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Three Illuminations on Byzantine Chant

Three Illuminations on Byzantine Chant (2021)
This work represents over twenty years of creative collaboration with my dear friend Victoria Bond. Chanting in Orthodox churches for the last quarter of a century, I wanted to select byzantine hymns that reflected the wide emotional range and spiritual message of Orthodox Christianity. I’m thrilled with the final result and excited to give the world premiere tonight here at Symphony Space on Victoria’s beloved series Cutting Edge Concerts.
Potirion Sotiriu (1999)
The idea for the Potirion Sotiriu began as a fragile melody I sung for Victoria, on a foggy hillside in the Czech city of Zlin. I was recording Victoria’s first piano concerto “Black Light” and we were on our way to a recording session where I related my ecstatic experiences chanting in the Greek Orthodox Church. She asked me to sing one of my favorite melodies and I sang the communion hymn Potirion Sotiriu, “The Cup of Salvation,” which is sung on the feasts of the Theotokos. Victoria was moved by the hymn and thus began her exploration into the mystical world of Byzantine chant.
The work begins with a beautifully voiced statement of the original melody in its entirety and then goes through a fascinating journey and discovery of the various components of the chant. In a loosely constructed set of variations, the work concludes with an exciting coda revealing the innate power of the chant itself. Potirion was eventually transformed by Victoria into the piano concerto “Ancient Keys” which I recorded on my second volume of American Piano Concertos released on the Albany label in 2006.
Simeron Kremate (2019)
Simeron Kremate was written in the fall of 2018/spring of 2019 and is based on the Greek Orthodox crucifixion chant from the Holy Thursday service chanted during Orthodox Holy Week. Its opening five-note melody in the plagal of the second mode features the augmented seconds that are characteristic of this musically compelling mode. The text “Simeron kremate” opens the hymn emphasizing the liturgical truth that “today” (simeron), we mystically participate in this great act of love from the past thereby making the past eternally present. Victoria also decided to incorporate a Jewish Passover chant “Tal” (dew) whose opening melody bears an uncanny similarity to the opening of the Greek chant. This Jewish prayer for the blessing of dew is sung on the first day of Passover, the date of which the Greek Orthodox always consider for the timing of their own celebration of Pascha, the Greek word for “Passover.” Just as the Jewish community liturgically asks God for the gift of dew, so the Greek Orthodox community contemplates the gift of God in Christ, who today is suspended on a cross. The work opens with the traditional apichima of the plagal of the second mode which aurally establishes the musical atmosphere of the mode. Victoria follows this with a Jewish style cantillation (based on the cantillation of the great cantor Yosele Rosenblatt) which leads to the first statement of the “Simeron” chant. These opening notes are then developed in multiple ways before the intimate entry of the “Tal” melody. The work concludes with a ‘tranquillo’ passage of rare beauty ingeniously combining both themes. The work ends tentatively and unresolved as the opening notes of the chant dissipate into eternity. The work was jointly commissioned by the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts at the University of Nebraska and the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation in Chicago.

 

 


Σήμερον Κρεμάται (Today is Suspended)
From the Matins Service of Holy Friday (celebrated on Thursday evening)
Today, He who suspended the earth on the waters is suspended on a cross. 3x
The King of the Angels wears a crown of thorns.
He who wraps the sky in clouds is wrapped in a fake purple robe.
He who freed Adam in the Jordan accepts to be slapped.
The Bridegroom of the Church is fixed with nails to the cross.
The Son of the virgin is pierced with a spear.
We worship Your Passion, O Christ. 3x
Show us also Your glorious Resurrection.

Enite ton Kyrion (2021)
Enite ton Kyrion was written in 2021 as the final movement of Victoria’s byzantine trilogy Three Illuminations on Byzantine Chant. When I commissioned the work which was funded by the Hixson Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I wanted this final movement to be a musical expression of divine love. I selected the Sunday communion hymn Enite ton Kyrion, “Praise the Lord” from Psalm 148.

Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the highest.

Sung in the plagal of the fourth mode, the melody is a simple diatonic expression of love sung in the Divine Liturgy just before the faithful come forward to receive Holy Communion, the mystical joining of humanity with God, the ultimate expression of divine love. I told Victoria early in the process that I envisioned this final movement to be similar to the final movement of Schumann’s glorious Fantasie which after the emotional intensity of the first and second movements begins slowly as various keys are beautifully and meditatively explored. Victoria’s work did not disappoint! Enite begins actually as the resolution of the previous work Simeron Kremate which left the final e-flat of the Simeron chant unresolved until the first note of Enite! Fragments of the melody emerge as she explores several different keys and colors before a complete statement in C major is presented in canon. In a beautiful expression of musical cyclicism, both Potirion and Simeron return effectively preparing the final statement of the Enite theme. Preceded by a most exciting dominant prologation, the Enite theme returns with an exultant and ecstatic tintinnabulation with giant bells booming in the bass. The entire melody is presented in canon and then slowly dissipates into an ineffable expression of love.

Posted: Apr-15-2021
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