Saturday, December 28, 2019

Ave Maria ultima

I've posted this one over at my own websty before, maybe more than once, so I thought I'd wander over here and let you folks have a look and a listen yourselves, just in case anybody might have missed it. It's a truly wondrous performance of a true musical miracle, Franz Biebel's gorgeous setting of the Ave Maria, the story behind which goes thusly:
Biebl was organist and choir master of a parish in F├╝rstenfeldbruck, Bavaria, and of a men's chorus there, for which he composed many works and arrangements. He composed Ave Maria before May 1959, when it was performed in a Maiandacht. It was written for men's chorus, and this version was published by Wildt's Musikverlag in 1964. However, it was not performed often, since German men's choirs generally did not perform religious music. On a 1970 tour in Germany, the Cornell University Glee Club from the U.S. met Biebl, who was working for the broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk, responsible for choral music. Conductor Thomas A. Sokol received several of Biebl's compositions which he performed in the U.S. When the Chanticleer vocal ensemble made Ave Maria part of their repertoire, it gained popularity. They first performed it in a charity event on 4 December 1989 at the City Hall in San Francisco, and presented it in the following holiday concerts, and also in their tour program the next year.

Biebl wrote arrangements for mixed choirs in 1985 and 1998. It was published in the U.S. by Hinshaw Music in 1992, and became one of the publisher's best-selling items, the four versions selling over 670,000 copies between 1992 and 2016.

The story behind the video is better still. As told by Cantus member Paul Rudoi:
Cantus has always been in Chanticleer's shadow. How could we not? Chanticleer was one of the main catalysts for Cantus' existence, their 12 members influencing Cantus' early days as a student ensemble, their classic sound a perfect reference for Cantus on their student recordings of the late 1990's, and their full-time employment a dream on which to build a fledgling non-profit company....In recent years, there was overlap between the ensembles with auditionees, members, gigs, and even some repertoire, but there still, still had not been a meeting. Until now.

On one of our longest tours to date, we received a text from one of our former members Blake Morgan, now a tenor in Chanticleer, asking if we wanted comps to the Chanticleer show at Ferguson Center for the Performing Arts in Newport News, VA. He knew both ensembles were on tour, and knew that we'd both be in the area at the same time. Cantus had an education outreach that day in the middle of a long drive between Durham, NC and Norfolk, VA, but the timing seemed right. We raced to the venue and showed up just in time to hear Nico Muhly's new commission, "Over The Moon." We loved hearing Chanticleer's signature sound in person, together, for the first time, and we enjoyed seeing our colleague Blake alongside so many of our friends-from-afar for so many years: Cortez Mitchell, Kory Reid, the indelible Eric Alatorre, Adam Ward, and so many others. At the end of the concert, Brian Hinman began an introduction to their encore, Shanendoah, with a shoutout to Cantus. We were so happy to be included as part of their evening, and we didn't want it to stop there.

Rumors of a bar attached to Chanticleer's hotel circulated through the 21 singers, and we trickled over to the spot. It seemed vacant but still open, the wait staff happy to see us and have something to do on a Tuesday evening. With burgers, salads, and drinks in hand, no two members of the same ensemble were sitting next to one another, all of us realizing we didn't have to explain anything about our careers, our full-time salaries and benefits, or our musicmaking: These were the few people in the world who finally knew very well what it was all about. After some time, a couple of us started singing Barbershop tags (yet another common ground between the ensembles) and it occurred to us… If this was such an overdue meeting, we should make the most of it. Everyone was on board with the one song that, of course, immediately came to mind: Franz Biebl's timeless Ave Maria.

Beers in hand, bartenders and wait staff watching, we began the chant together, the sound of male voices drifting through the wooden rafters. Having had no rehearsals with the other ensemble, the cues and tuning were rough, but as we sang, something amazing happened.

And THAT, people, is an understatement. But hey, don't take my word for it; see for yourselves.
A spellbinding, glorious moment indeed, thankfully preserved on video for the ages. I've listened to and watched this one a thousand and one times, and it still raises goosebumps; by the closing "Amen" I'm fully choked up and teary-eyed, each and every time. With this video in existence, my patience for atheism is badly strained. I mean, how can anyone watching this seriously deny God's existence...WHEN IT'S PERFECTLY OBVIOUS THAT THIS IS GOD'S OWN VOICE WE'RE HEARING?!?

Enjoy, everybody.

1 comment:


Hashem speaks, if you listen. The problem is we're so drowned in social media, TV, radio, games, and the bustle of life we don't spend time alone, contemplating ourselves, our lives, etc.

A very short anecdote, which I intend to turn into a post at some point:

In August my family and I were in Israel; towards Havdallah (the end of Shabbat) we were at the Kotel (Western Wall) and I had finished my prayers, but was waiting for my host to finish his. I saw an ant on the wall, doing it's ant thing. And I looked up at what, to that ant, must have been an infinite vertical plain.

How can we, who are even smaller compared to Hashem than that ant was to that wall, grasp the infinite that He is?