P A T R I C I A V A N N E S S
"Patricia Van Ness's music transports us to a new place and time,
almost familiar, and always beautiful."
—Thomas Forrest Kelly, Morton B. Knafel Professor of Music, Harvard University
"Patricia Van Ness is a composer of beautiful texts together with music that fits the singers like a fine glove, and with a gift for creating lush sonorities in deeply spiritual music."
—Laurie Monahan, Mezzo-Soprano
RECORDING OF THE MONTH
|This is, for me, already my record of the year and I can only urge readers for whom this repertoire is little known or for those of you who are already engaged with it in some way to search this disc out. I would be amazed if you did not become as besotted with this disc as I am.|
Hildegard of BINGEN (1098-1179)
Sapphire Night: O Frondens Virga; Karitas Habundat; O Euchari, Columba; In Matutinis Laudibus; Columba Aspexit. Anonymous 'O Gloriosa'
Patricia VAN NESS (b.1951) ‘The Nine orders of the Angels'
Tapestry/Laurie Monahan (soprano and harp); Carolann Buff (mezzo-soprano)
Recorded at Mandelslah, May 2003. DDD
MUSIK DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM 344 1193-2 [76.43]
At first glance it might seem a somewhat curious coupling if not bizarre; to put together music by Hildegard and a large-scale forty minute work by the contemporary American composer Patricia Van Ness, yet this is far from the case. I found myself thinking, that Van Ness's 'The Nine orders of the Angels' is what Hildegard might have written had she have been alive today. But there is no pastiche involved here. Hildegard's music acts as a frame for 'The Nine Orders of the Angels' and then the whole is climaxed by 'O Gloriosa,' a 13th Century motet from the Las Huelgas mansuscript. I feel also that to fully understand Van Ness's work you should also grasp something of the way in which Hildegard's music itself is often performed.
To see the score of say 'Columba aspexit' (as published by ArsAntico) is to see an unadorned melodic line, with no rhythmic indications as is common in music of the period. No harmony of course, no instruments obviously. Performances on disc of purely unaccompanied Hildegard do exist, for example the one by the Sisters of the Benedictine Abbey at Eibingen, Hildegard's home. Their fascinating recording has Hildegard's music growing out of the Gregorian psalm chants or acting as a responsorial before and after the psalm (on Ars Musici 1203-2). Most early music groups feel that something should be added to the music and in all probability this also happened in Hildegard's day.
The sound-world created by Gothic Voices on Hyperion or Sequentia on a Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, discs recorded almost twenty years ago has seeped into the psyche of many of us and the Van Ness work is no exception. Let me give examples.
A typical Hildegard vocal line may begin with an arresting rising phrase almost immediately covering the interval and giving an ecstatic effect. Van Ness begins the movement (IV) 'Angeli Potestastis' with a glorious "riser" given to each of the soprano voices canonically. Hildegard's music is modal, Van Ness's lines are also modal. Sometimes when she breaks away from that modality as in an impassioned and dissonant passage in movement IV at the words 'You can become angels of death/ Like great cats with bloody fangs' it is to make a real point which has emerged from the text. This image-laden text is by the composer herself.
Drones are often added to the chants. Page adds the 'symphony' or reed drones to 'Columba aspexit'. Sequentia add a vocal drone in 'O Virga ac diadema' (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi CDC 7 49251-2). Patricia Van Ness writes Hildegard-like lines and will pick out a note at the end of a phrase and have it held whilst the phrase is repeated by another voice or whilst it develops further. Listen to their 'Angeli Potestastis'. It is a fingerprint of the entire work and the effect is ecstatic.
In Hildegard's Hymns there are many verses. 'Columba aspexit' has four divided as 1a, 1b, 2a 2b etc ending with a 5a. Tapestry takes the line that the 'a' section can be soloist and the "b", a response, can be all voices. This contrast of single voice against the tutti is a characteristic of Van Ness's approach, as in Movement 5 'Raphael sum Virtutem'; a solo voice, monody, against a unison response ending with harmony.
And talking about Harmony ... the bare 5th is common in Van Ness as it is in performances of medieval improvised harmony and drones. The tear-jerking last movement 'Michael sum Seraphim' begins and ends with one and is, like other movements, generally based around it.
Track 2 is Hildegard's 'Karitas Habundant'. Track 3 is the first movement of Van Ness's work yet stylistically it is almost impossible to tell them apart at first. The latter begins with a simple, repeated monody. When it does blossom, it turns into three part 14th Century style polyphony.
The booklet notes by Cristi Catt, one of the sopranos, discuss the spiritual link between the composers. "All of the songs" she writes "were designed to inspire and stretch the singer and in an active yet contemplative way". I should say that this is a very spiritual CD, in the best possible way, and I have found it a most uplifting experience to listen to it.
Patricia Van Ness's short essay tells us a little more about the process of realization, but she likewise adds that composing the work gave her the opportunity to "continue my ongoing exploration into the nature of God". She also says that her sole object is to "seek and find out beauty" which she says is "the strongest motivating force in my life". She explains that she was in almost daily contact with the singers who, as the work grew, tried portions out so that the composer could adjust and alter.
Not surprisingly therefore Tapestry are utterly on top of every single demand imposed by the composer and by Hildegard. A stunning performance has resulted. The notes tell us that Tapestry "were born out of our common love for Hildegard's music" and Van Ness's work is a continuum of that language.
I wish that more than two sections from the sequence 'In Mutatanis Laudibus' had utilized the harp. After an hour of unaccompanied voices the effect is of finding cooling water on a scorching hot day - absolutely delicious.
This is, for me, already my record of the year and I can only urge readers for whom this repertoire is little known or for those of you who are already engaged with it in some way to search this disc out. I would be amazed if you did not become as besotted with this disc as I am. (- Gary Higginson)
(Sapphire Night, Tapestry, MDG, Germany): Tapestry is Laurie Monahan, Cristi Catt, Daniela Toscic, and guest Carolann Buff. I particularly like The Nine Orders of the Angels by Patricia van Ness (b. 1951). It shows the great wealth of interpretative possibilities, the voices, and the musicality of this excellent vocal ensemble.
BOSTON SITES & INSIGHTS
In 2003, ParkArts and the American Composers Forum commissioned Boston composer Patricia Van Ness to write Three Ben Franklin Dances for an orchestral performance at [Franklin Park] by Boston Landmarks Orchestra. The infectious, baroque-sounding tunes would surely have set Ben tapping had he not been dead since 1790. (- Susan Wilson, Beacon Press, 2003)
MONTEREY (CA) COUNTY HERALD
Chanticleer, San Francisco's fabulous "orchestra of voices" appeared at the Carmel Mission Thursday with a strikingly innovative concert called Sound in Spirit: The Healing Power of Music. The 12-man, multi-Grammy winning ensemble enjoys an international reputation as a chorus of impeccable quality and unusual breadth.
The evening concluded with the world premiere of Cor meum est templum sacrum (My Heart is a Holy Place) by Patricia Van Ness, an exalting anthem poem.
THE BOSTON HERALD
These days you kind of expect that at every concert, a little rain will fall. But despite two rain delays, the show went on for the Boston Landmarks Orchestra on Boston Common last night. And ... it did offer a splendid world premiere, local composer Patricia Van Ness's stirring May We Live In Peace.
Van Ness set her own poem especially for this occasion, a gathering of three young sopranos: Jonita Lattimore, Leah Hunt and Deborah Fields (technically a mezzo, but who's counting?). Singing in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole, the three gave full, vibrant voice to the composer's somber, stirring prayer for peace supported but never overshadowed by the orchestra. (- T.J. Medrek)
A Long Meditation on Love
Coro Allegro performs commissioned work, The Voice of the Tenth Muse, and work by Charles Ives and Louis Verne, at the Church of the Covenant, Boston, February 11.
It's about music and art, created at the highest level. Coro Allegro's dedication to choral programming of new and neglected music has earned them a dedicated following. And with this reprise of a work by Patricia Van Ness, one that Coro commissioned and premiered a little over two years ago, Coro Allegro has written themselves into music history: this is a work that will stand as a durable staple of the choral repertoire, and as a symbol of our turn-of-the-century quest for a sense of groundedness and connection. (And some graduate student in musicology will be writing a dissertation comparing the 1998 version to the 2001 version -- Ms. Van Ness, save those files! Back up those disks!)
I was happy to have the chance to hear Van Ness's work a second time, to respond to it as more than an initial reaction. And I was not disappointed -- it is really something to be savored, and pondered about. In The Tenth Muse Van Ness has achieved something alive, pulsing with a quiet, contained power. She draws resonances from earlier styles of music, evoking the 12th century Perotin, the 17th century Cavalli, the spacious open sonorities of Thomas Tallis, the melodic flavor of Josquin c. 1500. Van Ness achieves something of all their expressive goals in a comprehensible and contemporary way. She grasps the distinctly modern longings that lead us to listen to early music: we yearn to feel time is suspended -- yet expanded -- by this music of stasis, music of a world that opens to the heavens in a wide, timeless, embrace.
The Voice of the Tenth Muse is Plato's term for Sappho. In setting the lesbian poet, Van Ness chose a translation (by Diane Raynor) that 'doesn't attempt to fill in the blanks in the fragments' (almost none of the poetry has survived intact). Much of the music achieves a feeling of being beyond time through its unmeasured (rather than strictly rhythmic) quality, the use of sustained drones, and the stretching out of single syllables over expansive musical phrases. Thus the fragmentary phrase 'so I pray...this...I want' (sung in Greek) is the entire text of a very substantial movement. Singing such music offers distinct challenges for the choir, but they transcended every difficulty. Soloist Ruth Cunningham, once part of the acclaimed medieval ensemble Anonymous 4, applied her crystalline voice to this soaring, evocative performance. Her voice was radiant, like a precious stone in a stark, bold setting. ( -- Liane Curtis)
SAN FRANCISCO CLASSICAL VOICE
From evocation of the wind to the likeness of a didgeridoo, the twelve men of Chanticleer gave a masterful performance Friday night at St. Joseph's Cathedral Basilica (San Jose) of music inspired by many different cultures and religious and musical traditions.
In this -- as in Hill's "Voices of Autumn," William Byrd's "Ave verum corpus" and Patricia Van Ness's Cor meum est templum sacrum -- Chanticleer's signature blend, vocal purity and dynamic expressiveness were all at the fore. (This program gave the world concert premiere of Cor meum.)
THE BOSTON GLOBE
The mystical Cor mei cordis (Heart of my Heart) by Patricia Van Ness, using chant melodies and Renaissance contrapuntal techniques, sounds both ancient and new. Coro Allegro sang it with great warmth, impeccable intonation, and purity of tone. A soul laments -- God replies, first as a two-part women's hymn, 'You are my child.' The men continue God's love song; finally the whole chorus soars in serenely luminous counterpoint over a slowly chanted bass that roots the piece. (- Susan Larson)
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The choreographer and dancers establish a sense of fear and yearning, in dance that pulses onto and off the stage to an equally strong score by Patricia Van Ness that adds layers of instruments in a way similar to Miss Levy's layering of encounters.
THE LOUISVILLE COURIER JOURNAL
The artists sang Arcanae, an elaborately conceived piece written in 1995 by Patricia Van Ness that respected -- but didn't mimic -- the style of her medieval precursors. With soaring dynamics for two sopranos and unusually closely wrought harmonies for male singers, the music was immediately beguiling...Several of the most astounding moments belonged to the women, particularly Monahan alone in Van Ness's Ego sum Custos Angela...
THE BOSTON HERALD
A stunning score by Patricia Van Ness lent a folk-like, sometimes mystical atmosphere to the work.
THE BOSTON GLOBE
[Julie Ince Thompson's] upcoming concert, in the FleetBoston Celebrity Series Friday night at the Tsai Center, marks her first in almost three years. All the choreography is set the music of longtime collaborator Patricia Van Ness. Thompson sought out Van Ness after being touched by a performance of one of her works at First Church in Cambridge, where Van Ness is composer in residence. Thompson described it as 'a soul meeting.' Van Ness says, 'When somebody is very moved by the artistic work of another, a certain trust is built up. It must touch a similar impulse to create in the other, and that seems to be what happens between Julie and me. When I sit down and watch her work, the part of me that I try to express in my music seems to be expressed in her dance...It seems like we're on the same artistic and emotional wavelength. She tells me things about the music I hadn't realized, and I give her ideas about her dance in progress, and we get along in a way that's completely collaborative.
Because of Thompson's enthusiasm for Van Ness's work, there has never been the urgency (much less the time and funding) for the composer to create something brand new for the choreographer. 'Everything of hers I hear I want to choreograph to,' Thompson enthuses. 'One of the hardest parts of this concert has been choosing what to use. ... I'm incredibly visual when I hear things and will journey with her music, deeply, deeply in the depths of her music. Her music has fed me tremendously. We have a mutual love and respect for each other's work, and we fit like gloves.'
The upcoming concert, titled 'Advent 2001,' takes its name from one of the Celebrity Series commissions on the program, and in turn from the Van Ness music it's set to. 'You know that still point in the ocean just before a wave breaks?' Thompson asks. This music 'is like that, and I knew I wanted to translate that into dance...Advent is a dynamic word. Something is coming, but you don't know what it is. It could be anything. ... The whole concert is an advent, but I guess you could say that about life every day. (- Karen Campbell)
CD CLASSICA (Firenze)
Here is collected a series of chants...of various origins: from polyphonic chants from the repertoire of the Cathedrals of Notre Dame and Worcester, to responsorial and antiphonal chants of Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, to compositions of the contemporary Patricia Van Ness, author of texts and music for numerous vocal ensembles. The success of this CD indeed lies in the mixture of material, bound together by the same inspirational source.
To write "this is a wonderful CD" does not begin to do this recording justice. Especially as heard last year, recorded live during a February performance of Composer-in-Residence Patricia Van Ness's The Voice of the Tenth Muse. Coro Allegro boasts a soprano and alto section that many professional choral directors would surrender their prized baton for. Distinguished by laudable breath control and ideal intonation, Artistic Director David Hodgkin's 60-member gem of a chorus offers music making that would win applause on any stage.
But Coro Allegro's triumph extends far beyond its voices. In this, its second commercial CD, the group offers four recent choral works by Boston composers, two of which were commissioned by the chorus. That Coro Allegro delivers stellar performances speaks volumes for the labor and dedication that have produced such rewarding music making.
Van Ness's beautiful The Voice of the Tenth Muse derives its title from Plato's description of the poetess Sappho. Offering six selections/fragments, some sung in Greek, others in Diane Rayor's English translation, Van Ness's early music-inspired harmonies create a rarefied atmosphere of love and sensuality. The opening movements, sung as if suspended in air, are especially transporting. Soprano soloist Ruth Cunningham, formerly of the famed Anonymous 4 women's vocal quartet, sings exquisitely, her purity matched by Coro Allegro's radiant sopranos.
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
Patricia Van Ness composes ethereal, medieval-sounding songs with one ear tuned to the 20th century. Before the recording Chant became a hit, she was exploring Gregorian chants. Van Ness muses that the popularity of medieval music must have something to do with its simplicity. 'Chant has been called 'prayer in pitch.' Its starkness and austerity touch the imagination.' The composer continues, 'I wonder how much of spirituality is engagement of the imagination.
THE BOSTON GLOBE
Ghosts is an inconclusive work -- you don't believe that this couple can live happily ever after -- but it offers the splendid contribution of Patricia Van Ness's spare, elegiac score. Van Ness may be counted among contemporary music's melodic new Romantics.
THE BOSTON PHOENIX
The music by Van Ness, a series of insistent, high-pitched vocals performed on stage by the women's choral quartet Tapestry, gave a majesty to the presentation.
If you had been there on Sunday you would have learned that Patricia Van Ness is the first ever Coro Allegro composer-in-residence, whose works in the program included In oculis Dei and Maundy Thursday. In describing the works, she explains, 'Both texts are intended to emphasize the beauty and dignity of ourselves and of God. The music elements include chant, chant-based polyphony, and figured bass homophony.' Don't get nervous, I have since learned that polyphony means having two or more intertwined melodic lines. What this means to you and me is that the music sounded like beautiful and heavenly monastic chants and it filled the room with an intense spirit. For all you Gen-X'ers: it rocked.
THE BOSTON PHOENIX
The words accompanying composer Patricia Van Ness's latest, Evensong, are haunting and powerful -- as is her music. Known in local dance circles for her poignant collaborations with Beth Soll and Boston Ballet, Van Ness will command center stage tonight and Monday night at 7:00 p.m. when Evensong has its premiere performances at Newbury Street's Emmanual Church.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The choreographic mysteries were intensified by Patricia Van Ness's recorded score for mournful stringed instruments, piping flutes and sighing voices.
THE BOSTON GLOBE
'I'm most deeply influenced by Baroque and early music, from Gregorian chant to Vivaldi and Bach,' Van Ness says, 'and maybe because I'm a violinist, melodies are important to me.' The courtly ambience of the score evokes fairy-tale royalty; a guitar interlude speaks of minstrelsy; and below it all is the steady whirring of wings.
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
There was some very old chant, and also a couple of new pieces from Patricia Van Ness, a Boston composer who uses modern technology -- experimental forms of notation -- to produce results that sound not unlike Ars Nova.
THE BOSTON GLOBE
Patricia Van Ness's score sets up a dark gypsy heartbeat and Amazon whistles for Evensong, a harp solo that refuses to soothe the raw feeling of Memoir, and in my favorite aural movement, winks treble drops of water into the overtones of a crystal goblet as Sullivan repeats her supplicating solo to Soll in Interludes.
THE BOSTON HERALD
The call of a solitary hunter's horn in a minor key sounds the opening notes of Van Ness's memorable score. The Boston-based composer has given Bahr the gift of music so evocative of the mood and emotions of the story that it nearly succeeds on its own. Van Ness works in resounding themes, studding the melodies for each character with textural surprises -- the dull, muffled kettle drums foretelling danger, for example, or the plucked violin accompaniment for the romantic pas de deux.
THE REGISTER-GUARD (Eugene, Oregon)
If all of Patricia Van Ness's music is as beautiful as her Work forGuitar and Orchestra, then she is the unheard treasure of this century.
THE NEWS AND CARRIER (Charleston, SC)
With two exceptions, the visiting companies stuck to expected ballet music and conventional ballet material...the other exception was the Boston Ballet's Ghosts, whose music was composed by the very-much-alive Patricia Van Ness.
In an evening of tights, chiffon and swooning romantic music, Ghosts stood out like a slice of lemon in a lake of custard. Ms. Van Ness's music (attractively tinged with minimalism) had a gloomy beauty and a relentless beat that urged the Boston dancers to great expressive as well as merely physical feats.
THE EVENING POST(Charleston, SC)
The boldest work of the evening, Ghosts seemed anchored by its haunting commissioned score by Patricia Van Ness. It relied heavily on its interesting vocabulary and committed execution by Boston Ballet's Marie Cristine Mouis and Michael Job.
THE NEWS COURIER (Charleston, SC)
Dramatic lighting and crossbeams of haze gave an eerie opening effect for Boston Ballet's Ghosts. With a beautiful commissioned score by Patricia Van Ness, Monica Levy was able to choreograph a solid, well-crafted piece for Bruce Marks's company. Miss Van Ness's music had a slightly minimalist treatment, though very melodic.
THE BOSTON PHOENIX
Patricia Van Ness's poignant score thins and thickens like a river changing dimensions, and at times, as if the river flowed through villages, the music becomes modal -- a sign of culture.
THE CAMBRIDGE TAB
Set to an exquisite score by Patricia Van Ness...
...and set to Patricia Van Ness's Work for Guitar and Orchestra, a lovely piece of music...
THE BOSTON GLOBE
The evening long piece...is entitled Place of Ambush. What it has going for it is a lush and vibrant score by Patricia Van Ness.
BAY WINDOWS (Boston)
Cor mei cordis, two Latin love lyrics set to beautifully restrained neo-organum (lots of parallel fourths and fifths) by Patricia Van Ness, was a good example of the high-quality contemporary music Coro Allegro has consistently included in its programs. The composer was present to take a well-deserved bow.
COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER COMPANY (Boston)
In April, Somerville's Patricia Van Ness will go international. She was commissioned to compose music for the upcoming Heidelberg, Germany New Music Festival. But her piece, O magna res (O Greatness) won't sound like new music. In fact, it'll sound like old music -- very old music. Van Ness was born in 1951, not 1451, but you'd never know it by her compositions.
Her tonal palette reflects the soaring, unfettered chant made famous by religious orders...Van Ness is also adept at paraphrasing sounds of music written in the mid-1500s...Van Ness sees the era's musical heritage as alive and purposeful in modern society.
'Melody is very natural to the human spirit, and there's nothing cloying or sentimental [about early music],' she says. 'I'm moved by the elegance, simplicity and grace.'
To celebrate First Church's open affirming policies of ethnic and sexual equality, she composed In oculis Dei (In the Eyes of God). Its image-filled poetry and sedate, majestic music proclaims universal dignity and acceptance.
In oculis Dei was also sung at last September's convention of the American Guild of Organists in Boston. The dean of the guild's local chapter, David Carrier, was unfamiliar with Van Ness or her music, but was nonetheless convinced the music was dredged up from some dusty tome in a European monastery. Van Ness sat behind him and was acknowledged after the performance.
'I stood up,' Van Ness recalls, 'and he realized I wasn't dead.'
THE BOSTON PHOENIX
The music is also newly commissioned and also quite successful. Composed by Patricia Van Ness, and enlisting a potpourri of instruments, it meshes with the choreography as (nearly) perfectly as Stravinsky with Balanchine. Van Ness keeps pace with the emotional boldness of Bahr's steps, enriching them to an even deeper potency. Together, the choreography and music created images that lasted in my mind -- and body -- for days.
The wonderful Coro Allegro CD [In the Clearing] includes music by Van Ness (Cor mei cordis)...My question -- to Coro Allegro and also to CD companies -- is, when do we get a recording of Van Ness's The Voice of the Tenth Muse?
CONTACT PATRICIA VAN NESS