Delighted with its collaborations with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street (New York) in 2014 and with The Elora Singers in 2016, the SMAM joined forces with Toronto’s excellent Elmer Iseler Singers this year to once again present a choral concert for 40 voices. The repertoire covered five centuries of choral music, from the work of great 15th century master Johannes Ockeghem to present day compositions, including certain monumental works by Guerrero, Marenzio, Lassus, Tomkins, and Gibbons, and Canadian masterpieces by Hussein Janmohamed, Peter Togni, Eleanor Daley, and Healey Willan.
Lydia Adams and her singers will be welcome again as soon as possible in the city and we thank the SMAM for hosting them. They gave us some heart-rending moments at the heart of their part of the program, thanks to two Canadian compositions: an Ave verum corpuscomposed in 1994 by Peter Anthony Togni and Nur: Reflection on Light(2014) by Hussein Janmohamed, composer born in 1969. For the work of Janmohamed, the singers are distributed in a circle and Lydia Adams circulates the sound at different intensities. This could be random, but everything is calibrated, millimeter, and, therefore, magical and haunting.
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Concert took place Saturday, April 27, 2019 at Gesù Church, Montreal.
More about Hussein Janmohamed’s original composition:
Nur: Reflections on Light (2014) is a collection of miniatures and choral soundscapes exploring the ineffable nature of light. The collection includes site-specific compositions commissioned by the Aga Khan Museum for the opening of the Ismaili Centre Toronto and premiered by the Elmer Iseler Singers. The music interweaves melodies from Ismaili Muslim devotional literature, Quran recitation, classical Indian ragas and North American folk music into textures inspired by early and contemporary choral music.
The piece draws inspiration from Ayat an-Nur (24:35) – Verse of Light from the Quran and the play of light and shadow on the walls of the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre Toronto. I wondered about the sound of light. I reflected on how light could be a wave or a particle, or both. Light could be diffused or concentrated. Light, no matter how you slice it, is still light. White light through a prism becomes many, but still all one light. Nur is one, its manifestations many. In the music, like light, voices resonate in unison, splinter into multiplicity, interact and come back to one like the one soul from which the diversity of all humankind comes and returns.
The heart of inspiration for this composition is the Ismaili Centre Toronto prayer hall (designed by the Late Charles Correa) housed under a great crystalline multi-dimensional glass canopy. When I visited the space for the first time silence overcame me. I felt a sense of suspended breath that became a point of departure for the composition. I wondered whether through sound we could reach into the silence beyond what we know and perhaps, there, in a liminal space experience humanity mingling peacefully in light.
Light: Unveiled traces a melodic contour based on Quran recitation. Grounding drone vocal tones sung on the word ‘nur’ create an additional sense of harmony, breath, tension and resolution, symbolizing the separation from and quest to return to the Divine heart from which we have come. Wave-like, the melody emerges into light with the statement of Nurun ‘ala Nur (Light upon Light.) Light: Suspended is the heart of the composition inspired by the Ismaili Centre Toronto prayer hall. Melodic fragments from two Ismaili devotional melodies and a North American folk song resonate a longing heart for the vision of the beloved. The slow, contrapuntal and lingering sounds create a sense of suspension, and through the structured improvisation singers invoke a pluralist sonic landscape, in unity yet shifting over time.