Music in five languages, as old as the Renaissance, and composers who still live make up the program for "Eternity," the fall concert from Dolce Canto.
Artistic director Yong Mao's concept for the show started with "Muziba," which is Latvian for "Eternity," by Pēteris Plakidis, a composer who died in 2017.
He didn't publish very much music, and this piece is one of his six core works, Mao said.
He estimates that it's the most difficult piece yet for the choir, an auditioned group that has performed at Carnegie Hall and toured South Korea.
Plakidis wrote the piece using proportional canon, a technique from the early Renaissance in which "three soprano parts share the same melody but at different speeds," he said. While the technique dates to the early Renaissance, this work sounds more modern, with clustered harmonies and intertwining and soaring lines with "the developmental freedom of instrumental music," he said.
Robbin Rose, who's been with the choir for eight years, learned all three soprano parts because they'd gone through personnel changes during the weeks leading to Saturday's concert.
She has a degree in music performance and has performed with choirs for decades, and still said it's "the hardest piece I've ever had to learn."
It's been challenging in a positive way, and despite any talk of technical difficulty, it's consonant.
After picking "Muziba" as the centerpiece, Mao built the program around the idea of eternity, even writing a few poetic lines about different meanings of the term for the program:
For those who seek out color, nature is eternity.
For those who praise, hallelujah is eternity.
For those who endure, light is eternity.
For those who grieve, time and love are eternity.
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For those who suffer, heaven is eternity.
For those who play, wine and beer are eternity.
The "praise" and "hallelujah" portion is covered by "Gaude Plaude (Rejoice, Acclaim)" by Maria Xaveria Perucona, a 17th century Italian nun composer. Mao said she once described piece, included in her first album of compositions published at age 23, like so: "This little work is the first-born child of my poor genius."
Mao included some of her work in a previous concert, "Unheard Voices," that featured under-acknowledged writers.
"I believe bringing such unknown music to our community makes it more special," he said.
Another religious piece is "Don't You Weep When I'm Gone," an African-African spiritual arranged by Richard Allain, a contemporary composer from England. Mao said it's common for choirs to use spirituals as showpiece "ta-da" moments at the end of a concert, an idea that he feels is inappropriate for sacred music, so it's pushed toward the middle.
He thinks Allain's take on it has "extraordinarily colorful harmonies" that make it possible to express "very deep emotions."
After the intermission, the Sky Blues choir from Big Sky High School will sing a few pieces and then perform "Requiem," with Dolce. It's an arrangement of a pop song by Eliza Gilkyson wrote after the tsunami of 2004.
In total, there are 14 pieces, ranging from the Renaissance to contemporary work in English, German, Latin, Latvian, Russian and French. Mao, who's studying for his doctorate in choral conducting at the University of Oklahoma, said that he goes through hundreds of pieces to generate a program.
"The repertoire defines the choir," he said, adding that "if you choose the wrong repertoire, the choir can never go in the direction you want it to go."
You may have noticed the line about "wine and beer" that Mao wrote. After a concert of serious material, he felt it would be appropriate it end with a more uplifting note.
He picked two Renaissance madrigals that "can leave our audience full of energy and positivity." In one piece, they'll imitate the plucked strings in the introduction to make it more fun, after which you get to the lyrics, in what's essentially a very old-school drinking song.