Program Notes (Winter 2015)

Carlo Gesualdo

Madrigal No. 6 from The Fifth Book of Madrigals


Carlo Gesualdo was an Italian nobleman, murderer, iconoclast. The daring, chromatic harmonies in his Madrigals were unheard of until the late nineteenth century.

See more on his life and work in the New Yorker article ‘Prince of Darkness’ by the esteemed music critic Alex Ross.


Pauline Oliveros

Sound Patterns


Sound Patterns is one of the seminal works of modernism, employing a variety of unusual vocal sounds, supported by a strict rhythmic and improvisational vocal pitch structure.

‘In Pauline Oliveros’ jet-propelled Sound Patterns, the conductor deals with precise, difficult rhythmic structures that have many changes of tempo. The singers improvise pitches within broad areas of high, middle, and low and are asked to produce a varied assortment of sounds, including whispers, tongue-clicks, lip-pops, and finger-snaps. The vocal noises along with tone clusters produced by the pitch improvisations, create a humorous electronic effect.’ – Notes from recording by Alvin Lucier and the Brandeis University Chamber Chorus


Joseph Shabalala

Yibo Labo (These are the Guys)

Recorded on the infamous album Shaka Zulu in 1987, this South African classic speaks for itself.


Caroline Shaw

Allemande from Partita for 8 Voices


New York City-based composer, singer, and violinist Caroline Shaw was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013 for her a cappella piece Partita for 8 Voices. For more on Caroline Shaw and Partita:



The Tula Accordion

Vadam Afanasiev conducts the all male singers in his own arrangement of this Russian traditional song. The work utilizes experimental-like sudden variations in pitch and rhythm, accentuating the force and drive of the music.


John Holland

Conversation Piece


(recorded segments from throat-singers of Asia and Canada *, throat patients ‘speaking’ through implanted electronic larynx devices **, digital and processed human voices, and voices of animals )

I think of this composition as an electronic choral work, founded on the tradition of the unaccompanied motet. The recordings of throat-singing are from northern Asian and Canadian tribes, and include Tuvan, Mongolian, Tibetan, and Canadian Inuit Katajjaq songs. Recorded animal sounds were sampled from animals around the world in their various habitats, including a bison, camel, chimpanzee, dolphin, elephant, jungle frog, hyena, leopard, monkey, moose, panda bear, polar bear, prairie dog, whale, zebra. Digital sounds include John R. Pierce’s first version of Bicycle Built for Two, and a reference to Charles Dodge’s Any Resemblance is Purely Coincidental. Recordings of throat patients with an artificial voice box often sound similar to modern computer voices, and at other times are nearly indistinguishable from certain animal voices.

* by permission of Robert Beahrs (

** from recording of unknown origin (c. 1960’s)


Henry Purcell

Chorus of Cold People from King Arthur


‘The stage works by Purcell are mostly in the hybrid form now known as semi-opera, combining spoken drama with a musical element that in the concert hall may be performed apart from its wider dramatic context. These semi-operas include King Arthur, with a text by the poet John Dryden, a work that includes fascinating music for a chorus of cold people, frozen by the Cold Genius but thawed by the power of Love.’ – Naxos


Luciano Berio

O King from Sinfonia


Italian composer Luciano Berio composed O King in two versions: a chamber version for voice, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano and a symphonic version for eight amplified voices and full orchestra, the latter being incorporated into Berio’s Sinfonia (1968) as the second movement. O King is a threnody for the civil rights leader who was assassinated while Berio was teaching at the Juilliard School in New York. A work harmonically based on two whole-tone scales, the vocalist or vocalists of O King “discover” the name “Martin Luther King” first through its vowels then adding consonants until the whole name is sung completely only in the final bars of the piece. A mysterious and mournful piece in which the voice blends uncannily with the instruments and the texture is essentially a veil of slow, shimmering sounds, O King is one of Berio’s most immediately appealing and affecting works. – James Leonard


Heitor Villa-Lobos

Bachianas Brazileiras No. 9 (Preludio and Fuga)


The Bachianas Brasileiras are a series of nine suites by the Brazilian composer Heitor Vill-Lobos, written for various combinations of instruments and voices between 1930 and 1945. They represent not so much a fusion of Brazilian folk and popular music on the one hand, and the style of J. S. Bach on the other, as an attempt to freely adapt a number of Baroque procedures to Brazilian music.  – from Wikipedia


Henry Purcell

If Love’s Sweet Passion from The Fairy Queen


The Fairy Queen is based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If Love’s Sweet Passion, which begins Act III, is indeed a sublime musical feast.

For more on Henry Purcell: