Biblical (L-E), Dana Gioia (E)
Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa, CA
Elissa Johnston, soprano / Christopher Maltman, baritone / David Ball, organ / Pacific Chorale / Pacific Symphony / Carl St. Clair
This large work for chorus, orchestra, organ and soprano and baritone soloists was commissioned for the Pacific Symphony Orchestra in California and to mark the consecration of Christ Cathedral Garden Grove, California. It is composed in one single through-composed movement made up of five sections based on a poem by Dana Gioia.
In the Beginning
The work begins with wispy shimmering in the string section and the sound of wind blown through brass instruments. A deep rumbling starts some sonorous horn calls, leading to biblical resonances for the two soloists, one in Latin, one in English.
This is a substantial section where we hear the large chorus for the first time, in Latin, repeating the title text – Let there be light. The music rises from the depths and grows to a climax, giving way to an exuberant, fast passage for the orchestra.
Litany of Light
This begins with soprano soloist alone. The music is more tentative and introspective, and this carries on into the choral writing. This third section culminates in a massive, loud climax with joyous fanfares in the brass, underpinned by rich homophonic string chords.
Light of the World
Delicate touches for celeste and strings lead to an arioso for the solo baritone, followed by a fast, rhythmic interlude for the orchestra, setting up an ecstatic outpouring for soprano soloist, accompanied by pulsating, ‘dancing’ strings. Energetic drumming and blaring wind round off this episode before the final section.
Hymn: Cathedral of Light
The choir sings a unison chorale over a tread of gongs and drums, accompanied by the organ. This acts like a recurring refrain, between which more sprightly music is carried by the two soloists with delicate, light woodwind accompaniment. The final refrain is a huge Amen which grows and slows to a monumental conclusion.
James MacMillan, 2023
"Whether religious or not, [MacMillan] asks us to share in his wonder. And as his catalog of instrumental, orchestral, choral and operatic has grown, so has his call to glory."
— LA Times