Officium Novum

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Program: #10-41   Air Date: Oct 04, 2010

Over the years we have heard all the Hilliard Ensemble recordings, including their two collaborations with Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Gabarek. This week, the national premiere of their new work, including their recent efforts looking at the remarkable religious liturgy of Armenia.

NOTE: All of the music from this recording comes from the new ECM collaboration between the Hilliard Ensemble and Norwegian jazz virtouso Jan Gabarek., and is ECM New Series CD: B0014664-02.

These programs are made possible in part by support from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. For more information about Norwegian cultural events in the United States or for travel and tourist information, you may consult:

The inspired bringing together of Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble has resulted in consistently inventive music making since 1993. The unprecedented “Officium” album, with Garbarek’s saxophone as a free-ranging ‘fifth voice’ with the Ensemble,  gave the first indications of the musical scope and emotional power of this combination -  and sold more than a million copies. “Mnemosyne” (1998) took the story further, expanding the repertoire beyond ‘early music’ to embrace works both ancient and modern.Now, after another decade of shared experiences, comes “Officium novum”, the third album from Garbarek/Hilliard, recorded, like its distinguished predecessors, in the St Gerold monastery. A central focus this time is music of Armenia based on the adaptations of Komitas Vardapet, pieces which draw upon both medieval sacred music and the bardic tradition of the Caucasus. The Hilliards have studied these pieces in the course of their visits to Armenia, and the modes of the music encourage some of Garbarek’s most impassioned playing. Alongside the Armenian pieces in the “Officium novum” repertoire:  Arvo Pärt’s “Most Holy Mother of God” in an a capella reading , Byzantine chant,  two pieces by Jan Garbarek, including a new version of “We are the stars”, the Spanish “Tres morillas”. There is also a new account of Perotin’s “Alleluia, Nativitas” which the musicians had previously recorded on “Mnemosyne”: the freedom of interpretation is testimony to the way the project as a whole has grown since its introduction on ECM New Series, with the Hilliard Ensemble now very much involved in the music’s improvisational processes and implications.

Jan Garbarek: soprano and tenor saxophones
The Hilliard Ensemble:
David James: countertenor
Rogers Covey-Crump: tenor
Steven Harrold: tenor
Gordon Jones: baritone
1            Ov zarmanali  Armenian Traditional / Komitas
2            Svjete tihij     Byzantine chant
3            Allting finns    Jan Garbarek
4            Litany      Hilliard /Garbarek                                   
                       a) Litany  N.N. Kedrov
                       b) Otche nash tradition    fr  Lipovan Old Believers trad.
                       c) Dostoino est                            Anonymous
5            Surp              Armenian Traditional / Komitas
6            Most Holy Mother of God                           Arvo Pärt
7            Tres morillas m’enamoran          Spanish Anonymous
8            Sirt im sasani      Armenian Traditional / Komitas
9          Hays hark     Armenian Traditional / Komitas
10            Alleluia, Nativitas     Pérotin
11            We are the stars     Jan Garbarek

Further explanation of the tracks:

Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble’s inspired collaboration began in 1993 with the groundbreaking recording Officium and has resulted in consistently inventive music making ever since. At that first meeting Garbarek’s saxophone, soaring as a free-ranging ‘fifth voice’ with the a cappella Ensemble, gave the first indications of the musical scope and emotional power of this combination.

A double album, Mnemosyne, followed in 1998, and now, after another decade of shared experiences, comes the third album Officium Novum, recorded in the Austrian monastery of St Gerold, with Manfred Eicher producing, as were its distinguished predecessors.

While the repertoire on Officium focussed on early music, Mnemosyne took the story further embracing works both ancient and modern, and the aptly-titled Officium Novum continues along the same path but with new departures. Works from many sources are drawn together as the musicians embark on their travels through time and over many lands, from Yerevan to Byzantium, to Russia, Europe and beyond. But it is Armenia (via the compositions and adaptations of Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935)) which provides a central focus, giving the music a distinctly eastern flavor, and punctuating the album’s dramaturgical flow.

In the course of their visits to Armenia the Hilliards studied Komitas’s work which draws upon both medieval sacred music and the bardic tradition of the Caucasus, and the modes of which encourage some of Garbarek’s most impassioned playing.  The album opens with the haunting "Ov zarmanali", a hymn for the Baptism of Christ (Sunday after Epiphany) sung during the blessing- the-water ceremony. This Komitas piece, like "Sirt im sasani”, a hymn for the bathing-of-the-feet ("Votnlva" celebrated on Maundy Thursday), is from the period 1910 to 1915, but the roots of both reach back to antiquity. An ethnomusicologist as well as a forward-looking composer-philosopher, Komitas not only showed how Armenian sacred music had developed from folk music, but used folk styles expressively to make new art-music for his era.

"Hays hark nviranats ukhti" and "Surb, surb" (“Holy, Holy”, corresponding to the "Sanctus") are part of the Divine Liturgy of the Holy Mass which Komitas arranged on different occasions and for different formations. The versions here derive from those made for male voices in Constantinople in 1914/1915. "Hays hark" is a hymn traditionally sung at the beginning of the mass while the priest spreads incense.

The Byzantine “Svete tihij” (Gladsome Light), composed in the third century, is one of the oldest Christian hymns, and once accompanied the entrance of the clergy into the church and the lighting of the evening lamp at sunset. The Spanish “Tres morillas” from the 16th century “Cancionero de Palacio” radiates a different kind of light, as its dancing rhythm underpins a tale of lost love.

The thirteen-minute “Litany” imaginatively bringing together works of spiritual and musical affinity: “Otche Nash” from the Lipovan Old Believers tradition is preceded by a fragment of the “Litany” of Nikolai N. Kedrov. Kedrov (1871-1940) was a student of Rimsky Korsakov, the founder of the Kedrov Quartet (a vocal group that toured under Diaghilev’s direction) and a writer of many compositions and chant arrangements which have since found their way into the repertoire of Orthodox choirs.

Arvo Pärt’s “Most Holy Mother of God”, a piece written for the Hilliard Ensemble in 2003, is heard in a pristine a capella reading. If the Hilliards have proselytized persuasively for Pärt’s music they have surely also been affected by the austerity of his writing.

Perotin’s “Alleluia. Nativitas” is a new account of the piece previously recorded on Mnemosyne: the freedom of interpretation provides perfect testimony to the way the project as a whole has grown. The Hilliard Ensemble is now much more involved in the music’s improvisational processes and implications, and the project remains an exceptionally pure context in which to experience Garbarek’s creativity. He is still approaching this music freely, improvising with the ensemble, creating roving counterpoint, weaving in and of the web of vocal texture, and collectively these musicians shape what England’s Evening Standard called “some of the most beautiful acoustic music ever made”.

Jan Garbarek also contributes two compositions. “Allting finns” is his setting of  “Den Döde” (“The dead one”), a poem by Sweden’s Pär Lagerkvist (1891-1974), and “We are the stars”, last heard on Rites, is based on a Native American poem of the Pasamaquoddy people, and concludes the album on a particularly poignant note.

Composer Info

Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935), Nikolai N. Kedrov (1871-1940), Pär Lagerkvist (1891-1974)

CD Info


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