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For Saint Louis Chamber Chorus, Valentine’s Day concert explores languishing at love’s hand

Composer Francis Pott and Phillip Barnes, aristic director, Saint Louis Chamber Chorus.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Composer Francis Pott and Phillip Barnes, aristic director, Saint Louis Chamber Chorus.

Love is not all sunshine and roses, especially when it comes to Valentine’s Day. That is something Saint Louis Chamber Chorus artistic director Phillip Barnes was very aware of when booking this year’s concert to be held on Feb. 14 at Second Presbyterian Church.

“I wanted a concert that could range from pieces of love and romance, which is certainly the case with Robert Schumann and beautiful romances from the north of England and ‘The Lover’ by Sibelius,” Barnes said. “We have all the pieces you might expect for Valentine’s Day, but I wanted to explore different meanings of the word love. I thought immediately of sometimes we talk about being in pain with love as well as the pleasure.”

That’s where longtime collaborator and internationally-acclaimed composer Francis Pottcomes in. He had written a choral piece in 1989 entitled “Amore langueo,” which fits both themes of love and anguish. The piece features a Latin refrain set with a medieval English text about an encounter with a Christ-like figure on a hilltop.

“It tries to express religious ecstasy in the form of Christ’s relationship with his church and church is described as the bride,” Pott said. “It is a compound of religious ecstasy but also anguish. It is a very passionate poem. What I’ve used is a conflation of two versions of a medieval, anonymous poem and put those things together and the work took shape from that.”

Barnes called the piece the “gold standard” for the idea of love-as-anguish and that Pott is able to write for the chorus as an instrument, utilizing each voice and strain.

“It is 16 minutes of uninterrupted polyphony,” Barnes said.  “It is a magnificent work, a work that even though it describes the languish, it is not a difficult piece for the audience to enjoy and appreciate.”

Pott said that love is at the center of much sacred music.

“In a sense, it must be a subtext to all Christian and sacred music but no, not in the sense of being in the forefront of one’s thoughts. As a composer of a lot of choral music, I’ve moved from a position of writing overtly Christian music to music which is interested in the state of the world we’re in instead of whether there is a world beyond.”

Related Event

What: Saint Louis Chamber Chorus Presents "Languish with Love"
When: Sunday, Feb. 14 at 3:00 p.m.
Where: Second Presbyterian Church, 4501 Westminster Place, St. Louis, MO 63108
More information.  

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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