The Chorale is embarking upon a very cool journey, both musical and spiritual, as we explore and prepare Carson Cooman’s The Revelations of Divine Love (Metaphors from Sea and Sky). This work, for soprano, baritone, chorus, and chamber orchestra, is an oratorio, such as we have not sung since our Elijah performance in 2013.
There are two common types of oratorios – those that tell a story and involve specific characters, such as Elijah; and those that center around a life, but without characters, such as Messiah. Cooman’s work is an uncommon oratorio, drawn from writings of the 14thcentury mystic Julian of Norwich (c. 1342–1416), along with an introductory passage from the Book of Margery Kempe, two poems by Robert Herrick (1591–1674), and a closing poem by Elizabeth Kirschner (b. 1955). It is not the life of Julian of Norwich, or even a straightforward setting of her visions, and yet it is highly dramatic, emotional, and filled with contrasts, as are all great oratorios. The composer writes:
The primary concept underlying this oratorio is the presence of two distinct discourses. One is a sequence taken from Julian’s religious visions. The other is a “sonic geography” of Nantucket Island (located 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts in the United States). This interconnected concept was inspired by the writings of the great Scottish poet George Mackay Brown (1921–1996). Living his entire life on Scotland’s Orkney Islands, Mackay Brown consistently explored the “transposition” of religious imagery and events to his native landscape. (For example, the poem Apple-Basket, Apple-Blossom takes the story and structure of the Stations of the Cross, and maps them onto imagery of distinctly Orcadian character.)
The landscape of Nantucket Island has been the driving force behind a large number of my compositions for many years. In this oratorio, Julian’s visions are transposed from Norwich and mapped onto the Nantucket landscape. Each movement of the work thus has two parallel purposes: a setting of the visionary words, and a portrayal of a specific place in Nantucket’s geography. Much of the music was planned in the actual locations. Since the soloists and choir must, by necessity, sing the words, a great deal of the landscape is left to the orchestra. Thus, the orchestra’s role is substantially greater than simply accompaniment.
Because of these two discourses, the oratorio is not intended as comprehensive “working out” of all aspects of Julian’s visions, nor does it use her own structure and sequence. Rather, it takes her beautiful words, and the fundamentals of her visions, and attempts to create a new narrative and spiritual experience from them.
We are looking forward to sharing this experience with you in performance on January 19, 2019 – hope to see you there!