Aspen Choral Society’s spring concert offers message of hope and healing
Aspen Choral Society Music Director Paul Dankers enjoys collaborating with Concertmaster Mintze Wu.
“I love working with her. Her creativity, her presence, her energy, the way she thinks about things. We feed off each other, each other’s creativity,” said Dankers. “We both have a really high degree of appreciation for how the other functions, and it’s very complimentary.”
Audiences will get to experience the fruit of that collaboration this weekend in Aspen Choral Society’s spring 2023 production, “Illuminare.”
Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. in Glenwood Springs (Glenwood Springs High School) on Friday, Carbondale (Thunder River Theatre Company) on Saturday, and Basalt (The Arts Campus at Willits) on Sunday. Tickets are $20 online in advance and $25 at the door for adults, with youth and child tickets available. Tickets are now on sale at aspenchoralsociety.org; online advance purchase of tickets is encouraged — not only to get the best rate, but also as some venues have limited seating.
The program is centered on three soaring choral pieces composed by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, who currently lives in the United States. He is one of the most frequently performed composers in the choral world and an accomplished pianist.
Two of his featured pieces — “Dark Night of the Soul” and “Luminous Night of the Soul” — incorporate lyrics from the poem “Dark Night of the Soul” by the mystic poet St. John of the Cross. The third Gjeilo piece, “Across the Vast, Eternal Sky,” introduces the concept of a phoenix rising from the flames.
Wu added several instrumental pieces by Barber (“Adagio”), Tavener (“Song of the Angel”), Ravel (“Kaddish” from Deux Mélodies Hébraïques), and Ljovo (“Healing”) — all of which introduce different traditions of prayer, healing, and mysticism to the program.
About the program, she wrote: “What earthy sweetness remains unmixed with grief? What glory stands immutable on Earth? We invite the audience to bring your sorrows, your pain, your conflicts, and struggles, and together release them into the light of compassion and deep knowing.”
This year, Dankers wanted to present something as visually powerful as last year’s spring performance in which they collaborated with the Aspen Center for Physics.
“Last year, we just couldn’t stop talking about how amazing it was. We just wanted to keep doing the concert over and over and over and over, and everybody said, ‘How on earth are we ever going to do anything after this?'” he said. “Mintze came up with this idea of doing an immersive concert, where the audience would feel like they had stepped into an experience as soon as they walk into the auditorium. She envisioned something that was much more integrated, so that each piece would flow into the next piece. So all the music was selected with the idea of the choir and musicians moving around the space.”
To help implement the staging, Dankers turned to his husband and creative collaborator, Michael Schöpe. Schöpe, who is from Munich, Germany, met Dankers in 2009 at The Snowmass Chapel when he was visiting with a German acapella group. They got to know each other and corresponded long distance for a couple of years, eventually getting married in September 2011.
Although Schöpe was the tenor soloist for ACS’s winter performance of “Messiah,” he also has a background in theater, so it seemed natural for him to take on the task of staging this performance.
“In the beginning, I wanted to find visuals that support the idea of healing and the journey through several stages of it,” he said. “But as these characters came forward, I was reminded of when you travel to a different country, and you witness one of their sacred holidays and how you get all that energy and vibes. You may not know exactly what it is, but you’re fascinated by it, you’re pulled in by it, and, hopefully, you’re touched by it. And that’s really what I hope the audience (and the choir) will experience.”
In the end, that’s what this performance is all about for Dankers, Wu, and Schöpe: a collective, community healing.
“Humans are currently defining humanity in terms of the worst that it’s capable of,” said Dankers. “And it breaks my heart. I don’t want to gloss over that and pretend that we don’t have issues, and that we don’t have problems, and that we’re not doing some things that are horrible. But this concert is focused on facing our dark night of the soul and on the hope that comes out of that. New life, new growth, new possibilities, and that it all is not lost. There’s always a chance to make a change. No matter what you’ve done or who you’ve been in the past. There’s always the chance to make a fresh start.”
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