Bel Canto mounts the Midwest premiere of Carson Cooman’s ‘Revelations of Divine Love’

Kirstin Roble, contributing writer

Bel Canto Chorus has never strayed from taking on the challenge of a new work for performance. March’s concert will be no exception. On March 6, Bel Canto will present The Revelations of Divine Love (Metaphors from Sea and Sky) by Carson Cooman, a Midwest premiere.

Composed in 2009, this work has only been performed a handful of times. “Apart from the recording, the premiere performance at University of London, and an East coast performance, I am not familiar with any other performances,” said music director Richard Hynson in a recent phone interview. “We’re excited to be presenting one of the earlier performances of this work.”

The Chorus’s preparation for the work began in January after their Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. concert. The oratorio, which is roughly 65 minutes in length, focuses heavily on the writings of the female Christian mystic Julian of Norwich (c. 1342-1416.) “That length of time is pretty standard for the chorus. We have roughly fourteen rehearsals to get the work prepared for performance,” says Hynson. Soprano Alisa Jordheim and baritone Christopher Burchett will perform as the two soloists on the work.

This particular work is distinct as it has two dominant “settings.” The first is a sequence taken from Julian’s religious visions. Julian lived a life of recluse as an anchoress for the Church for St. Julian in Norwich, England. She is credited with being the first woman to write an English-language book. During her life, she was regarded as a spiritual authority, a distinction that continues to be contributed to her several hundred years after her death.

The second setting of this work is the “sonic geography” of Nantucket Island just off the coast of Massachusetts. The chamber orchestra provides the imagery of the landscape while the chorus and soloists present the words, intermingling the two and creating a landscape for the listeners. Cooman planned much of the music at the actual locations in Nantucket, drawing from the inspiration in the sights around him.

Eighteen movements comprise the work in total. The first movement, a simphonia, is set at Brant Point, one of Nantucket’s three lighthouses, that appears while entering into the harbor.

Each movement intermingles with two goals. The first is to convey the fundamentals of Julian’s visions and the second is to present a “visual” representation of Nantucket through the orchestration. Texts from three additional sources (an excerpt from Book of Margery Kempe translated by Christopher M. Brunelle, two poems by 17th-century writer Robert Herrick and a poem by 20th-century American writer Elizabeth Kirschner) supplement the texts by Julian.

This concert will feature another piece that takes the listener on a “sonic geographic journey.” Prairie Spring, by Christian Ellenwood, will take the audience to the rolling Nebraska landscape. “It’s a really excellent contrast to the Cooman piece,” says Hynson. “It’s gentle and will resonate with listeners, taking them far away from the city to someplace simpler.”

 Like The Revelations of Divine Love, Prairie Spring was composed recently. It received its premiere in 2015 with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Hynson says audience members will have the opportunity to meet with and speak to both composers, who will address patrons briefly before their individual pieces. “It’s exciting to have them both at the concert,” says Hynson. “It will enhance the experience, having the two tell a little bit more about the pieces in their own words.”

Bel Canto Chorus will perform its Revelations of Divine Love concert at 3 p.m. March 6, at St. Dominic Catholic Parish, Brookfield. Tickets are $37 or $32, with a $3 senior/student discount. Visit belcanto.org to order.