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

BBC Music Magazine

★★★★ “Highlights include a numinous take on MacMillan’s ‘O Radiant Dawn’, Ailsa McTernan’s soaring solo in Patricia Van Ness’s ‘Archangelus,’ and a performance of Kerensa Brigg’s ‘A Tender Shoot’ which shows the Chapel Choir’s vibrant tonal blend and intelligent enunciation at their best…an inspiring recital.”

The Journal of the IAWM — Volume 24, No. 1 (2018)

CD Review: Patricia Van Ness, Birds of the Psalms
Choral music of Patricia Van Ness, Kassia, et al.; Cappella Clausura, directed by Amelia LeClair (2016)

The breath-taking CD, Birds of the Psalms (2016), presents sacred choral works by American composer Patricia Van Ness, as well as choral works by such diverse composers as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Purcell, Weelkes, and Kassia. The performing ensemble is Cappella Clausura, an SATB choir founded in 2004 by Amelia LeClair, whose stated mission is to research and perform the music of women composers. LeClair included the four male composers in this album because they were affiliated with magnificent buildings of worship and were fortunate in their early educational exposure to liturgical music. In this review, I will focus on the music of the two
women composers.

Patricia Van Ness, composer of Birds of the Psalms , is currently writing anthems for each psalm in the Book of Psalms. For this recording, commissioned by Cappella Clausura, she selected ten psalms that make symbolic reference to birds in either of two ways: (1) Safety may be found “under the divine wings of a bird” or (2) The bird is “protected by the divine” (Liner Notes). Van Ness draws inspiration from late medieval and Renaissance polyphony and uses perfect intervals (fifths and octaves) as her core musical foundation. A common theme in her psalm settings is a gliding sequence between the lower voices, which can be likened to the flowing wing motion of a bird in flight. Although the texts of the psalms on this recording are similar, Van Ness’s settings are full of contrast.

The opening track, Psalm 91 (“You are my refuge and my stronghold”), characterizes Van Ness’s style from the outset, with the tenors entering a fifth above the baritones and basses, followed by the baritones rising in unison with the tenors. After a very poignant falling second by the sopranos on each repetition of the word “refuge,” the psalm ends on an open fifth. In Psalm 55 (“My heart quakes”), sung by the female voices, the music moves effortlessly from perfect fifths and octaves to dissonant intervals, demonstrating Van Ness’s mastery of the juxtaposition of consonance and dissonance. Unlike the other psalm settings, Psalm 17 (“Keep me as the apple of your eye”) substitutes the mediant for the foundational perfect intervals. Starting in a dramatic fashion with the male voices repeating the word “keep” (which
subsequently appears in the female voices), the music concludes on a triad in the tonic minor. Psalm 104 (“Birds of the air”) is scored for full choir plus two solo sopranos. Over the continuous motion of the choir, the soloists add an ethereal beauty that is hauntingly evocative.

Peppered with chromatic sequences and dissonances, Psalm 57 (“In te confidit anima mea/I have taken refuge in you”) depicts an escalating sense of urgency with ominous overtones. It is sung in Latin by the male voices, including three male soloists. In contrast, an underlying feeling of tenderness emanates throughout Psalm 63 (“I seek you”), which makes much use of chromatic sequences and dissonances. Reminiscent of Psalm 91, this setting includes a repeat of the very poignant falling second on the word “helper.”

There is an abundance of joy and high spirits in Psalm 148 (“Creeping things and winged birds”), where praise (Hallelujah) is given to all creatures and the natural elements. Psalm 61 (“I will dwell in your house forever”), sung by female voices in both English and Latin, features beautiful soaring soprano melodies and dissonant sonorities. In comparison, Psalm 36 (“How priceless is your love”) provides a fine example of antiphonal writing for full choir, with the female voices answering the males. For the tenth track, which repeats the music of Psalm 91,
Van Ness uses her own heart-felt poem, “Beauty flew to me,” in place of the psalm text.

The final track on the disc is a wonderful arrangement by LeClair of a hymn entitled “Leaving the wealth of her family” by ninth-century composer Kassia. Preceding Hildegard von Bingen by some 300 years, Kassia was born in Constantinople and dedicated this hymn to the Great Martyr St. Christina, who was killed for her Christian beliefs ca. 200 CE. Kassia’s works are monophonic, but it was customary at that time to perform them with an improvised drone accompaniment. LeClair’s arrangement opens with a low drone, often in intervals of fifths and octaves, above which the sopranos enter in their high range, displaying a glorious purity of sound. The text appears to be sung in Greek, although the accompanying CD booklet does not specify this and provides an English translation only.

Awarded the ASCAP Alice Parker Award (2017), the core vocal ensemble of Cappella Clausura consists of from eight to sixteen professional vocalists (sixteen perform on this recording). They sing a cappella as well as accompanied by continuo or with a chamber orchestra of period
instruments. As exhibited throughout the entire performance, the Cappella Clausura established a perfect unison, an ensemble timbre, and an inspirational interpretation of the music. In short, this album is a delightful collection of choral gems.

Lydia Kakabadse, a British composer of choral and chamber music, studied music at the Royal Holloway London University. Her works have been released on CD under the Naxos and Divine Art labels and have been widely performed, commissioned, and broadcasted. Greatly inspired by medieval music, she has written original texts in Latin for her vocal works. Lydia also holds a master’s degree in law, with distinction, and in the past worked as a solicitor in order to fund her many music projects.

Review Graveyard  UK) (September 2018)

Birds of the Psalms

Composers: Patricia Van Ness/Various
Conductor: Amelia LeClair
Performed by: Cappella Clausura
Label: Navona Records

Cappella Clausura’s latest release for Navona Records, Bird of the Psalms, is conducted by Amelia LeClair, and sees the ensemble interpret a choral repertoire spanning six centuries and performing works by composers including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Purcell.

This collection of choral work ranges from Henry Purcell’s 17th-century ‘Hear My Prayer’ to contemporary composer Patricia Van Ness’s eponymous choral cycle ‘Birds of the Psalms’. The latter, a selection of ten psalms scored for a cappella choir, constitutes the album’s focal point.

Conducted by Amelia LeClair, Birds of the Psalms is, at times haunting and beautiful, and at others primeval and chaotic. The album contains 16 tracks (51 min, 53 sec) and is not only a wonderful album for lovers of choral music, but also a great place to start if you’re a novice. The performances are perfect and the production is flawless.

Birds of the Psalms
Cappella Clausura/Amelia LeClair
Navona Records 6176
Total Time:  51:50
Recording:   ****/****
Performance: ****/****

This beautiful new release of choral music features Capella Clausura.  Amelia LeClair founded the ensemble in 2004 with one of its goals to promote the work of women composers.  For this new release, LeClair has focused on music inspired by Biblical psalms.  The album takes its title from a new work by Patricia van Ness which opens the album.

Ness’s Birds of the Psalms is a collection of 10 psalm settings that have avian imagery and this idea of the divine depicted by a bird, or a bird protected by the divine.  Dove imagery is a common component of the ancient Biblical texts in both Jewish and Christian traditions.  Among them is this image of the sheltering bird which is a common theme in six of the texts used here.  Her music here takes its inspiration as well from ancient church modes and the more melismatic settings upon which harmonies themselves occur naturally across the linear presentation of the text.  This might make the words themselves more difficult to discern at times, but it creates a rather rich wash of sound.  There is some nice word painting along the way (for example on “quakes” in the Psalm 55 setting).  The music itself overall bears close resemblance to Morten Lauridsen’s style.  Each movement helps highlight different voices creating a nice variety.  The male vocal setting of Psalm 17 adds a deep, rich plea to the text that becomes more angelic once the female voices are then added (the female voices get a similar chance in the setting of Psalm 61).  In the following setting of Psalm 57, the Latin text adds a further ancient feel.  The vocal lines as well are written in a late Medieval quality with nice imitation occurring that can bring us to some quite stunning dissonances that add an extra emotional punch.  Things move along a bit more in the seventh movement’s setting of Psalm 148 with its creeping things.  It requires some fun effects as well which add some challenge to the music and a bit of necessary energy.

The program is filled out with beautiful renditions of Tchaikovsky’s setting of the Kiev Chant, “Svete Tihiy”, and two selections from Rachmaninov’s Vespers (“Blagoslovi, dushe moya” and “Blazhen muzh”).  These give us samples of the rich Eastern Orthodox church styles explored by these composers.  A couple of classic English anthems also appear.  First is Purcell’s brief “Hear My Prayer” followed by Weelke’s “When David Heard”.  The program closes with a setting by an Eastern Roman abbess, one of the first female medieval composers, Kassia (810-856) allowing us a window into the very beginnings of this choral tradition explored fittingly on this album.

The album was recorded at the groups May 2016 concerts in the Boston area.  Audience noise is quite minimized apart from applause at the end of the Ness and the final work.  The church settings lend a sense of the sort of rich sound that can be attained in these spaces, always hard to capture in a recording but Navona’s engineers have managed to give the listener a real sense of sitting in the midst of a cathedral to wallow in the gorgeous music presented here.


By  Rosie Rosenzweig
Cappella Clausura has done it again. Dubbed by The Boston Globe as “rich and resplendent… [It] shines a light on forgotten female composers…” and is the 2017 Winner of the Chorus America award for adventurous programming. Its repertoire covers the earliest music known to be composed by women in the 9th century to our own time including some by male counterparts to bring greater depth and context to the audience’s understanding of music by women. The brainchild of Amelia St. Clair who founded the group in 2004, Arts Boston calls it “one of this country’s leading ensembles focusing on the research and performance of music by women composers,”
Its most recent concert did just that by juxtaposing the parts of the Messe De Nostre Dame, the first polyphonic setting of mass by 14th century the French composer Guillaume de Machaut with Psalms composed for this ensemble by contemporary composer Patricia Van Ness.  She has been called “a modern-day Hildegard von Bingen,” whose 12th century work has also been performed by Cappella Clausura. During Van Ness’ address to the packed house, she said that her “choice of work was based on desire to create what is moving and beautiful” and embody that in the juncture with the divine. Her work called  “Birds of Psalms” was highlighted by her rendition of Psalm 148, which she subtitled “Creeping Things and Winged Bird, with a delightful multi-voiced orchestration reminiscent of the flight of birds. Clausura’s ensemble of 12 acapella voices, all accomplished professionals, rendered this with excellence. St. Clair chooses her churches wisely, and her ensemble’s voices resonated off the walls of the Eliot Church with heartfelt and spiritual uplift.



Daughters of the Lesbian Poet:
Contemporary Feminist Interpretations of Sappho’s Poems Through Song (August, 2015)
A thesis by Maria Theresa Hu, California State University, Long Beach

This thesis examines the seven song and/or choral settings of Sappho’s poetry by contemporary women composers Carol Barnett, Sheila Silver, Elizabeth Vercoe, Liza Lim, Augusta Read Thomas, Mary Ellen Childs, and Patricia Van Ness. Each composer has set Sappho’s poems in her own creative and artistic interpretation through diverse modern musical styles, giving the Greek poetess a modern, gendered female voice. This paper presents connections between the poetry chosen, its themes and interpretations, as well as the expressive musical devices employed. The various methodological approaches include historical and textual criticism, sociomusicology, and gender and sexual studies. The setting of Sappho’s poetry and the commonalities of the poetic themes set to music help us understand how modern women view Sappho’s image, hear, and give voice to the poetess of the ancient world. Read the full thesis.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer (June 10, 2015)
Tuned Team of Vocal Messengers in Hildegard

The reverberant Church of the Advent, enmeshed in “Anima, visions of Hildegard’s Ordo Virtutum,” became a sublime summertime lunchtime getaway Wednesday. For this Boston Early Music Festival Fringe Event, two of the city’s premiere vocal ensembles teamed up for a “new telling of Ordo Virtutum, weaving Hildegard von Bingen’s mystical chants with the music of local composer Patricia Van Ness.”… Interspersed with the precision chanted monophonies, were the polyphonic works, four in all, by Patricia Van Ness. “Awakenings” was composed especially for “Anima” and, as with the other pieces, knit almost seamlessly with Hildegard’s songs. Van Ness’ polyphonies are a consonant, conjunct continuum wherein infrequent but clear and magical flashes of discord appeared. (- David Patterson)

NORTHINGS: Arts and Culture in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (2014)
Concert Review: Sederunt (2012)

Taking the concert up to the interval was a fascinating piece of both ancient and modern six-part harmony written for the King’s Singers by the American composer Patricia Van Ness. The lower voices sing for most of the time in Latin, “Cor meum est templum sacrum,” while the upper voices concentrate on the more modern English version, “My Heart is a Holy Place.” (- James Munro)

Audiophile Audition, Classical CD Reviews
CD Review: In Paradisum

Though Coro Allegro is not a professional choir, they do sport some very talented amateur (in the very best sense of the word) expertise in the rendering of these fine works. One doesn’t often seek such finely-delineated phrasing and obviously well-rehearsed and carefully fashioned choral brilliance in choirs like this, but one certainly finds it in abundance in these performances. Not to say there are no errors in execution—even the best choirs are not immune from those—but the slight slips that might be present in rather innocuous and unimportant places in a recording like this are simply drowned out by the otherwise committed and graciously rendered singing.

The works given are in my opinion uneven; certainly the Requiem joins a long line of liturgical efforts of the last 150 years that are worthy of hearing. Van Ness’s style is one that likes to conjoin long chordal episodes with interwoven chant-like filigree weaving its way among the many ecstatic sections. This in itself is nothing new—in fact it is a tried and true formula that has been in place for hundreds of years. What makes it interesting is that it places the existing close-harmony, half-step chord explosions of composers like Whitacre and Part (and to some degree Tavener) in strict juxtaposition with itself. You almost feel like you are being transported to a more ancient age with this kind of schema until you realize the modernisms that Van Ness has subtly inserted into the music in a manner most alluring and somewhat deceptive. No matter—the music is warm, inviting, and optimistic, certainly everything a requiem in this day and age needs to be; we live daily with the horrors of Dies irae, don’t we? The Requiem, composed in 2004 was in memory of Van Ness’s close friend Julie Ince. Baritone Sanford Sylvan provides gorgeously sung solos.

Soprano Ruth Cunningham is no less effective in The Voice of the Tenth Muse, on poetry by Sappho. This is a thornier work, probably because the texts are much more so, and they almost overwhelm Van Ness’s style. As a result she seems to stray from the nicely categorized vocal stratagems of the Requiem and delves into something more reflective and appropriate—or at least hopefully so—for what is very florid and floral textual allusions. To me it doesn’t always work, though I do like a lot of the music. But the word and note seem to contraindicate each other in much of the piece, albeit her sense of form and setting remain very high indeed. It’s not an inaccessible piece—far from it—and it may be a case of an acquired taste. But as of now I have not, unfortunately, developed a taste for it—you might. In any case, this is a worthy release loving rendered by a composer definitely worth hearing, with ample sonics and fine breadth. (- Steven Ritter)

The Journal of the IAWM — Volume 20, No. 2 (2014)
CD Review: In Paradisum

Patricia Van Ness’s moving Requiem (2004) was written in memory of her friend and artistic collaborator, dancer/choreographer Julie Ince Thompson. Begun the week that Thompson died, the work charts the composer’s journey through the grief process. Van Ness writes that she struggled for almost a year until she was able to realize the “sweetness of consolation and love” that she was striving for.

Van Ness joins a venerable tradition of composers who, through similar struggles, have crafted individual yet compelling interpretations of the traditional Latin text. Van Ness’s setting commences with a cappella female voices chanting the opening prayer, “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine” (Eternal rest give them, O Lord) in close harmonies that fluctuate between E minor and its relative major (although curiously with two sharps in the key signature). At the conclusion of the chant, the violins enter with sustained notes while a more melismatic figure is taken up in the soprano voices, soaring unexpectedly from mid- to high-range with the words “et lux perpetua luceat eis” (and let perpetual light shine upon them). The full SSATB choir then enters in a lusciously rich choral section while the soprano sings the rest of the text. The Introit concludes with a return of the soprano chant with its melismatic exposition of the perpetual light. This movement establishes the main procedures used throughout the remainder of the work.

Van Ness, like contemporary composers Arvo Part and Eric Whitacre, has reinvented Medieval and Renaissance choral music in her own unique way, interspersing rich, often highly chromatic, homophonic sections with simple chants accompanied by drones and more complex polyphonic sections. Her harmonies, while sometimes plaintive and spare, build into warm conglomerates that often take surprising, but never jarring, harmonic turns. Typically, after descending through parallel fifths that create tonal uncertainty, the music surfaces in a totally unexpected tonal center that provides color and freshness. This interesting technique maintains the modal feel of the music while creating harmonic variation to hold the listener’s interest through the multi-movement work. Additional color is provided by an accompanying orchestra of strings and oboe, which, while never intrusive, provide a foundation and depth to the overall texture.

Van Ness takes a more dramatic turn in the penultimate movement of the mass, the Libera Me, which features baritone soloist Sanford Sylvan. To offset the dark and foreboding Dies illa, dies irae, (day of mourning, day of wrath), the composer concludes the movement with a solo setting of contrasting English text, “You lift me up ito the air, and hold me to the heavens above…” Expertly performed by Sylvan, this section features dramatic shifts in tessitura, which convey a sense of freedom and release. The Requiem concludes with In Paradisum and a reprise of material from the first movement.

Van Ness wrote the a cappella work Voice of the Tenth Muse during her term as Coro Allegro’s composer-in-residence in 1998. A setting of selected texts by Sappho, it alternates between the original Greek and English translations (by Diane Rayor), with the title derived from Plato’s description of Sappho as the “tenth muse.” In the tradition of these muses, Van Ness’s work journeys into the liminal world between earth and the sphere of the gods. Musically, this is most effectively achieved through a series of quasi-improvisatory, melismatic chants in free rhythm, ethereally realized by soprano soloist Ruth Cunningham with support from the choir.

Enlightenment seems to be briefly attained in the fifth movement, where multiple chants come together to form a rich polyphonic texture, climaxing with its concluding text, “I would rather see [word missing] and the radiant sparkle of her face than all the war chariots in Lydia and soldiers battling in shining bronze.” The listener is reminded of the unattainability of the alternate world by Van Ness’s striking homophonic setting of the penultimate movement, “On the throne of many hues,” in which female voices plead with Aphrodite not to “subdue my spirit.” While the altos maintain a D pedal through almost the entire movement, the other voices seek to escape this constraint via a series of interesting harmonic twists as the singers plead for spiritual fulfillment.

Unlike many composers, Van Ness does not distinguish between sacred and secular works, regarding all her music as “sacred and profane at the same time.” It makes the pairing of this work with the Requiem a rich and fulfilling experience for the listener.

The CD is an enhanced disc, in that the interested listener can also access extended CD liner notes, interviews, scores, and even ringtones! This value-added component makes it well worth buying the physical CD rather than relying on a digital download.

Coro Allegro’s singing has a warmth and fullness of tone that matches the music perfectly. While some might take exception to the amount of reverb used in the production of this CD, I feel it gives an immediacy to the performance, providing a more personal experience than a safer but more aloof mix might have done. I particularly liked the rich, womanly sound of the female voices who do not deny their sex by attempting a pale imitation of boys’ trebles voices (an unfortunate trend in many modern choral performances, in my opinion). To the credit of the conductor, even in the a cappella work, where descending parallel fifths and octaves must make intonation difficult, pitch accuracy is reasonably well maintained. The long extended phrases are exquisitely shaped throughout.

There is much to recommend in this CD. It does what all good music should do: it reaches out and penetrates through the often overwhelming grief we face on a daily basis, enabling us to find the beauty and love all around us. (- Fiona Fraser)

CD Reviews

Another vocal approach to creating a new sound is the one used by The King’s Singers on a fascinating CD called Pater Noster… This is certainly a CD for a highly specialized audience – one interested in top-notch choral singing, in multiple interpretations of religious messages, and in unexpected and aurally challenging differences in the sound and structure of works on similar topics. It is an exhilarating experience for a limited group of listeners.

The same may be said of the new Coro Allegro CD of music by Patricia Van Ness, but for different reasons. The King’s Singers have sung Van Ness’ music, and indeed comment on the CD package that it “is universally well-received,” but they are not the performers here – the disc features Coro Allegro, a “cause” chorus made up of members and supporters of Boston’s LGBT community. The Voice of the Tenth Muse plays into the sociopolitical background and orientation of the chorus, being based on the works of Sappho, but it is a work of sufficient drama and musical interest to be attractive on its own terms . . . Ruth Cunningham handles the solo parts well here, and Sanford Sylvan is even better as the soloist in Requiem, a heartfelt work that does not exactly follow the traditional Requiem Mass but instead brings a personal perspective to death and the consolation of those left behind. Although longer than The Voice of the Tenth Muse, Van Ness’ Requiem feels more intimate and immersive – not exactly pleasant, given its subject matter, but thoughtful and contemplative. Van Ness’ style may not be to all tastes, but those who find it attractive will deem this disc a success, quite apart from any social or political cause it may be seeking to advance.

CD Review: Coro Allegro – In Paradisum

Navona bills this ensemble as Boston’s leading LGBT choral ensemble (including friends of that community). I feel like that needs to be said, because that will doubtless stir feelings upon purchase, for good, ill, or indifference. If you can completely ignore the socio-political issues here and just focus on the music – something we should do regardless of performance origin, you are in for some absolutely ravishing music. Classical music as an industry seems to need reasons to “stay interesting”, whether it be a youth orchestra, players from oppressed nations, or a certain social group. In this case, I agree with Navona’s promotion (for my own reasons), but feel that it’s not a good idea to put that before the music at hand. So please, enjoy the music for its own sake.

Patricia Van Ness is a composer completely new to me, and that’s my loss. She writes absolutely beautiful music, with a fondness for chant-like chords and harmonies. With over 15 years of choral experience myself, this is the real deal. Granted, it’s not as pop-inspired as John Rutter, nor is she a master of text like Morton Lauridsen, and she’s not as chord-obsessed as Eric Whitacre. Depending on your bias, any of these things could be good or bad, but whatever the case Van Ness is entirely convincing in both works.

The Requiem is fairly traditional in its structure, and should be fairly easy to follow for choral fans and/or those who follow from a religious point of view. Actually, it’s the more traditional work generally, and is probably the more accessible of the two pieces. It’s a lovable and touching setting of the Requiem Mass, closer to Faure in mood than say, Verdi. It features some terrific choral writing that never lets the orchestra get in the way. Baritone Sanford Sylvan intones his cantor-like solos with a tremendous amount of conviction and dignity. The writing for the men is especially good, especially interwoven with the aforementioned solo work. A lovely piece.

The Voice of the Tenth Muse is much more challenging on the ear, at least compared to the Requiem. But it also shares all of the same virtues, great choral writing, great solo work, absolutely breathtaking harmonics, and everything one looks for in choral music. Ruth Cunningham is accomplished in her rendering of a challenging solo part. The final movement is magical. Throughout, Coro Allegro shares these works with us with a genuine sense of love and discovery.

However, it must be said that compared to other ensembles, Coro Allegro lacks polish and the best in choral standards. Both instrumental and vocal intonation are occasionally questionable, and sung vowels are iffy. Worse, the whole program – at least on my equipment – is simply too “boomy” and resonant, leading to mushy text and exposure of flaws. But, as I implored in my opening paragraph, this is all about the music, which is glorious. Moreover, the commitment to the cause is beyond question, giving us pause before we nitpick. Politics aside, this remains an excellent regional ensemble which champions contemporary music. Life would be better if we had more of that, and maybe we will, thanks to the efforts of Navona and Coro Allegro. (- Brian Wigman)

CD Review: Coro Allegro – In Paradisum

Coro Allegro is a Boston-based chorus for members and friends of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, singing a repertoire of classical music. The choir has developed a strong relationship with the composer Patricia Van Ness. She spent a year with them as composer in residence and the two pieces on this disc (on the Navona Records label) were both commissioned from her by Coro Allegro. The choir premiered The Voice of the Tenth Muse in 1998, repeating it in 2001, with the Requiem following in 2004. The recordings on this disc come from these live performances in 2001 and 2004.

Requiem uses the standard Latin text with the addition of a poem by the composer. Patricia Van Ness uses the text as set by Faure and Durufle (IntroitKyrieOffertorySanctusBenedictus, Pie Jesu, Agnus DeiLux AeternaLibera Me and In Paradisum). She sets this for choir and small orchestra (strings, oboe, bassoon), and the work was written in memory of Van Ness’s friend and collaborator the dancer/choreographer Julie Ince Thompson.

Van Ness uses the orchestra for support and for colour. The strings act as a foundation on which the choir sings, with oboe and bassoon used soloistically and to colour the music. Her style is distinctive and both pieces on this disc belong to similar sound-worlds. Her writing is tonal and probably modal, with a lot of chant-like melodies. The basic texture consists of long held chords over which and through which weave the chant-like lines.

The results are very evocative and aetherial, whilst retaining a certain intensity, this isn’t thin etiolated music. Van Ness uses quite open textures for her chords which adds to the work’s distinctive feel. Use of instruments is quite subtle. the strings never really stand out, they simply support; partly because there are early 60 singers and just 14 strings. The distinguished baritone Sanford Sylvan sings the solo role, quite a substantial part which again invokes chant. In style, particularly in the string writing, Van Ness’s work is similar to that of the Baltic sacred minimalists, but her music does inhabit its own world.

I found the Requiem immensely involving and not a little moving.  Van Ness works with relatively straightforward structures, but the end product is powerfully luminous.

The Voice of the Tenth Muse is an unaccompanied work, setting texts by Sappho. Van Ness used six of Sappho’s poetic fragments:

  • I pray
  • Come to me from Krete
  • Now she stands among the Lydian women
  • To me it seems that man has the fortune of the Gods
  • Some say an army of horsemen
  • On the throne of many hues, immortal Aphrodite

She uses a mixture of English (translations by Diana Rayor) and the original ancient Greek, leaving the gaps in the text as they are. In this work the poet is very much the lovely soprano soloists, Ruth Cunningham.

The music is heavily melismaitc and profoundly evocative. The CD blurb describes Van Ness as a modern day Hildegard von Bingen, and indeed there is a strong feeling of Gothic Voices’ A Feather on the Breath of God to these pieces; Hildegard for the modern age.

An important element in Van Ness’s work is monody, whether unaccompanied or over a drone. In a way this makes her music very suitable for a talented amateur choir like Coro Allegro. The unison chorus effects give the music an open throated vibrancy and strenuouss which Coro Allegro brings alive. The Requiem in particular has moments of immense striving, as if the performers were struggling with the immensity of their grief.

The choir’s performance is impressive and under conductor David Hodgkins, captures the spirit of the music in its intensity. They and their conductor have achieved a great deal in these performances. But it is clear that Van Ness’s music stretches them, and there are one or two moments where they do not always cope well. But there are also many moments when you can simply forget who is performing and listen just to the music.

The disc comes with a booklet containing texts and translations. But if you put the disc into your computer you can access extended programme notes, an interview with the composer and scores for the pieces. (- Robert Hugill)


Carson Cooman, Our Lady in Adergas, Velesovo, Slovenia
Albany TROY 1357 [78:24]

The mild, baroque-tinged pies of Tomas Mocnik’s II/45 organ built in 2007 for the church of Our Lady in Adergas proves a sympathetic choice for this selection of new works from seven composers – five Americans, a Swede and one Slovakian – each of which casts an admiring glance back towards the economy and modality of early music Peter Machajdik’s meditative On the Seven Colors of Light, the striking fusion of medieval and renaissance influences in Patricia Van Ness’s Pastoral Suite (Seven Prayers), and Thomas Ã…berg’s characterful Fantasy in A minor. Fine performances from Carson Cooman treat each with a requisite delicacy of expression.

Chanticleer: Sound in Spirit

I also admired very much Cor meum est templum sacrum by Patricia van Ness.  This is a setting of a Latin translation of a poem by the composer herself.  I find the poem thoughtful and so too the music.  It’s simple and direct and the composer doesn’t require any vocal trickery from her singers.  Instead she gives us a happy marriage of words and music.  Some may regard it as too traditional and insufficiently daring but for me it communicates much better with the listener than one or two of the other contemporary pieces included here.
(- John Quinn)


The four lovely young women of Boston-based Tapestry return with eight soaring chants by composer Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) and nine by contemporary composer Patricia Van Ness, from the group entitled “The Nine Orders of the Angels.”  We particularly liked “O Frondens Virga” and “O Euchari, Columba” by von Bingen, and “Sum Anael ex Septimi Chori,” “Raphael sum Virtutum,” and “Angelus sum Thronorum” by Van Ness.  The voices of these women are amazing, the material stunning and it is a work of tremendous depth and beauty.  Another powerful winner by the women of Tapestry!

Modern Music was Highlight of Vox Musica’s Saturday Concert

The ensemble showed off their ability to transition from lower to higiher notes with subtle deftness in comtemporary composer Patricia Van Ness’ “Archangelus, Gabriel Pradecator.”  This piece, one of the most poetic on the program, is a patently neo-romantic one.  It begins with pensive music whose drama increases slowly. (- Edward Ortiz)


Jennifer C. Post
MCY 524 – Contemporary Musicology
Frost School of Music
University of Miami

Eschwege, Germany

The composer is named Patricia van Ness, an American who dedicated this work to Schnittpunktvokal.  The piece, Caritas, is a magnificent setting of the beautiful passage from I Corinthians 13, using the Latin Vulgatatranslation.  A masterpiece, it was sung brilliantly and with great transparency. (- Francisco Pujiula)


Sapphire Night (in German, Saphirblaue Nacht) is the melifluous and poetic title of this CD, with works of Hildegard von Bingen and Patricia Van Ness.  Tapestry is the performing vocal ensemble from Boston. It does its name honor, in its artful weaving of musical lines into a tapestry of sound.  Patricia Van Ness was commissioned by these singers to compose her Nine Orders of the Angels, and she has showcased their interpretative and vocal strengths, their timbre and ranges.  Patricia Van Ness can stand up well to Hildegard  — and that nine centuries later.  The music functions as a bridge between the times.  Both women, the nun and the contemporary American composer, perfectly complement each other; the CD breathes the breath of the sound world of the twelth century with its highly symbolic texts by both composers.  For example, “Dominationes” from the Nine Orders is medatative, ecstatic and ethereal, surprisingly clear and beautiful as offered by Tapestry.  The vocal ensemble masters its repertoire so brilliantly that this old and spiritual sound must enchant the listener.  In short: a pleasure! (- Gaby Beinhorn)

Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Pricilla Warner
2006, Free Press (New York, London, Toronto, Sydney) (ISBN: 978074329047)

“Not long after my meeting with…I went to a concert by the men’s singing group Chanticleer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and had a marvelous experience that affirmed the awesome, personal nature of faith.  We sat in the cavernous, skylighted hall housing the ancient Egyptian Temple of Dendur, a symbol of man’s quest for God thousands of years ago.  The sublimely soulful voices of the singers echoed that same ancient, enduring human longing to be with God that the temple’s architects had expressed.  In between songs, I read the English translation of one of the group’s pieces, “Cor meum est templum sacrum” by Patricia Van Ness.  The truthfulness of its poetry resonated within me.  It expressed the mystery of faith as I had experienced it. The foundation of my faith is not based on any particular book or proven in any theological argument.  I believe in God because of what I find when I look into my own heart.

Cor meum est templum sacrum
(My heart is a holy place)My heart is a holy place
Wiser and holier than I know it to be
Wiser than my lips can speak
A spring of mystery and grace.
You have created my heart
And have filled it with things of wonder.
You have sculpted it, shaped it with your hands
Touched it with your breath.
In its own season it reveals itself to me.
It shows me rivers of gold,
Flowing in elegance
And hidden paths of infinite beauty.
You touch me with your stillness as I await its time.
You have made it a dwelling place of richness and intricacies
Of wisdom beyond my understanding
Of grace and mysteries, from your hands.
(Patricia Van Ness)

“My own heart soared as I read this.  I felt freed by the truth I found in Van Ness’s words.  They expressed what I had been experiencing, that the mystery of faith was accessible through my own heart even when my system of belief was shifting.  As a human, I wanted a creed in which to place my trust, but as a child of God, I had faith even without the creed.”  (- Suzanne Oliver) pp. 207-208


The influence of Western religious music on contemporary American composers remained a theme throughout the first half of the program, continuing in Patricia Van Ness’ (also in attendance) In oculis Dei, or In the Eyes of God.  The neo-Renaissance construction of this vibrant piece evoked Van Ness’ Latin lyrics “Ego sum coronata aureo anulo,” or “I am crowned with a circlet of gold. ”  Van Ness is a frequent and welcome contributor to the Coro Allegro repertoire.


“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

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)

TOCCATA (Germany)

(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.


That’s Van Ness: deeply committed to her work, loving the sound of the human voice, the structure of chant, the vowels of Latin, texts that speak of the deepest feelings in us.  Yet she is ready to refine, modify, ruthlessly throw out complete movements to achieve the simplicity and elegance that she admires in medieval and Renaissance music.  She is one prolific writer.  Take a look at her website, patriciavanness.com.  It’s all there — her poetry, the texts of her choral pieces, and the scores of her compositions.  As she says, “It’s wicked unusual to have your work on line, but I want it to be accessible to everyone.”

Nocturnes is all about night.  The opening statement, “Invocation,” invites us to go “deep into the night.”  Each consecutive movement builds in texture and emotion and the text of Van Ness’s poetry speaks about grief or pain, often submerged, often close by in the night.  But there is hope and an incredible peace as we follow “Moonfish” who, to Van Ness, is a divine presence able to see the grief, who doesn’t flinch from it, doesn’t do anything but glide, and in gliding causes movement and allows our grief to surface and be comforted.  Without warning Van Ness gives us relief, going from solemn plainsong to “The Mooncalf’s Ditty,” a lighthearted dance of happiness by someone who’s curious, loves life, and finds joy in everything, including the dogs and cats that fight at night.  The last two movements bring us to the other side of m night where, with “The Sleepwalker,” we move through an incredibly rich six-part choral piece that Van Ness calls “stacked chant,” to the final glorious tribute, “In Praise of Night.” (- Martha Bancroft)


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)


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.


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)


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 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 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 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


A stunning score by Patricia Van Ness lent a folk-like, sometimes mystical atmosphere to the work.


[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)


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.


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.


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 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 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 choreographic mysteries were intensified by Patricia Van Ness’s recorded score for mournful stringed instruments, piping flutes and sighing voices.


‘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.


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.


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 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.


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.

Spoleto Overview

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.

Spoleto Festival

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.

Spoleto Festival

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.


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.


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 evening long piece…is entitled Place of Ambush. What it has going for it is a lush and vibrant score by Patricia Van Ness.


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.


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 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?


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