San Diego, CA - the wonderful chamber choir, SACRA / PROFANA, just released their debut album, Elegies and Ecstasies, this past summer and it has somehow escaped my focus until this moment. I had heard their wonderful performance of my piece, "A Grass-Green Pillow" (the fifth movement from Color Madrigals), when they first recorded it but never had the chance to hear the entire album until now. As a choir geek I'm honored to be included right next to Palestrina, as a composer geek I'm intimidated to be on the same album as David Lang, but as a wannabe-guitar-player originally from Minnesota I definitely smiled to see that a tune by Prince makes an appearance as well. Check it out on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, etc. Maestro Krishan Oberoi & Co. do an incredible job!
residency - Harvard
January 28, 2013
Boston, MA - I'll be in residency at the Harvard Women's Choral Fesitval from February 15-16 where I'll sit on a discussion panel about composer/conductor collaboration as well as just have a generally great time. There are some incredible ensembles participating this year and I'm honored to have the Lorelei Ensemble present the second performance of Magnificat for the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo for the festival participants. Their premiere of the work in Boston last month garnered some well-deserved reviews from the Boston Musical Intelligencerand the Boston Classical Reviewso the second time around is sure to be just as moving.
world premiere - Magnificat for the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
January 10, 2013
Boston, MA - On January 18 and 19 The Lorelei Ensemble will present the world premiere of Magnificat for the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (for SSAA choir and piano). The work takes as its subject an organization of Argentine mothers whose children were "disappeared" during the country's "Dirty War" of 1976-1983 and uses Bach's Magnificat as a structural reference. This version of the piece is a shorter, "cantata-length," iteration of the work which Lorelei will give the full premiere of in a future season, so come by to hear the first step in the journey of this wonderful collaboration. There will also be world premieres by Swedish composer, Karin Höghielm, and the ensemble's Composer-In-Residence, Mary Montgomery Koppel, so come by to hear some amazing music!
Okay, so I'mma start this off by saying that, despite the fact that I'm not a particularly religious person, I friggin' love Christmas music, you guys. I love it. I'm not exactly sure what it is. Maybe it's the fact that there are very few tunes that seemingly everyone knows and these melodies are among them. Maybe it's that I'm associating it with how much I loved getting presents when I was a kid and I'm just carrying that optimism forward. Maybe it's that one time I got to go caroling with the guys from Cantus and we ended up shoveling some lady's driveway for her whilst jamming out on “Good King Wenceslaus” and that reminded me of how awesome it feels to do good deeds and then it was Christmas-themed and also there was booze. Maybe it's the rampant consumerism. No, it's definitely not that. In any case, I love Christmas music...and two really, really good albums-of-it got released this year that I've really been enjoying.
So have you guys all gone out and obtained (via Spotify, iTunes, or whatever) the new album by The Singers? It's called Dulci Jubilo: Christmas with The Singers, and if you don't have it yet you need to get on that right-quick because this thing is really, really good.
In terms of Christmas-themed albums that choral ensembles put out, I feel like there are generally two types, the first of which is an album full of music "for the time." In other words, there are arrangements of traditional carols mixed with pieces that are appropriate for the Advent and Christmas season. The first album that The Singers put out, Shout the Glad Tidings, is one of these. They've got Jocelyn Hagen's (brilliant) arrangement of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” just a few tracks away from Arvo Pärt's blistering, minute-long setting of the “Bogoroditse Dyevo” text. Seraphic Fire's newest album, Silent Night (which Paul Carey reviewed beautifully, btw), also falls into this category.
The second type of Christmas choral album is the kind The Singers just released and one, I think, pioneered by The Dale Warland Singers in their Christmas Echoes volumes: a whole mess of carols in a bunch of new arrangements.
And The Singers knock one out of the park, IMHO. Abbie Betinis's arrangement of “In The Bleak Midwinter” is brittle and triumphant at the same time, Timothy Takach forms a section of the simple “'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” into this beautiful, running tableau of counterpoint that I can't get enough of, and J. Aaron McDermid takes a carol I have always hated—“I Wonder as I Wander”—and crafts something I actually really enjoy out of it.
However, Artistic Director Matthew Culloton's contributions to the lineup are, for me, the absolute standouts. Especially the title track, the traditional Norwegian song, “Kling No, Klokka,” and his transformation of “Angels We Have Heard on High” from the familiar, pedestrian melody that everybody mindlessly sings into a piece which gives grateful service to the poetry in the text. That is incredibly difficult, you guys...especially for such a familiar piece.
For me, his arrangements seem to fiercely (but optimistically) argue for the relevancy of traditional music like this in the context of modern society. Or I might be reading into that. I don't know.
In any case, here's one of Matt's arrangements that somebody sent me a few days ago which isn't on the album—his arrangement of “Still, Still, Still”—premiered by The Singers with the man himself at the podium. It's intimate but not precious...and that harmonic turn around the 1-minute mark always gives me some good, old-fashioned Midwestern nostalgia for some reason (perhaps because it's "winter" in Austin and it's currently 80 degrees).
But seriously, you guys, Dulci Jubilo: Christmas with The Singers is incredibly beautiful music sung with the laser-like precision and emotional weight that the ensemble brings to “serious” stuff like their gorgeous album of Morten Lauridsen's work. You should all rush out and get it. I ordered a copy direct from the ensemble before I found out I could just search it on Spotify. But then I was like, “Whatever. That's actually great because I just contributed to an organization that I absolutely love.” Maybe I should order it on iTunes as well just to be, like, consistent.
The other Christmas album I'm digging at the moment is Sufjan Stevens's's new release, Silver & Gold. It's a five-disc compilation so there is a ton of music on it and it's all vintage-y, banjo-y, oft-introspective-y Sufjan. But he can be damn funny too, you guys. He gets all up in a vocoder for “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and the first release was a song called “Christmas Unicorn” which is hands-down my favorite thing on there.
It starts off slowly with the personification of the holiday all darkly talmbout itself (“I am hysterically American/With a credit card on my wrist”) but, around the the six-and-a-half-minute mark, it explodes into this beautiful, optimistic anthem (“I'm the Christmas Unicorn/You're the Christmas Unicorn/It's alright...I love you”) that had the crowd jumping around and singing along at the concert here in Austin that I went to. Here, check out this cel phone video of said song in which Sufjan is dressed as the unicorn and totally fucks up a lyric.
It was just a giant, fun, sing-a-long party (entitled “The Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant On Ice”). See that thing behind him? It's called the Wheel of Christmas. Audience members got to intermittently go up and spin it to see which carol we would all sing together.
All that fun eventually dissolved into some of the intimate, confessional songs that Sufjan does so well. Check out “The Owl and The Tanager” from the All Delighted People EP if you don't know what I mean. My friend, Mary, was with me and during “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti” I started crying. She's never been to a concert with a weepy composer before so she got all concerned and was like, “Oh my gosh, Josh. Are you okay?” I was like, “Oh, yeah I'm fine...*sniffle*...I just cry a lot at concerts is all. I'm not sad. This shit is just so damn beautiful.”
Happy holidays, you guys. Go give your Christmas Unicorn a hug or something.
Joshua Shank's works have been widely performed by educational and professional ensembles alike. His music has been called “jubilant…ethereal” (Santa Barbara News-Press) and “evocative and atmospheric…distilling a sustained mood most impressively” (Gramophone).
He has enjoyed relationships with some of the most exciting choral ensembles in the United States as well as abroad, and has collaborated with organizations such as Conspirare, the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, the American Choral Directors Association, The Esoterics (Seattle), the Minnesota All-State Choir, and the Lorelei Ensemble (Boston). He has served as Composer-In-Residence for the Minneapolis-based professional choir, The Singers: Minnesota Choral Artists, since the group was founded in 2004 and, alongside Artistic Director Matthew Culloton and fellow composers Abbie Betinis and Jocelyn Hagen, has collaborated annually to expand and invigorate the repertoire for professional-caliber ensembles through innovative programming as well as new works written specifically for the ensemble.
Joshua received his undergraduate degree in Vocal Music Education from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa where he studied conducting with Weston Noble and composition with John Morrison and Neil Flory. In 2002, he became the youngest composer ever awarded the Raymond W. Brock Composition Award by the American Choral Directors Association. The winning piece, "Musica animam tangens" (written at the age of 20), was premiered at the 2003 ACDA National Convention in Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center and has since been performed and recorded from Los Angeles to South Africa.
His music was recently featured in the documentary about the extensive choral tradition in Minnesota, Never Stop Singing, and his best-selling choral work, "The Boy Who Picked Up His Feet to Fly," was featured in the book Choral Charisma by Tom Carter. His published works have sold over 90,000 copies worldwide and are available through Santa Barbara Music Publishing, Hal Leonard and Daehn Publications.
A native of Minnesota, he currently lives Austin where he is pursuing doctoral studies at the
University of Texas. There he has studied with Dan Welcher, Yevgeniy Sharlat, Russell Pinkston, Donald Grantham, Bruce Pennycook, and the late opera composer Daniel Catán.
Joshua Shank's music has been called “jubilant…ethereal” (Santa Barbara News-Press) and “evocative and atmospheric…distilling a sustained mood most impressively” (Gramophone). He has been commissioned by organizations such as the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus, the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, the American Choral Directors Association, The Esoterics (Seattle), the Minnesota All-State Choir, and the Lorelei Ensemble (Boston). Since 2004, he has served as Composer-In-Residence for the Minneapolis-based professional choir, The Singers: Minnesota Choral Artists. During that time, he has collaborated annually to expand and invigorate the repertoire for professional-caliber ensembles through innovative programming as well as new works written specifically for the ensemble.
In 2002, he became the youngest recipient ever of the Raymond W. Brock Composition Award by the American Choral Directors Association. The winning piece, "Musica animam tangens," was premiered in Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center and has since been performed and recorded from Los Angeles to South Africa. His music was recently featured in the PBS documentary, Never Stop Singing, about the extensive choral tradition in the upper Midwest and his published works have sold over 90,000 copies around the world.