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Valleywide chorus gives voice to Adams’ new composition

Andy Stonehouse

Divine inspiration – and a bit of divine madness – has long been a trademark of Aspen musical fixture Ray Vincent Adams and his inspired creations.

Now, on the eve of the world debut of the fourth segment of his ambitious five-part series of sacred music pieces, Adams also has a bit of weird synchronicity to add to the mix.

“The Passion,” Adams’ own take on the Easter story, will bring a swirling chorus of 75 voices from up and down the Roaring Fork Valley and a professional orchestra up to four-dozen strong to Aspen’s Harris Concert Hall on Friday and Saturday.

Any other year, Adams’ title may have only struck a chord with those particularly attuned to the dramatic tradition surrounding the retelling of the bloody crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This year, well, the title’s become just a little more visible, thanks to the work of a wonderfully understated Mel Gibson.

“Truth be told, I didn’t even know he was making the film,” Adams says. “I haven’t actually seen the movie myself, but I’ve been told that my piece is entirely different from the film. It’s the same subject matter – the Passion is the Passion – but what I’ve done is obviously not a gore-fest like Gibson’s film.”

The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, an adjunct pastor at the Aspen Chapel and author of the libretto which accompanies Adams’ score, says the recent coincidence is not the first during the course of Adams’ sacred music cycle.

“I don’t know why, but it seems apparent that Ray is downloading stuff from somewhere that really should be in our culture. He had the premiere of ‘Revelations,’ one of the earlier parts from the series, two days before Sept. 11,” Bourgeault says.

Curiosities aside, “The Passion” should prove to be one of the strongest components of Adams’ evolving musical project.

For the past two months, volunteer choruses in both Aspen and Glenwood have been working to polish the piece; this week saw a blending of the forces and Adams’ first sessions with his mostly imported orchestra, featuring members of professional symphonies from Colorado to California.

“People in the orchestra keep coming back every year, mostly because of our choir – they’re able to go way beyond what most community choirs do,” Adams says. “Seventy-five percent of the players call me by Christmas every year and ask, ‘When’s the gig this year?’

“I think it’s also a sign of the health of the entire valley community, despite the apparent chasm between upvalley and downvalley. The fact that we can get together and do these huge concerts that an urban choir wouldn’t be able to do … it’s all a real complement to our singers.”

The roots of Adams’ rendition of “The Passion” stretch back to June 2003, when Adams asked Bourgeault to create a text to go along with his music – his standard compositional route.

Bourgeault says more traditional Passion stories sometimes exclude the Resurrection, so she opted to include all four Gospels and interweave them with Jesus’ teachings and excepts from the Psalms to create a more rounded work.

“Ray’s set them to some very beautiful chorales and the whole thing is more operalike than anything,” Bourgeault says. “It’s also wonderful to see chorus members come in from all different traditions of faith and take part.”

In examining different interpretations of the Passion Play, Adams says he realizes some of the brutality – decried by many who’ve seen Gibson’s film – remains a basic and unfortunately lingering part of the human experience.

“A lot of horrific things went on 2,000 years ago and, unfortunately, not much has changed,” Adams says. “We can get places quicker, but in terms of the evolution of the heart, things are the same. That’s why I like to combine the faiths in my projects and watch the walls come tumbling down.”

Adams will begin work on the final piece of the puzzle, “Creation,” after a bit of recovery time from the recent incubation of “The Passion.”

Blending together creation myths from both the Christian and Hindu traditions, Adams promises a work that may be as controversial as it is enlightening. He’s already booked a cabin at a Southern California artists’ retreat to do the bulk of the composition, but said he’s already got a clear vision in mind.

“Creation stories are always colorful, vivid, exciting stories. Unfortunately, by presenting an open-minded approach, I know that bothers some people who are more fundamental in their approach,” he said. “I just see that as a problem of people creating walls around their own faith.”


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