Vox pop­uli Santa Fe Desert Chorale

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Mu­sic is po­lit­i­cal.” So says Joshua Haber­mann, mu­sic di­rec­tor and con­duc­tor of the Santa Fe Desert Chorale. “In the late 1980s, tra­di­tional song fes­ti­vals held in Es­to­nia be­came a po­lit­i­cal uni­fier, a ral­ly­ing cry for what the Es­to­ni­ans proudly be­gan to call ‘a rev­o­lu­tion with­out a shot fired.’ In the Amer­i­can South, African-Amer­i­can slaves mod­eled their spir­i­tu­als mu­si­cally after Protes­tant hymns but used the songs as forms of protest. Jewish in­terns at Terezín prison camp dur­ing World War II cre­ated mu­si­cal groups to lift their own spir­its but would also per­form sa­cred mu­sic from the Chris­tian tra­di­tion for the en­ter­tain­ment of their cap­tors.

“The larger theme for our en­tire sum­mer sea­son is the idea that mu­sic talks about more than mu­sic,” Haberman said. “It tells the story of the hu­man con­di­tion in his­tory. These are in­tense times. The mu­sic we are pre­sent­ing speaks to the fact that we as hu­mans keep play­ing out the same dra­mas over and over again. It’s not just choral mu­sic; it is re­sis­tance. Mu­sic can be rev­o­lu­tion.”

The Desert Chorale presents four pro­grams this sum­mer: Lib­erté: Mu­sic of Re­sis­tance and Rev­o­lu­tion; Mu­sic From a Se­cret Chapel; Jus­tice; and The Hope of Lov­ing. The chorale’s 35th sum­mer sea­son, run­ning July 19 through Aug. 13, of­fers four­teen con­certs and two film screen­ings. Per­for­mances are held in Santa Fe and Al­bu­querque at churches of vary­ing sizes and acous­tic qual­i­ties. The group will also par­tic­i­pate in out­reach ac­tiv­i­ties, with the goal, as Haber­mann put it, not to sing “at” peo­ple, but to get peo­ple in­volved in mak­ing art them­selves.

Then there is the mu­sic. Even though the group at­tracts some of the top choral singers in the coun­try, “Fran­cis Poulenc’s ‘Fig­ure Hu­maine’ is so hard,” Haber­mann said. “It is writ­ten in 12 parts, it is su­per chro­matic, and it’s sung a capella. The singers have to be able to pick their pitches out of the air. We spe­cial­ize in what no one else can do. No one wants to per­form this piece live. It’s like pulling off the triple axel in ice skat­ing. We can do it be­cause we have amaz­ing mu­si­cians,” he said.

This sum­mer’s reper­toire spans cen­turies as well as po­lit­i­cal pe­ri­ods. The in­ti­mate Im­mac­u­late Heart of Mary Chapel will be the site of Mu­sic From a Se­cret Chapel. Just nine singers par­tic­i­pate in this con­cert of early mu­sic. Wil­liam Byrd’s mu­sic will be rep­re­sented by “Ave Verum Cor­pus,” which he wrote in se­cret as a covert Catholic in ser­vice to a Protes­tant na­tion un­der Queen Eliz­a­beth I. Pub­licly, he wrote Angli­can church mu­sic. His Catholic-themed pieces were smaller, more in­ti­mate, Haber­mann said. Hilde­gard von Bin­gen, whose Kar­i­tas Abun­dat is in­cluded in the pro­gram, was one of the first fe­male com­posers to come to promi­nence in the Me­dieval era. She had mys­ti­cal vi­sions that she kept to her­self un­til she be­came a nun. God ap­peared to her, the story goes, and told her to write down these vi­sions. Her chants are ec­static hymns to love that sound al­most “New Agey” to­day, Haber­mann said.

Desert Chorale has hired an ex­tra so­prano for the sum­mer (there will be a to­tal of 25 singers, rather than the usual 24) to han­dle the “five mys­ti­cal high C’s” in Gre­go­rio Al­le­gri’s “Mis­erere mei, Deus.” Haber­mann said, “The piece has nine parts for the nine singers. Let’s hope no one gets sick. I would have to jump in

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