JULY 7–14, 2019
Morten Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna
Benjamin Britten: Saint Nicolas
Tom Hall, conductor
Morten Johannes Lauridsen was born in Walla Walla, WA on February 27, 1943. He was raised in Portland OR and attended Whitman College and the University of Southern California for graduate studies in composition. After graduating in 1967, he became a professor at U.S.C and later, chair of the composition department. In 1994, Lauridsen was named composer-in-residence for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, where his Lux Aeterna was performed.
Lauridsen has received many awards and nominations, including being named “American Choral Master" by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2006 and receiving the National Medal of Arts from the President in 2007. Five of his works have received Grammy Award nominations, including Lux Aeterna, and he was awarded the ASCAP Foundation Life in Music Award in 2016. He has also received the Phi Kappa Phi Creative Writing Prize, the Thornton School of Music Outstanding Alumnus Award, and the Alpha Lambda Delta Citation for Teaching Excellence along with grants and prizes from several other institutions.
Lux Aeterna was hailed as a modern classic soon after its premiere in 1997. The glorious requiem/hymn of praise garnered this praise from Stephen Brookes of The Washington Post: “Built on liturgical texts that all have to do with light, this . . . work is absolutely radiant – even exalting – with a kind of rapturous joy running through it.” Lauridsen himself wrote that he intended the work to be an “intimate work of quiet serenity” giving “hope, reassurance, faith and illumination in all of its manifestations.” He attributes the popularity of the work to the fact that “. . . every one of the five movements relates to light, a universal symbol in so many ways.”
The first and last movements are from the Requiem Mass; the middle movements, drawn from sacred Latin texts, are hymns of praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All refer to the divine light that casts away darkness and opens up hope and healing to the world.
Edward Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was a British composer, pianist and conductor renowned for his English operas. As a child, Britten studied with composer Frank Bridge until he attended the Royal College of Music in London. After completing his education, he then worked as a composer but did not win international acclaim until the publication of his Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge in 1937.
Between the years of 1939 and 1942 Britten was in the United States where the operetta Paul Bunyan was performed, his first work for the stage. Four years later in 1946, the English Opera Group was formed in which Britten was named artistic director and composer. Composing many works over the years, Britten’s talent was ultimately honored when he was awarded the Order of Merit in 1965 and was created a life peer in 1976 just before his death. His works are known for their drama and psychological characterization as well as his ability to produce serious musical theatre pieces outside the comforts of an opera house.
Britten’s Saint Nicolas follows the life of a patron saint born to wealthy parents who died in a plague. In committing himself to charity and God, he traveled to the Holy Land, but on his return trip bound for the city of Myra his boat was threatened by an oncoming storm. After praying to God, his pleas were answered, and all of the men’s lives on the boat were spared. Once in Myra, he was then chosen as Bishop and within a century of his death was revered as a saint. In America, Washington Irving’s satirical "Knickerbocker’s History of New York" gave way to the portrayal of Saint Nicolas in “The Night before Christmas,” leading to the creation of the figure Santa Claus. Britten’s cantata follows the life of Saint Nicolas from his youth, to the infamous scene on the ship, to his duties as a patron and even his death. The work brings the audience on a journey through this man’s benevolent life by evoking emotions of happiness, fear and sorrow. The drama of the work is deeply moving and leaves the audience with a feeling of strength through universality.