Program Notes

Sunrise: Symphonic Mass for Choir and String Orchestra

Sunrise Mass is intended to take us on a journey. Gjeilo takes the text from the Ordinary of the Mass. He gives the four sections English titles that appear, at first, to be unrelated to the original Latin. He wants the music to evolve from pristine and nebulous to more emotional and dramatic, and eventually to warm and solid as a metaphor for human development, child to adult, or a spiritual journey, heaven to earth.

Kyrie – The Spheres The work begins in the Heavens. In the opening Kyrie, Gjeilo evokes an atmosphere that sounds like “floating in space, in deep silence, between stars and planets.” (Gjeilo) The movement begins as sacred meditation, spiritual and contemplative. Then a melodic theme of descending thirds on the word “Kyrie”, appears at several points and eventually becomes a unifying element.

Gloria – Sunrise This movement is a symphonic, metaphorical sunrise. It begins quietly, slowly growing into a spectacular, joyful section. Gjeilo imagines the opening descending line “Gloria”, sung by the sopranos, as angels singing a subtle, dreamlike incantation. With the “Laudamus te”, the music becomes sprightly and joyous. The strings have quick patterns, in contrast to the choir’s slower, richer ascending melodic line. Gjeilo, influenced by Britten’s War Requiem, closes this movement as Brittin did, with a slow and evocative “Amen”.

Credo – The City Gjeilo calls the Credo text, “I believe...”, “the most powerful and assured text in the mass.” The movement begins with staccati sixteenth notes in a driven line, suggestive of the activity and bustle and of a large city. The opening choral line begins with the men singing, the lower register an austere contrast to the beginning of the movement before. The music, now in the key of d-minor, is no longer angelic and floating, but dark, heavy and relentless. Toward the end there is a grand pause followed by a spectacular climax, not only of this movement but of the entire work.

Sanctus and Agnus Dei – Identity and The Ground The Sanctus is set to the same music as the opening Kyrie. The only difference is the use of a delicate violin solo above the choral line. For Gjeilo, the solo violin symbolizes the individual and the emergence of a “conscious self”—an identity. The pathos that accompanies this emergence is searching and yearning. It is acutely pensive. In the Sanctus, the Mass that began in the stars with the Kyrie, now circles back to that same material to symbolize the individual. It is as if it looks toward the stars, then mirrors what it sees, only now it is self aware.
   The Ground is different from any other part of the Sunrise Mass. Gjeilo defines it using terms like “resolution, release and relief.” After the tension of dark crevices that the music has visited, The Ground is at a place of peace, of absolute tranquility and relief. One has finally arrived and is “grounded”—no longer floating in the spheres, rising with the sun, bustling in the city, or discovering the self. The Heavens and all that came between are one with the Earth and humanity, completing the journey at a deep plane.
   The work comes to a gentle close with the Dona Nobis Pacem and another slow “amen-like” section similar to before, but ending with the solo violin playing an ascending cadence, hopeful and expansive.

In Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass, one experiences a full metaphorical journey from starry Heaven to Earth, from undifferentiated darkness to solid, warm life that eventually evolves spiritually and becomes human. “The self, having experienced each movement of the work, now has the perspective and understanding to peacefully contain everything it has gone through.”
— Condensed from a paper by Kira Zeeman Rugen

Ola Gjeilo Composer and pianist Ola Gjeilo was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1978. He studied at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, the Royal College of Music in London, and the Juilliard School of Music in New York, winning the 2005 Juilliard Composers’ Orchestral Work Competition. He then moved to Los Angeles to study film composition. He is now a full-time composer based in Santa Monica.
   Gjeilo has composed over 30 published choral works, both a cappella and accompanied. He has also composed music for solo piano, instrumental ensembles, and orchestras—jazz, as well as classical music. His music has worldwide appear and has been performed in over 30 countries.
   Ola Gjeilo has his own voice and unique musical language, influenced by classical, jazz, and folk music. He is especially interested in composing works in which vocal, orchestral, and piano elements are equal partners. He also enjoys doubling voices with a string quartet. As he comments, “I just love the sound of voices singing chords on ‘ooh’ or ‘mmm’. It creates a sound that can be so amazingly evocative and warm, especially when doubled by a string quartet.”

Te Deum in D Major “Dettingen”, HWV283

A Te Deum is an early Christian hymn of praise from the 4th century CE. The title is taken from its opening Latin words, Te Deum laudamus, “You, God, we praise”. It is regularly sung today in Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and some Methodist churches in services of thanksgiving to celebrate special blessings like the coming of peace or a royal coronation. The the text of the hymn follows the outline of the Apostles’ Creed, mixing a poetic vision of the heaven with its declaration of faith. The hymn has been set to music by many composers. Handel himself wrote three different settings.

The “Dettingen Te Deum” is Handel’s last and most successful setting of the Te Deum text. It was written to celebrate the victory of England, led by King George II, over the French at the Battle of Dettingen, Germany, in the War of the Austrian Succession. The work contains eighteen solos and choruses, mostly of a celebratory nature. It is a brilliant example of how Handel was able to capture just the right tone for a festive occasion—here through use of timpani and trumpets. Composed in July, 1743, it was first performed in November of that year, with a full rehearsal on November 18—exactly 274 years ago today!

Handel, ever the composer for the theatre, set various parts of the text programmatically. Note these descriptive settings: In Movement 2: many notes (a long melisma) for “all”. In 3: sopranos (high voices) sing the line “to thee all angels cry aloud”. In 4: the repetition of “continually”. In 10: a scattered “to all”. In 13: the high G cry for “help” (tenors and sopranos). In 14, the melody line “rising “and “lift[ing] them up”. And in 16: the “world without end” in which Handel evokes eternity by setting the text in an oldfashioned metre (3/2) and in an old polyphonic style. Throughout, you may also notice a few borrowings from “Messiah”, which Handel had just completed.

The heart of this work is the tender “Thou sittest at the right hand of God” section, a sensuous andante movement in B flat in which a mellifluous vocal theme is shared, in turns, by the alto, tenor and bass soloists, followed by all three combining voices in rapturous, expanding harmonies. But most surprising of all is the final movement. Instead of finishing with military drama, “O Lord, in thee have I trusted” is a triple-time andante with a graceful melody expressing warm gratitude for God’s grace, never to be “confounded” (or, “brought to ruin”). It begins with a lyrical alto solo and becomes more and more impressive as voices and instruments take up the phrase in a magnificent outburst of rich harmony and power and carry the work to the close.
— KAS, compiled from online sources