The Williamsburg Choral Guild closed its season with a compelling and lovely featured work, “Lux: the Dawn from on High” by Dan Forrest, one of today’s most successful composers, Sunday in the Williamsburg United Methodist Church.
For this work, artistic director Brian Isaac chose to join forces with the Virginia Wesleyan University Camerata (prepared by Dr. Bryson Mortensen, director of choral studies), bringing to the task about 120 voices; a chamber-sized orchestra of noted merit; and organ and piano, both superbly and sensitively handled by Karen Areheart Ives.
As noted in Isaac’s comments and Forrest’s notes and other resources, the five movement work, which premiered last year, uses ancient liturgical chants, scripture and a contemporary secular love poem by Daniel Ladinsky (inspired by 14th century Persian Sufi poet Hafiz), to explore, quite basically, the magic of light and its significance from dawn through the day to evening, as seen and felt through the lens of life’s timelines.
Forrest’s personal writings concerning the significance of each movement probe into his deeply felt philosophical-theological thoughts. And, while those thoughts are insightful, the detail isn’t necessary for its total appeal.
Scriptural-spiritual elements aside, “Lux’s” sonorous vocal and orchestral sounds alone could as easily inspire a deeper awareness and appreciation of nature around us — the budding of a flower, the delicate design of a seashell, the beauty of a spider web adorned by early morning dew, the aroma of lilacs, a shooting star, a rainbow, that sort of thing.
The gratification of this hearing was in allowing its rich, luxurious qualities to wash over you and carry you to wherever your emotions led you, whether guided by text or personal guides.Forrest has a knack for blending text and substance with extraordinarily harmonious results that are transporting.
Layers upon layers of sound keep unfolding and expanding into vast audio vistas. “Lux” finds melodies, moods and words merging into a sound sensation that sweeps you away with its beauty and sustained feelings of worth and hope and wonder. While essentially a powerful work of gently flowing, richly crafted lines, it also employs shifting rhythmic patterns, occasional upbeat tempi and outright exaltations of joy, all of which wraps you in listening and emotional engagement.
Throughout, the success of “Lux” depended on fine balance and heightened sensitivity, qualities which Isaac artistically shaped, the collective voices allowing the expressiveness of the music and text to coalesce into a perfectly measured performance that allowed “Lux” and its layered meanings to shine brightly upon us. All you could do as the soft sounds of the closing “Creator of the Stars of the Night” faded away was sigh in appreciation for the exquisiteness of “Lux” and this enlightened moment.
As for the performance, youthful Camerata added an oomph to the Guild that made this one of the group’s best overall outings, delivering sounds that ranged from sensitively soft to knock your socks off soaring. Fine solo moments by guest soprano Lauren Tompkins and tenor Scott Crissman added to the rich listening experience.
The theme of light was advanced by the opening “In Remembrance” by Jeffery Ames and its reflection on a requiem-based “… may everlasting light shine upon them” and the closing Appalachian traditional song, “Bright Morning Stars.” For as gentle as was the latter, it didn’t (speaking of light) hold a candle to the impact of “Lux,” the sounds and emotions of which would have made the more perfect close to such a fine program.
Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."