I recently overheard someone was looking forward to hearing the upcoming Duruflé Requiem but wasn’t so excited about hearing a new work by American composer Frank Ferko (born 1950) which is on the first half of the program. This person was perhaps thinking of the stereotype of “modern music” which is highly dissonant, with no coherent melody, perhaps even twelve-tone in nature. This type of contemporary music is what my husband Carl and I used to call “bug music,” music which could have been notated by a cockroach who had ink on its legs and walked all over the page, with no rhyme or reason!
Let me allay your fears about Ferko’s Missa O Magne Pater, which will have its world premiere at Carl Crosier’s memorial concert, November 1st at 7:00 pm at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. From the composer’s notes, he writes that it is based on the chant “O Magne Pater,” composed in the 12th century by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179). Ferko writes that excerpts from the chant were used to provide thematic material for the Mass with different chant fragments used in each of the five sections of the Mass. The resulting sound is rooted in mysticism, which is defined as “Of or having a spiritual reality or import not apparent to the intelligence or senses” (Dictionary.com) — in other words, ethereal and mysterious.
The Missa O Magne Pater was inspired by the Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor for unaccompanied double choir. What this means is that two full SATB (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) choirs will be physically separated so listeners will be able to hear the spatial effects which are characteristic of the double choir sound. At times the two choirs alternate with each other; other times they sing together.
The most exciting news is that Frank Ferko will be present at our performance! So I found the following information about him on Wikipedia: Born in Barberton, Ohio, Ferko played piano from childhood, and worked as an organist and conductor in his teens. His first compositions were primarily liturgical in nature, with Lutheran composer Richard Wienhorst being an early influence. He attended Valparaiso University as an undergraduate, where he studied composition and counterpoint under Wienhorst and organ under Philip Gehring. Ferko took particular interest in early music and the compositional and theoretical output of Olivier Messiaen. He received a bachelor’s from Valparaiso in 1972 in piano and organ performance, and then took his master’s at Syracuse University in music theory. There he studied theory under Howard Boatright and organ under Will Headlee, and wrote his thesis on one of the extended piano works of Messiaen. Following this, Ferko served as Director of Music at various midwestern churches before entering Northwestern University. At Northwestern he first pursued a Ph.D. in music theory but shifted his attention to music composition which he studied under Alan Stout. During his time at Northwestern he worked as a teaching assistant in the School of Music and also continued his work as a church musician. In 1982 he began working as a music librarian and continues to work as both a librarian and an archivist. He is currently on the staff of the Archive of Recorded Sound at Stanford University. . . The music of Frank Ferko has been heard through public performance or radio broadcast in 30 countries on six continents.
Of course, what jumped out at me was that Ferko is an organist and graduated from Valparaiso University, what I call “Mecca” for Lutherans. That’s the same college where our former assistant, Allen Bauchle, graduated! I also was fascinated that he took an compositional interest in the music of Olivier Messiaen, one of my favorite composers!
And guess what! Ferko embedded a copy of the Duruflé Requiem postcard on his website. You can see it here where he writes: What an honor for me that the Missa O Magne Pater will receive its world premiere at a concert commemorating the life of Carl Crosier. The work, for unaccompanied double choir, will be performed by the Hawai’i Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Choir of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. The concert will be conducted by Timothy Carney and Scott Fikse.
I have to admit that many “world premieres” turn out to be the only performances of the works in question. However, I am confident that the Missa O Magne Pater will join the standard repertoire of college and professional choirs. I’m terribly proud that part of the dedication of the work is to the memory of Carl Crosier.