Reflections on a Song Premiere: “Where then could pain find a hold?”

Now that was a whale of a concert, literally! What a deeply enriching experience yesterday evening at Orleans United Church.

Attending my first live concert in over two years, I heard artistic director Antonio Llaca and his wonderful Coro Vivo Ottawa (CVO) sing the world premiere of “Where then could pain find a hold?”, my musical plea for reconciliation to those who find themselves in conflict.

This is the fifth of my 30 choral compositions to be performed in front of a live audience, and for a “late in life” composer like me, I can openly share what a thrill that was. And I really loved the way Antonio put his own stamp on the song, giving it a special flow and interpretation that adds immensely to my original music and words. Thank you, Antonio and CVO!

I was doubly honoured, as mine was not the only world premiere on the program. In fact, the concert took its Ojibwe name, “Nibi,” from a hymn to water created especially for Coro Vivo Ottawa by Andrew Balfour, a celebrated Toronto-based composer of Cree descent. It was a hauntingly beautiful choral work that Antonio and Coro Vivo Ottawa gave birth to last night, with a blending of spoken, sung and whispered text.

The composer wanted to explore water in all its forms, including the water within us. And this was beautifully represented by the choir surrounding the audience and bathing us in aquatic sounds.

This was such a diverse program that Antonio Llaca prepared, as he included an engaging mix of choral works in this multi-lingual, multi-cultural “Nibi” concert.

Other featured composers included John Rutter, Lili Boulanger, Joseph Haydn, two songs in indigenous Mexican languages adapted by María Roselia Jiménez Pérez and Leticia Armijo, two Hebrew songs composed by Israeli composer Nurit Hirsh, plus a song composed by Canadian Sid Robinovitch based on a text by 20th century Uruguayan feminist Juana de Ibarbourou.

One song in particular caught my attention, and is well worth performing more frequently. As narrated by chorister Tony Atherton in his excellent program notes:

“[It was called] ‘Los Cuatro Elementos’, by Haydn’s New World contemporary, Cuban composer Esteban Salas. This playful Baroque villancico, or Christmas carol, features the four traditional elements of nature — earth water, fire and air — arguing about who has the greater claim on the Christ child.”

The concert ended with a superb performance of Vancouver composer Larry Nickel’s “Mother Whale Lullaby,” a choral setting of American saxophonist Paul Winter’s “Lullaby of the Great Mother Whale.”

The choir, surrounding the audience again, joined accompanist Louise Léveillé and the taped sounds of a whale singing to create a mini masterpiece of sonic beauty. As Tony Atherton put it:

“When the choir hushes, the whale sings us to the end of the concert, and, ideally, sends us home, with renewed hope and the will to make a difference.”

A whale of a concert indeed! And if you’re in the greater Ottawa area, there is a repeat performance tonight (Saturday) at 730pm. Click here for tickets:

Thank you, Antonio Llaca and Coro Vivo Ottawa!

6 thoughts on “Reflections on a Song Premiere: “Where then could pain find a hold?”

  1. We were so honoured to perform your piece last night and having you there to hear it in person made it all the more special!

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