Saturday, May 13, 2017

Dona nobis pacem

It's a little tacky to take a picture of a concert (though better before than during), but at Grace Church this afternoon I couldn't resist. What a sea of faces in the the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York, and the orchestra spilling out the sides. And then the concert began.

The sound of Vaughan Williams' "O, Clap Your Hands" seemed caught in the chancel. But then came Barber's rarely performed "Prayers of Kierkegaard," interesting, which seemed to open the space. But none of this prepared me for the power of Vaughan Williams' "Dona Nobis Pacem," which I'd never heard performed live - and never with the text before me. In parts I was shaking, weeping. Composed in 1936 with most of its words taken from Walt Whitman's poems about the American Civil War, it evokes the all-consuming terror of war, its disruption and despair and moments of mourning tenderness, (After the performance my friend M, who was in the choir, told me it was all she could do not to weep as they sang the words "this soiled world.") I'm not particularly a fan of Whitman but hearing his words here makes me want to go back and read more, knowing now of the music in them. Vaughan Williams' work ends in biblical poetry, though, a messianic vision of hope (stitched from many passages), almost painful in its beauty - how far we are from such peace, such righteousness, such truth! I need hardly add that pathos of listening to this in 2017, in a restive world with a shameless world-soiler in our White House (and one who likes the sounds of explosions). Dona nobis pacem.

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