Vancouver Cantata Singers light beacon in darkness with Lux Antiqua

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      Paula Kremer readily admits that she’s not the creative force behind Lux Antiqua: Songs of Light, the Vancouver Cantata Singers’ new collaboration with the Redshift Music Society. The project, initiated by the local choir’s former manager in conjunction with composer and Redshift founder Jordan Nobles, predates Kremer’s tenure as the singers’ artistic director.

      Lux Antiqua is something she’s inherited, she explains in a telephone interview from her home, although it’s a legacy she’s happy to take on. Still, she’s going to be a little in the dark on opening night—but only because it’s going to take place at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, where the lights will spin orbital circles on the ceiling instead of being focused on the performers’ sheet music.

      “I had a lit-up baton that I got for this show, but the white light of the baton is too similar to the white light of all the stars,” the conductor explains of this planetarium presentation. “So I am using the kind of stuff you might use at a rave: outdoor glow sticks. I have a glow stick, and I’ll just wave it around in the middle, and that’s how we’re doing it.”

      She laughs: it’s an amusing image lodged neatly into an otherwise serious program. Lux Antiqua opens, appropriately enough, with Latvian choral superstar Eriks Esenvalds’s “Stars”; the 10 pieces that follow will include three new works commissioned especially for the event, and for its setting.

      Two of those have sacred implications. Kathleen Allan’s “Ave Maris Stella” sets a Latin text extolling the Virgin Mary as a beacon of hope for all those tossed on life’s stormy seas; Craig Galbraith’s “Axis Mundi” attempts to reconcile the spiritual light of Christianity to the scientific understanding of light as energy, citing Galileo Galilei along the way.

      Peter Hannan’s “The Time Between” is a far more secular undertaking, however.

      “It’s a challenging piece for the singers,” Kremer says. “He took a different approach to the idea of stars and space and light, but in a way it connects, very much, to the texts of the other pieces. Kathleen’s piece talks about the path of our journeys through life; it’s almost a prayer to Mary to keep us safe on that path. And Peter was inspired to write his piece by personal experiences in his life: he had a very close friend pass away, and he’s also had a very close friend give birth. Someone told him that life is just a series of starts and ends of things, so his piece has a section that gets reprised a lot, with the words ‘it starts and ends.’

      “He wrote the text himself, and the ‘Break my heart’ section gets quite graphic,” she continues. “You know, ‘Crush my heart with a hammer. Feed it to sharks. If you’re going to break my heart, at least pour me a drink.’ It’s maybe not what you’d expect to hear, going to a planetarium concert!”

      The accompanying images should work, however: the Heart Nebula, as seen by the Hubble space telescope.

      “Light is simply awe,” Kremer concludes, thinking of the vast reaches of space and also the inner light of music. “And all that entails: beauty, safety, fear, wonder, mystery—and rest.”

      The Vancouver Cantata Singers and the Redshift Music Society present Lux Antiqua at the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre on Friday (May 13).