Review: Kinnara Chamber Choir Takes a Glorious Journey on “Way of Miracles”
Review: Kinnara Chamber Choir Takes a Glorious Journey on “Way of Miracles”

Review: Kinnara Chamber Choir Takes a Glorious Journey on “Way of Miracles”

The medieval pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago, the Camino de Santiago, has inspired millennia of music and culture. Among the latest is the work of British composer Joby Talbot The Way of MiraclesA one-hour musical performance that premiered in 2005.

The Kinnara High Choir, based in Atlanta and led by JD Burnett, is featured The Way of Miracles Sunday night in the main sanctuary of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Buckhead. As with Kinnara’s previous performances, the band’s precise levels and deep musicality meant that every phrase, every part of sound, was balanced and well-refined.

The Camino de Santiago has become all things to all people, but perhaps it has always been that way. It began in the 10th century as a Catholic way of salvation, where the sins of this life could be expunged by completing the arduous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain, one of the three medieval pilgrimage sites of along with Jerusalem and Rome.

Saint James, or Santiago, was the first apostle to be martyred by Herod’s soldiers. The hero, his body was taken to this far corner of the western edge of Europe. Shortly after his bones were “discovered”, in 993, a profiteering scheme began to attract loyal fans, as well as drug dealers and gangsters who preyed on them.

Kinnara Artistic Director JD Burnett also serves as director of choral activities at the University of Texas at Austin.

Today, unfortunately, most of us do not return from the pilgrimage house of the Way, a Galician shell around our neck, expecting a soft certificate, giving us a little time in Purgatory.

But The Road has inspired an incredible amount of timeless music. O Codex Calixtinus, attributed to Pope Calixtus, whose reign ended in 1124, is a travel guide that includes hymns and hymns to encourage pilgrims and thank God for the protection of the aggressive and bandit elements mentioned. Alfonso the Wise, king of Castile and Leon in the 1250s, assembled his own collection dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Hymns of Santa Maria. (When I followed the Way, in the Holy Year 1993, the millennium, there seemed to be concerts, great music related to the Way in every cathedral city and small village along the way. The pilgrimage and its music were random. )

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Composers can’t help writing on their own time. from Talbot The Way of Miracles He receives inspiration from the scriptures and Codex Calixtinus and other sources, but it reflects the dominant behavior in today’s world. You might call it a modern, retro-style sketch of the inner pilgrimage, an immersive experience drawn from a variety of international sources.

As Kinnara’s performance unfolded, I wanted to call it “New Age” – a combination of sensuality and mystery that borrows or adapts to the sacred traditions of other cultures. Stripped of any specific context and religious meaning, it becomes a “spiritual” journey of goodness. Like running your first marathon or attending a Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, it’s not so much the personal transformation — especially the company of others — that matters.

Each of Talbot’s four volumes, with a text composed by the poet Robert Dickinson, is named after a Spanish cathedral city along the way: “Roncesvalles”, “Burgos”, “León” and, finally, “Santiago”. The composition takes the form of a traditional hymn, with an opening theme, followed by a prayerful refrain, then a rousing scherzo – here a repeated melody sung by the sopranos – and a resounding conclusion. previously heard topics that build a powerful solution.

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From the beginning of Kinnara’s performance, the bewildering realization that we live in an age of glory permeates the composition of the choir. The 18-member choir entered individually, theatrically, as if they were walking on their own. A small group of tenants and basses formed a tight circle facing each other in the middle of the altar.

The first sounds to be heard were a technique borrowed from the Bunun people of Taiwan: a low, very low rumble, as if coming from the center of the earth, which gradually grows, moving upwards and downwards. and slow. After a few minutes, the sound turns into a sonic boom, as the singers almost scream at the top of their line, a slow explosion. (Wagnerians may compare this to the beginning Rheingold and the drop of water that begins a great river.)

Kinnara and Joby Talbot
“Way of Miracles” by composer Joby Talbot is a tour de force written for choir.

When the sopranos finally come in and break the spell, it’s a thrilling and chilling moment. Talbot shut us down. The gentle touch of the bell-shaped crotales helps bring us back to earth and the beginning of our journey. This opening text involves seven languages ​​and many color variations. It’s great lyric writing, with simple phrases that overlap, layer, repeat, overlap. The effect is like a kaleidoscope, more visual than emotional.

The second part, “Burgos”, begins with the line “The owners cheat us, the English steal, the devil waits by the side of the road”. Some of the harmonies are so beautiful that you want to freeze time. But after a quarter of an hour of movement everything starts to seem abstract. There is no visual and emotional connection between text and music.

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“León” begins with a wobbly line from the soprano – “the sun that shines within me is my joy” in Latin – repeated over and over, and it’s a joy. Later, Talbot lays out the bumps and peaks and valleys of the text, such as beautiful lines like “… We sleep in the dirt, and we dream on the road…” I feel torn apart. Perhaps this pilgrimage, from the perspective of the elemental, is an out-of-body experience.

The finish returns to the energy and optimism of the opening. The scene opens; everything is possible. We are nearing the end of our journey. At one point, there is a smooth weaving of vocal parts, almost a lullaby. There is a lot of darkness and tonal. Jazzy rhythms and upbeats leave a strong impression, which contrasts with the fugal part in all its forms. Talbot drifts in and out of plain English Anglican style, adding a layer of deep culture that is used here as a gimmick.

Still, The Way of Miracles It’s a tour de force of writing for the choir, an hour that was satisfying throughout. Perhaps the real stars were Burnett and his Kinnara musicians. They go from strength to strength.


Pierre Ruhe was the founding executive director and editor ArtsATL. He was a cultural critic and journalist Washington PostFrom London Financial Times it’s at Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and was director of artistic planning for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. He is the publishing director of American Classical Music.

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