KYRIE for vocal quintet (soprano, countertenor, tenor, baritone, bass) 2 SATB choruses, organ, 2 double basses and two percussion. Commissioned by the Bach Elgar Choir with grants from the Ontario Arts Council and the Laidlaw Foundation. Text in Greek ("Kyrie Eleison"). 60 minutes. 1997. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


Commissioned by Wayne Strongman and the Bach Elgar Choir of Hamilton, Canada, Kyrie is a musical triptych set to the Greek words 'Kyrie Eleison/Christe Eleison' of the Roman Catholic Mass. Each of the three sections of the work is roughly twenty minutes long and is set to either 'Kyrie' (I), 'Christe' (II) or both (III). The ensemble consists of a vocal quintet (soprano, countertenor, tenor, baritone, bass) flanked by two identical ensembles of SATB choir, double bass and percussion. In addition, there is an organ and a small number of amateur players playing wind pipes at the balcony (the work is intended for performance in a large ambient church.) Kyrie is a ritual more than a concert piece. Several factors have influenced its composition: my ten-year tenure as a 'drone keeper' in my parish church in Greece during my childhood and adolescence with occasional night long rituals full of chanting, whispering incantations and the synesthetic complements of ritual movement, gesture and incense inside flickering candlelit interiors with frescos of Byzantine icons covering every available surface of the church walls and domes. These impressions gradually crystallized into the Medieval sounding aspect of the work. Although not actual quotations, these parts of Kyrie are my personal reminiscence of my days at the psaltery, and of my Greek Orthodox upbringing. My present non-denominational approach to Christianity and to my personal relationship with the numinous also found expression in Kyrie, in the parts which, in spite the abuse of the term in recent years, I call New Age Music (this aspect of the music is evident more in the latter part of the second section and throughout most of the third.) There is a seemingly haphazard relation-ship between these two predominant influences in the work and the numerous other secondary influences too. The music seems to switch abruptly from one type of material to another with no warning and without adhering to any pattern of critical/analytical discourse which we have been accustomed to associating with western art music. Nor have I consciously tried to adhere to any such form or pattern: in composing Kyrie, I have followed my instinct as my only guide, unconcerned about musical considerations of structure, continuity etc. Since the completion of the work, I have incrementally discovered a great deal of structure in my use of the material, as well as addition-al extra musical connections, particularly in the area of numerical symbolism: several number related items in Kyrie (time signatures, tempi, number of repetitions, etc.) 'mean' something beyond their purely musical function. As I already said, I was not conscious of most of these connections until after the composition was completed. An exception is the end of the third section which consists of 45 repetitions of 'Kyrie Eleison', one for every year of my life starting with my birth and ending with the date of the work's premiere. The method of extending musical ideas is non developmental. Repetition is a key element in Kyrie. That, in association with the laconic text has the effect of a mantra, wherein the text is stripped of its obvious semantic and linguistic characteristics and allows a deeper, more profound meaning to manifest in addition to performing a purely 'tuning' effect for the soul. With a sympathetic rendering, the piece should have a 'mind altering' effect on the listener, not unlike that associated with some of the late works of Morton Feldman, although in this case the approach is considerably more 'user friendly'. Kyrie is for me the summation of a path, upon which I have embarked in the mid nineties with the composition of Heirmos, my first choral work. Like in Heirmos, I am exploring ambient sound and its ability to have a integrating, focusing effect on the energies of the performer and the listener. An ambient environment is a responsive environment; it acts much like a biofeedback system. It diffuses the unidirectional information path of an ordinary performance: the sound engulfs the audience, the audience becomes one with the sound. The abrupt pauses in the music are designed to allow the listener to follow the sound beyond its source, as it moves about the church and articulates the architectural details of the ambient space. The suggestive environment of the church and the religious text also help to raise the listener into a heightened state of acute listening, a state many claim is the gateway to spiritual awareness. While I may be far from such a state myself, my growing awareness of a fundamental 'post Renaissance' paradigm shift in contemporary art and thought and my own millennial predisposition due in no small degree to my upbringing in the mystical milieu of Eastern Christianity have stirred me in the direction of Kyrie. According to the ideas which I have found myself attracted to over the years, ours is an era of 'expectancy', a neo-Essenic era if you like, pregnant with the portents of a great arrival. Whether this 'arrival' is of a historical nature or one of personal contact is less important than the awareness and awakening which accompany it. It appears that the world of infinite possibility postulated since the Renaissance by the predominant scientific paradigm is fast collapsing into two distinct alternatives, a process of enantiodromia, as Carl Jung calls it. The art which has risen into prominence during the transitional era of the past thirty years is precisely the kind of art which confirms this enantiodromia and in turn draws psychological confirmation from it, that is art which performs either a spiritually healing role, or, conversely, a pornographic and/or violent one. In both cases, this artistic activity addresses individual and collective desire and draws legitimacy and purpose from its ability to do so. By (1) 'opening up' the scope of the composition to over an hour of uninterrupted singing, (2) slowing down the pacing of the music (and sympathetically the biorhythms of the audience) and (3) eliminating from the music most elements which might solicit a critical/analytical response, I have attempted to create a spiritual environment within which the listener and the participants might navigate their own course and draw their own nourishment: it is like a long moment of repose, a clearing in the information jungle. For me Kyrie is an arrival point: to a way of thinking about music which is divorced from ego; to a music whose center is no longer the composer, but the listener; to a sound which does not only describe the possibility of healing though art, but more importantly participates in the actual healing process; to an ambiance whose relationship to the sound source awakens within each of us the awareness of the spiritual milieu which is all around us, but which our daily preoccupation obscures and prevents from becoming a source of sustenance.

Premiere performance: March 28 -29, 1998. The Bach Elgar Choir under the direction of Wayne Strongman; Rosedale United Church, Toronto.


...A lyrical work of overwhelming beauty. 

The Globe & Mail (Canada)

"A Kyrie for musicís new spiritual age... at the heart and soul of new classical music" 

The Toronto Star (Canada)

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