Rockefeller Chapel, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Rockefeller Chapel Choir and Chicago University Motet Choir / James Kallembach
Choral level of difficulty: 4 (5 greatest)
This profoundly moving work looks more straightforward on paper than it is to perform. There is much division of parts: sopranos in three and all others in two parts. MacMillan sets those well-known verses from Revelation ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth’. Anyone used to Edgar Bainton’s yearning, lyrical setting will be refreshed by MacMillan’s fundamentally different approach. Here he harks back to the sound world of the second movement of his Seven Last Words from the Cross (‘Woman, behold thy son!’). The block chord walls of sound in that movement have a sense of apparent angst which seems far removed from the ‘Joyful’ direction MacMillan gives this later work. However, in Jesus’ impassioned cry to his mother there is also a cry of joy in the completion of his earthly mission and his being taken up into heaven, despite the deeply degrading manner of his execution. The massive block chords which start Alpha and Omega can be viewed as MacMillan’s cri de coeur in a godless age, his own determination to stand up and be counted for his faith.
The block chords continue for nearly half the motet. At the words ‘And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying…’, he introduces a new quick-fire rising scale figure for the upper voices gathering momentum to the point where the men take over (‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man’). The ending returns to the block chords of the opening.
The challenges in this work are not only having the confidence to sing these chords strongly, but to sing them beautifully blended and balanced and with real passion. The central quick-fire scales also need to be confident, accurate and managed within MacMillan’s dynamic directions. Later, there are some wonderful chord progressions, but these will present some tuning problems to the less experienced choirs. Hard work and dedication will bear fruit and the end result will be truly worth the effort.
Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer