On October 28, the Choir and Orchestra of St. Ignatius Loyola (New York, NY) performs Stephen Paulus’ Voices of Light. Music director K. Scott Warren conducts the work as part of St. Ignatius’ “Sacred Music in a Sacred Space” concert series.
Voices of Light was commissioned by Westminster Choir College of Rider University (NJ) to commemorate its 75th anniversary, and premiered in 2001 at Lincoln Center. The performance featured the Westminster Choir and the New York Philharmonic, led by Joseph Flummerfeldt. The five-movement, 22-minute work highlights texts by 13th-century women mystics.
K. Scott Warren talks about the program. “Our Sacred Music in a Sacred Place 2015-16 Season focuses on American choral music. In addition to our ‘old faves’ Bernstein, Copland, Barber, et al, I wanted to feature some of Stephen Paulus’ music. In my estimation, he was a modern day prophet of American choral composition. So much of his work was dedicated to the choral idiom, and our season seemed incomplete without him.”
He continues, “I met Stephen about 12-13 years ago at St. Ignatius. I wasn’t the director [then], but was nevertheless on the music staff. The choir and orchestra were performing his Concerto for Organ, Chorus, and Orchestra. He attended the rehearsals and performance. He was a kind soul and perfect gentleman. His musical language—crafting of melody, colorful shaping of harmony, and pungent use of rhythm—was gripping. I’d never heard anything quite like it, and I was particularly taken with his ability to handle dissonances, especially polytonality within a beautiful, consonant tonal framework.
“Stephen put all those skills to effective use in Voices of Light. I was also drawn to the timeless wisdom of the texts, so concisely and artfully composed. They sound as if they could have originated in any spiritual tradition, at any point in human history. They plunge beneath the dogmas and forms that too often define religious experience, and go straight to the heart of the essential and subtle unity of all things.”