Assumption’s ‘Missa Gaia’ energetic

Assumption’s ‘Missa Gaia’ energetic

Article published November 15, 2004 | Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.

By John Zeugner

WORCESTER – Saturday night you could have driven west through the idyllic grounds of Assumption College’s campus to find the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, a dazzling, sprayed concrete hymn to the soaring vaults of traditional Gothic churches, but whose interior is nothing but gorgeous wood strips in myriad pointed arches. The chapel is laid out in standard nave/transept cross pattern and, given that bevy of arches, it might seem musical sound would have to ascend and get squirrelly, but not at all. The chapel was the perfect setting for Paul Winter’s celebrated “Missa Gaia,” adroitly performed with energy and edge by the Salisbury Singers, the Assumption College Chorale, Worcester Children’s Choir, and a nifty jazz ensemble featuring Michael Moss on soprano saxophone, all under the precise direction of conductor Michelle Graveline

The audience, too, was variegated – a far cry from the venerable set that eases into the standard classical offerings in town.

It was a crowd very open and receptive to rearranging musical assumptions at Assumption. It was not disappointed.

The concert began with Rene Clausen’s “Crying for a Dream,” a melange of choral voices and occasional American Indian narration by, in this performance, Charlene “Butterfly Woman,” Joubert and John “Gentle Hawk” Joubert – a dizzying mix of American Indian cadences delivered in familiar Central Massachusetts accents.

Clausen, the choral director at Concordia College in Minnesota, has split his composition into three parts celebrating the American Indian embrace of nature and rejection of the rampant consumerism underpinning contemporary American life. Part III opens with the lines “How can you buy the sky? How can you own the wind and rain?” Weaving through the lush choral movements was some splendid dialogue between flutist Elizabeth Metcalf and pianists Lyne Lacomfora and Ian Watson. The piece ends calling for the spirits “Brother Eagle, Sister Sky” to “Move our hearts to dwell in love.” There followed a slightly extended intermission since, as Graveline noted, there are no restrooms in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

The “Missa Gaia” was the entire second half of the concert. Paul Winter is a legendary saxophone player whose jazz consort has been resident at the huge Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, and each October since 1981 Winter’s group has led a performance of his “Missa Gaia,” a 13-movement composition uniting jazz, traditional choral Mass elements, and blends of animal sounds.

In movements III, IV and VI, the student soloists, Michael McDuffee, Colleen Walls and Lindsey Haxton, edged their classical training with elements of gospel and jazz-singing to bring a constant surprise and delight to their work. And in the opening and closing “Canticle of Brother Sun,” Michael Moss demonstrated he can stunningly thread his sax sound above, beyond, through and around the calls of loons, seals, whales and wolves.

The audience reaction was a resonant standing ovation.

Copyright 2004 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.

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