Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble and Choruses Explore the Great Beyond through Contemporary and Traditional Works

December 09, 2019 Madison Spahn

As if composing a large-scale choral and orchestral work wasn’t already an incredible feat, Berklee College of Music alumna Susan Botti B.M. '86 takes things a step further by sharing the stage with musicians performing her work. As the accomplished composer and soprano explained to Berklee Today, “I'm putting myself on the line just as the players in the orchestra are. When I'm a part of it with everyone else, something powerful happens with the musicians.”

At the Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble and Choruses concert on December 12, Botti will be the soprano soloist in her 2005 work, Cosmosis. The piece sets two poems by May Swenson—“Overboard” and “The Cross Spider”—which explore the fictional story of Arabella, a spider who attempts to spin a web in space, and, though succeeding, sacrifices her life in the process. It is a work about searching the cosmos for answers to questions that lie deep in the human soul: what are we capable of, and what will it cost us to rise to our greatest potential?

The evening’s program features another contemporary work that seeks to find meaning in life’s most difficult trials: Christopher Marshall’s L’homme armé: Variations for Wind Ensemble. The legendary L’homme armé (“the armed man”) melody, although a secular tune, was the basis of 30 mass settings between 1450 and 1510 alone, and continued to serve as inspiration for 20th and 21st century composers. Written as a response to the United States military’s invasion of Iraq that began in 2003, the work was commissioned by renowned wind ensemble conductor Tim Reynish, in memory of his son, who died in a climbing accident. The piece includes elements of popular song and dance throughout the centuries that give it exuberance and life. As Marshall has said of the work, “perhaps one antidote to the sorrows of war can be found in the sheer joy of music.”

During the concert, Marshall and Botti’s contemporary works will be juxtaposed with Anton Bruckner’s 1896 choral and orchestral masterpiece, the Mass in E Minor, uniquely scored for eight-part choir and 15 wind instruments. Like them, Bruckner draws inspiration from earlier traditions, incorporating melodies from ninth-century Gregorian chant and from Palestrina’s 16th-century Missa Brevis. The mass combines the simplicity of the Italian Renaissance with the full harmonies and textures of 19th-century Romanticism to create an otherworldly, almost celestial effect.

Together, these works ask larger-than-life questions that ask us to look both to the past and the future for answers, and promise an evening of inspirational music that will take the audience deep within their own souls, to the skies, and beyond.

Boston Conservatory at Berklee Center Stage will present Boston Conservatory Wind Ensemble and Choruses on Thursday, December 12 at 8:00 p.m. at Old South Church. The performance is free and open to the public. Learn more and view the full 2019–2020 Center Stage lineup.