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May Magnificat

Worshipping communities throughout the world have long been drawn to the Magnificat – the poignant words spoken by Mary when she was told she would give birth to the Christ-child. 


Peter de Blois, Nota Bene’s guest conductor, says it is particularly appropriate for the chamber choir to present this programme in May – Mary’s month.


“This selection of settings of the Magnificat show some of the many interpretations of this moving text, ranging from complex, double choir, a capella settings to a simple, modern setting in plainsong style.”


Charles Villiers Stanford’s Magnificat in B-flat, Op. 164 for double choir was written in 1918 and is generally regarded as Stanford’s finest a cappella choral work. The opening of the Magnificat is reminiscent of Bach’s famous Magnificat.


Gerald Finzi’s Magnificat was intended for a Christmas Vespers service, rather than for standard liturgical use, and concludes with an Amen not a Gloria.


“It’s a stunning piece of choral writing with organ accompaniment and is an expansive piece with a bright, festive character – mainly in eight parts,” says de Blois.


Arvo Pärt wrote his Magnificat for the Berlin State and Cathedral Choirs in 1989. It employs the tintinnabuli style, which he invented in the 1970s. Pärt’s friend and biographer Paul Hillier says "many pieces [by Pärt] tend through length and repetition to establish a sense of timelessness or a continual present; the use of drones reinforces this effect”.


John Tavener’s Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis were commissioned by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and first performed there in 1987. The Magnificat incorporates an additional refrain, which appears in the Greek Orthodox service of Matins and employs microtones characteristic of Byzantine chant.


Canadian organist, conductor and composer Sarah MacDonald composed her simple yet atmospheric setting for the Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir. It uses the Tonus Peregrinus chant tone with a fauxbourdon setting and organ drone.


New Zealander Janet Jennings lives in Hamilton where she devotes her time to composition. Her Magnificat is an exuberant setting for women’s voices and organ and has many alternating time signatures.


“The title for this concert is taken from Douglas Mews’ The May Magnificat scored for choir and soprano solo, and written for the Auckland Dorian Choir in 1977,” says de Blois. “Moving away from the traditional liturgy, Mews uses as his text a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, which uses Hopkins’ famously lush imagery to link Mary with the vitality of May, the season of growth and spring in the Northern Hemisphere.”


May Magnificat

Sunday 6 May, 2.30pm

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hill Street, Wellington

Tickets $25, concession $20, schoolchildren free

Door sales, or pre-book at Eventfinder

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