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Music Of The Spheres: LancasterChorale Performs Works Inspired By Stars And Nature

color photo of LancasterChorale singing in a concert in a church
LancasterChorale and Artistic Director Stephen Caracciolo

It happens early on in almost every creation story — the stars and the planets are made and set in motion, leaving us, throughout the eons, to look up at the sky and wonder how it all works.

It is the stuff of poetry and music. And this weekend, LancasterChorale will perform a program of works inspired by celestial bodies and other natural wonders.

The Seven Stars: Music of Jonathan Dove will showcase works by Dove and other composers, including Howard Hanson, Robert Schumann, Ēriks Ešenvalds and LancasterChorale Artistic Director Stephen Caracciolo.

LancasterChorale performs the concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 21 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Columbus, and 4 p.m. Sunday, April 22 at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Lancaster.

Caracciolo first performed Dove’s music with LancasterChorale in 2015, at the beginning of his tenure with the chorale. He led the group in a performance of Dove’s Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars.

"It was a piece that had not been heard in Lancaster and maybe very little in all of Central Ohio," Caracciolo said. "The performance was electric, and everybody loved this piece. And we thought, 'Well, with the success of that motet, why don’t we bring that back in a couple years? We’ll add more Dove things to it,' and that's what we have done."

The second half of the concert is devoted to Dove’s music, including the chorale's repeat performance of Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars. Taking a cue from Dove's work, the first half features music inspired by stars and other wonders of the natural world that, in the haste and busyness of life, we so often fail to observe.

"As humanity advances, as it were, in technology, we seem to be getting further and further away from nature," Caracciolo said. "And so part of this program, too, is to kind of bring us back to that. So many of us grew up in the suburbs and the cities, and nowadays people are even retreating into virtual reality. And for us to get back to the natural world and to look up for a change is refreshing. This music kind of brings us to that."

All of the composers on the program evoke in music some of the effects of the stars, or give voice to our human longing to grasp the expansiveness of the celestial realm.

"(Dove’s Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars) starts with almost, like, a twinkling in the right hand," Caracciolo said.

Dove’s Missa Brevis sparkles with surprising rhythms and bell-like effects in the organ, and his Bless the Lord, O My Soul evokes expansive swirls of joy.

"It's a very playful piece," Caracciolo said. "This one's the big splash."

As much as the music on the program sparkles and shines, the poetry it sets also resounds with the awe of the cosmos. Robert Schumann’s An die Sterne (To the Stars) sets a poem by German poet Friedrich Rückert in which the speaker has a conversation with the stars.

Then there's Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds' Stars, which uses evocative harmonies and the otherworldly sound of ringing crystal glasses to give voice to a work by American poet Sara Teasdale about the awe of simply watching the stars in the sky.

John Cameron’s Lux Aeterna, his choral transcription of the "Nimrod" variation from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, offers a luminous setting of the radiance of the "light perpetual."

And Caracciolo calls his own A Song of Creation an "exuberant" setting of the litany of praises three young men offer upon their rescue from an all-consuming fire:

"I've tried to set that ecstaticness in the way that I've used melody and harmony to make that come alive for everybody."

LancasterChorale performs The Seven Stars: Music of Jonathan Dove at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 21 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Columbus, and 4 p.m. Sunday, April 22 at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Lancaster.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.