President of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Choral Directors Association.
Sarah Ehle received her Bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance from Wheaton College, and her Master’s degree in Collaborative Piano from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her experience includes working with choirs as well as collaborating with musicians of almost every instrument, working as rehearsal pianist for a student opera program, and playing for several student musical theatre revues.
Ms. Ehle is on staff at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she works with the UMass Chamber Choir and several studios. She also accompanies Suzuki group classes at the Northampton Community Music School, and has worked as a staff accompanist at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut.
Greg Brown & Mary Hubbell
Bruce & Wendy Durfee
Chris Krueger & Jane Bryden
Stephen & Suzanna Adams
Martha & Newton Frohlich
Bruce & Alexandra Lyman
Robert & Silvia Brinkerhoff
Ronna & Neal Erickson
Manuel & Susan Andrade
Rachel Peterson & Roger Bird
For inquiries, please email