Today’s Oregonian posted an excellent review of Cappella Romana’s program, A Time for Life. A PDF of that review can be viewed here:

Review of A Time for Life, The Oregonian, November 5, 2007

Full text also here:

‘Time’ cries out for planet’s salvation

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Oregonian Staff

A tenor walked slowly down the aisle of the church, between pews crammed with listeners. He sang softly to God, as if he were praying alone and we were invisible.

As he sang, something in his voice, a quality located somewhere between speculation and belief, said: We are all dying. Look at our brokenness.

Robert Kyr’s new environmental oratorio — I can’t think of another way to describe it — shimmered through St. Mary’s Cathedral on Friday, a twig trembling on the lip of the falls. Kyr’s music wept for the Earth. It shuddered and then grew stronger, blooming into beauty before evaporating in silence.

In our vast and seemingly hopeless effort to save the planet, “A Time for Life” is a tiny note in a bottle, reminding us that we are here but momentarily — “trembling with joy,” as soprano LeaAnne DenBeste sang on a brief, stabbing, ecstatic G. Or, as Robert Bly put it, “Like a note of music, you are about to become nothing.”

And yet, “A Time for Life” also suggests that we, the living, are survivors. We have crawled out of a sea of amino acids and although we have stained our altar stone of land, we can fix it. Kyr, as we’ve heard in his anti-war symphonies, is an optimist, a gentle witness of conscience, and this chanting piece is as much about spiritual recovery as it is about loss. “A Time for Life” begs us to remember and restore the Earth’s grandeur.

How Portland. How Northwest. That’s not a putdown, but an acknowledgement that, faced with our “paper or plastic” ethics, our choked roads and a Superfund, polluted Willamette River, in our hearts we believe that our air will one day be fresh again, our fields green, our rivers clean, our streets filled with bicycles, and Mount Hood will forever watch over our idealic valley.

We hear from politicians about global warming all the time. We read about going “green” until we’re blue in the face. Now, composers such as Kyr are putting the message into music.

“A Time for Life” contains no roaring river of sound in the style of Philip Glass or John Adams. With his Quaker background, Kyr combines tender, sometimes rapturous, lyricism with a whiff of Byzantine incense. Sophisticated canons and double choruses synthesize both modern and ancient modes, and Western and Asian musical traditions. And yet, his best music sounds artless.

During an hour of music, the eight excellent voices of Cappella Romana (sopranos DenBeste and Stephanie Kramer, altos Jo Routh and Tuesday Rupp, tenors John Michael Boyer and Leslie W. Green, baritone Mark Powell and bass David Stutz) lapped the walls with words from Sioux and Eskimo prayers, biblical psalms and Greek Orthodox texts. Three Renaissance stringed instruments (played by the superb Margriet Tindemans, Shira Kammen and David Morris) summoned the ancients while grounding the singers’ voices in rolling chords. A useful musical reference here may be the mystical music of Arvo Part and Henryk Gorecki.

Slants of melody set the mind adrift. If a million solar systems are born every hour, how many may have burst into being during the five-lined Navajo chant “Restore my feet for me?” as voices overlapped in canon?

A moment of beauty arrived with an Ojibwa prayer: “In all creation, only the human family has strayed from the Sacred Way.” We had just heard Green and Powell howl at the shepherds who neglected their flocks — a rousing duet, expertly sung — when the mood shifted to supplication, as all eight voices pleaded for compassion “so we may heal the Earth.” The music broadened like a river delta with DenBeste’s bell-like voice again soaring on high.

By the end of the piece, with an inventory of crimes stacked against us, Kyr let us off gently. Flooding the church in a confluence of voices and instruments, the music swelled in homophonic splendor as the singers turned to the audience, singing, “Beauty before me, beauty behind me.”

It’s not a mystery, Kyr was saying as the singers walked slowly back up the aisles. The music tells us how to behave.

David Stabler: 503-221-8217; [email protected];

  • What a beautiful and poetic review of this music for our dark and troubled time. We missed the performance…maybe they’ll do an encore or make a recording?

  • There is a plan to record the work in due course, as well as some additional performances in the Northwest. Stay tuned!

    Mark Powell
    Executive Director
    Cappella Romana