Chamber Requiem by the internationally celebrated composer Jeffrey Ching was appropriately lambent (the dictionary defines the word as “glowing with a soft radiance”) and lachrymose—although built around Mozart’s Requiem, which was left unfinished, when he died on December 5, 1791.
“New, harmonic, timbral and contrapuntal details”—to borrow from the composer’s own words—render Ching’s composition innovative, creative, imaginative. Distinctly original!
Chamber Requiem is not for the ordinary ear or for the typical music lover.
Take the “Graduale” for instance, I quote: “Mozart provided no setting for the movement and therefore the Gregorian equivalent is used. It is superimposed on the wholly alien scale and melody of the ritual hymns once exclusively chanted in the Temple of Heaven in Beijing,” Ching’s work thus inevitably returning to its Asian or Chinese roots.
Interpreters were the beautiful, eminent soprano Andion Fernandez (the composer’s wife), and German bass-baritone Lars Grünwoldt, accompanied by six virtuosi of the Modern Art Ensemble from Berlin, this consisting of violinist Theodore Flindell, Japanese pianist Yoriko Ikeya, cellist Matias De Oliveira Pinto, flutist Klaus Schopp, violist Jean-Claude Velin and clarinetist Unolf Wantig.
As they rendered Ching’s work, which I describe as “music of the future” or “futuristic music,” they were also giving a preview of the performers’ future comportment, often playing offstage, before the front rows, or promenading up and down the auditorium.
Again, I quote the composer on the Graduale, “The unequal intervals of 18th century Chinese court music are reproduced on extra string instruments re-strung and re-tuned in advance with the tune devices registering minute fractions of a semitone, intervals on which the wind players and singers alike must have a constantly shifting intonation.” Such a subtle, technical distinction could have been detected only by the most sensitive listeners.
As Fernandez performed, her voice powerful, sonorous, resonant and expressive, she occasionally beat the air with a whip. Grünwoldt manifested passionate intensity, his guiro with its seriated surface, at times giving a rasping sound as he struck it, as intended by the composer. The pianist sometimes beat the piano with a tam-tam, with sounds taking the place of the percussions (drums in particular).
Requiem Part II with its Sanctus-Osanna/Benedictus and Agnus Dei, non-lyrical as typical of Ching’s compositions, with its long, solemn passages, irregular rhythmic beats and arresting pauses, was deeply moving. Its predominantly grave ambiance was created by the violins wailing in lamentation, a long screeching sound from a wind instrument interspersing.
In the finale, the players slowly closed the piano to symbolize the end of the wake as grieving mourners put the lid over a coffin in dignified, somber farewell to the deceased.
A vastly deserved standing ovation ensued at the end of the concert which was in memory of Celia Fernandez, Andion’s late mother.
Patch Salarzon sends me an invitation to the launching by Instituto Cervantes and Vibal Foundation of Jaime Gil de Biedma’s book Prosa y Poesia as transalted by Alice Sun-Cua, Jose Ma. Fons Guardiola and Wynston de la Peña. The event will be on April 23, 6:30 p.m. at the 25th floor of Ayala Tower I and Philippine Stock Exchange Plaza, Makati City.