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"Modern Masterworks" concert sheds light on living composers

Bach Festival Society performs six new choral works sharing the theme of light.



Looking at the list of composers whose works will be performed at this concert, I find myself wondering whether the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park is competing for the ever-elusive attention of that unicorn of the arts world, the Younger Audience. True, the Bach Festival is best-known for presenting sacred Baroque choral music, and at one of their performances you're more likely to be shushed than offered craft-beer recommendations; still, I can't help but wonder if they are targeting a greener, perhaps longer-haired demographic with their Modern Masterworks concert this weekend in the Knowles Memorial Chapel at Rollins College. The underlying theme of the program is light­ – tell me that's not the type of programming decision that would be made in a dorm room.

Structural conceits aside, this is one of the most appealing classical programs Central Florida has seen in the last decade. In an off-the-cuff video on the Bach Festival's website, artistic director John Sinclair admits that the program is daring for a group that "specializes in dead Western European men."

Sinclair has chosen VW-bus-owning, remote-island-inhabiting ur-hipster Morten Lauridsen and his sprawling, emotionally rich Lux Aeterna as the centerpiece of a program of six works by six different composers, all of whom are alive and three of whom – Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Moravec, Guggenheim fellow Stephen Paulus and clean-cut rising star Chris Rogerson – will be in attendance at Rollins to give a pre-concert chat before each performance.

Sinclair says that one of his guiding principles in selecting music for this program was "to pick what I would consider the best of the living composers, and the best music that's going to transcend time." While I would agree that Arvo Pärt (the beloved-by-Björk Estonian composer whose hyper-emotional Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten is featured) deserves that distinction, I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that the rest of these composers – mostly the descendants of those aforementioned dead Western European men – are better than, say, Sofia Gubaidulina, whose The Light of the End would make quite a contrast with Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna. She's also a living composer, and might have even further stretched the appeal of this concert to a new generation of listeners.

But don't let my armchair feminism dissuade you from going to this concert. Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque is a short but skillfully written choral piece built on beautifully nuanced harmonies and vocal orchestration; Pärt's cathartic Cantus for string orchestra and bell is one of the pieces that solidified his international reputation; and Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna is truly a work worth repeated listening, maybe for generations to come.

Bach Festival Society Presents: Modern Masterworks

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28
Knowles Memorial Chapel
Pre-Concert Talks:
6:15 p.m. Saturday; 1:45 p.m. Sunday
Room 119, Music Building

Rollins College
1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park

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