As part of our 2016-2017 season we’re giving each of our core singers a turn at the helm of the blog. The below post below comes from our soprano, Charlotte Mundy.
“Darkness is the future. The present and past are daylight and the future is night. But in that darkness is a kind of mysterious, erotic, enveloping sense of possibility and communion… people have often taken on things that seemed hopeless – freeing the slaves, getting women the vote – and achieved those things.” – Rebecca Solnit
Ekmeles’ program of Passion settings coming up on Monday has gotten me thinking about paradox. A proper telling of the Passion story needs to embrace paradox – the horrific pain and uncertainty of crucifixion needs to sit right up against the miraculous glory of resurrection – and the 21st century Passion settings we’re performing on Monday are beautifully paradoxical.
Wolfgang Rihm’s Sieben Passions-Texte plays with our feelings of knowing (joy!) and not knowing (fear!). To my ear the music oscillates constantly between order and chaos – the voices slip from unison to atonality to brief chord progressions that make tonal sense for a few seconds, and back to atonality. The text is Latin, the stereotypical language of institutional certainty, but it’s incomplete, it only tells fragments of the story. It’s up to you whether to read along with a translation or to give up on that level of understanding and just let the sound wash over you.
In one of my all-time favourite pieces of music, David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion, H. C. Andersen’s little match girl is substituted for Jesus. Lang tells the whole story in English and uses starkly neutral words and harmonies. Somehow, maybe because it takes some structural cues from J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, the form of the piece is so perfectly balanced, it feels like a force of nature rather than something man-made. By never projecting a particular emotion onto the story, Lang gives us the space to hear every word of it as simultaneously horrible and sublime.
If you’ll allow me a little naive optimism here – I think in dark times like these, complex music can help us understand, on a level deeper than intellect, that nothing is ever all good or all bad. No situation is hopeless, the unknown is fertile territory, and by working hard together on things we care deeply about, the way Ekmeles spends hours practicing pieces that took months or even years to write, it’s possible to create new, beautiful (if complex!) realities that no one could have previously imagined.