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St. Louis Chamber Chorus premieres Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds’ work based on friendship theme

Conductor Philip Barnes (left) and composer Ēriks Ešenvalds talked about their musical collaboration for the St. Louis Chamber Chorus' "States of Being" season.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Conductor Philip Barnes (left) and composer Ēriks Ešenvalds talked about their musical collaboration for the St. Louis Chamber Chorus' "States of Being" season. ";

The St. Louis Chamber Chorus (SLCC) opens its 2018-2019 season, “States of Being,” with the world premiere of “On Friendship” by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds. It was commissioned by the St. Louis Chamber Chorus with a gift from Nancy Kranzberg and Alison Ferring in honor of former SLCC member Alice Sherwood.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Ešenvalds joined host Don Marsh, alongside SLCC’s artistic director Philip Barnes, to talk about his work set to words from “The Prophet” by poet Khalil Gibran.

“We wanted to find the composer who really was superior at setting words for unaccompanied voices and you don’t need to look any further than Ēriks Ešenvalds,” Barnes said. “I‘m delighted and thrilled that he accepted the commission.”

The Latvian composer approaches working on commissioned pieces by first getting familiar with the chorus’ repertoires and who commissioned the piece to know what kind of musical style he should generate.

Ešenvalds recalled a moment when a musicologist referred to him as “a [musical] chameleon.”

“And I like that,” Ešenvalds said. “That’s what I teach my students … I [tell them], ‘Please study all the [musical] techniques, all the styles; so when you are ready to commission a piece, you see the empty canvas and on your palette, you’ll have all the colors.’”

Barnes detailed the process of working with Ešenvalds – explaining how the musical organization in St. Louis managed to get across what kind of sound they were interested in while the composer was still in his home country. In the end, the chapter on friendship in Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet” was chosen because of its spiritual, and not religious, nature.

“We’ve got people of all, and no, faiths in this choir and in our audience, so we wanted something that would speak to everybody, [so] nobody would feel alienated,” Barnes said. “I hope that everybody hearing this has friends and is a friend to somebody else, so they can all identify with the sentiments that Khalil Gibran identifies very eloquently.”

The high-profile composer's work will premiere on Sunday afternoon at Christ Church Cathedral. The remaining concerts in the SLCC’s season will explore states of cheer, fulfillment, love, grief and hope.

What: Philip Barnes conducts the SLCC in Friendship
When: 3:00 p.m. Sunday, September 30, 2018
Where: Christ Church Cathedral, 1210 Locust Street, Saint Louis, Missouri 63103

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara HamdanCaitlin Lally and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.