For Key Chorale’s upcoming concert, “Luminosity,” the group commissioned a new work. Artistic Director Joseph Caulkins sat down with The Observer to discuss the new piece. The following are edited excerpts of the conversation.
So, for those who don’t know — tell us about Key Chorale.
We’re a (fully auditioned) symphonic-size chorus (meaning we are 100 voices or more) plus a small core of 25 professionals who make up a chamber chorus. I think what also separates us from other groups is our commitment to collaboration. Every event or concert is in collaboration with someone else.
Key Chorale occasionally commissions a new piece. What is a memorable piece that stands out?
We only do commissions every four or five years … The most memorable was for our 20th anniversary, “Three Days by the Sea,” composed by Gwyneth Walker … a few years back she wrote an orchestration for “Three Days by the Sea” that we will perform for our 30th anniversary (next season).
This year, Key Chorale commissioned the young Norwegian composer Ola Gjelio — why him?
In 2007, “Ubi Caritas,” his Latin-text piece, was performed at the Choral Directors Association … This is a sound I’d never really heard before then … Since then, I’ve followed his growth as a composer … We’ve performed a lot of his works throughout the last seven years …
… When we were thinking about whom we might ask to commission, he was one of the first people I thought of. Every piece I had heard of his I loved.
Describe his music.
He manages to have kind of a cinematic nature about his music ... I love the fact that he always finds the way to add drama … Most of the pieces you hear of his, I think you’re overwhelmed with his ability to create beautiful sounds and harmonies that are just amazing.
Now tell me about the piece he commissioned — “The Lake Isle:”
There are two parts to it. The first part has only been performed a handful of times … It takes text from William Butler Yeats that talks about this peaceful place you can go and how the poet is filled with solitude and peacefulness …
We were talking about different projects, and Ola said, “Maybe ‘The Lake Isle’ needs a sequel.” So, taking ideas of part one, he explored and created a second part for Key Chorale.
For the text, he partnered with Charles Anthony Silvestri, a young American poet. Silvestri wrote an original poem, but takes Yeats’ idea of solitude and peacefulness. The music complements part one so well, that I can’t imagine doing one without the other.
What has the choir’s response been to it so far?
… Usually, you have to work with (a new song) and live with it before it starts to grab you. But, it immediately struck them, and it’s made the process of learning it so enjoyable.
We hear it’s about a personal utopia? Could you touch on this?
What I kind of told the choir as we have been preparing it is that all of us have that place, whether it’s an actual place you go for peace or solitude or an imaginative place.
What’s your personal utopia? What’s your happy spot?
I have a little cottage in France that we go to in the summer, and it is kind of built into the side of a little mountain. Over the past three or four years, I’ve put a trail in that goes all the way to the top where you can see the Pyrenees and the town that sits in a valley.
Any final words about the piece?
Ola has only used guitar in his compositions a couple of times, so he used Kristian Kvalvaag to help (consult). Both Kristian and Ola will be here for the weekend and they’ll be playing “The Lake Isle” for piano and guitar. Along the way in this concert, they will play a few improvisations.
IF YOU GO
When: 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday, April 27
Where: St. Boniface Episcopal Church, 5615 Midnight Pass Road
Cost: Tickets $25 to $35
Info: Visit keychorale.org or call 921-4845.