Musica intima goes medieval

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Local choir musica intima is known for supporting contemporary composers, but it also harbours a deep and abiding love of the liturgical styles of the past. And while this could seem incongruous, according to Shane Raman it’s anything but.

“I think that both early music and contemporary music are almost the same,” the tenor explains, on the line from his Burnaby home. “There’s a lot of new music that comes from the idea of old music—chants, and just the beginnings of music. In classical music we’ve moved away from these 12-tone, inaccessible, very academic kinds of music back to something that’s more melodic, and something that has its roots in early music.…And while we do champion modern music and we want to continue doing that, we have skills and interest in early music that will probably always be there.”

This makes sense when you consider that the top living composers of choral music, including Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, and Eric Whitacre, are all either grounded in religious music or are attempting to provide a spiritual experience in a secular context. It also explains why the members of this leaderless choral collective have maintained a working relationship with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra for almost the entirety of musica intima’s 20-year existence. The two similarly sized ensembles—which range from eight to 12 members, depending on the demands of the program—are joining forces once again next weekend, coming together to present lux/nox, a concert of music for the Advent season that, unsurprisingly, offers the best of both the baroque and modern eras.

“Advent is a time of waiting and preparing, and it’s also a time of darkness, like waiting for the light to come,” says Raman. “So it’s about looking forward to something being reborn, or born as something new.”

The weeks between All Soul’s Eve and Christmas feature prominently in the Christian calendar, something lux/nox reflects. On the bill will be Johannes Sebastian Bach’s Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Suite in D minor, along with Pärt’s Magnificat and two works by members of the choir: Lane Price’s “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and Matthew MacTavish’s “Angelus ad virginem”.

“Lane comes from the jazz tradition, and basically his setting is very hymnlike in structure but features these dense jazz harmonies,” Raman notes. “So it’s very much a modern setting of a very well-known sacred text. That’s also true of ‘Angelus ad virginem’, which is about the angel coming to Mary and telling her that she’ll give birth to the Saviour. It’s a medieval carol that’s quite popular, but Matthew has taken it and reharmonized it with modern harmonies.”

Secular humanists might be more comfortable with the PBO’s instrumental offerings, which will feature baroque oboe soloist Curtis Foster. But Raman argues that even the most devout atheist should be able to enjoy the singing, too.

“A lot of the music is sacred, and the texts are sacred,” he allows. “However, I think the actual performance of it, and the participation of people who are not necessarily Christians, really highlights the fact that this is great music—not because it’s liturgical or it’s sacred or anything like that, but because it’s lovely music that we don’t get to hear too often.”

The Pacific Baroque Orchestra and musica intima present lux/nox at St. John’s Shaughnessy Anglican Church on Saturday (November 17) and at St. Andrew’s United Church in North Vancouver on Sunday (November 18).

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