The Spire Chamber Ensemble, led by its founder, Ben Spalding, is known for performing baroque masterpieces for choir and orchestra, like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor and George Frideric Handel’s “Israel in Egypt.” Next weekend, however, the group will perform without orchestra, which will allow the 20 voices of this excellent choir to shine. The concert will feature works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
The longest work on the program is the Mass for Double Choir by Frank Martin. A native of Switzerland, Martin had an unusual voice among 20th-century composers, and his Mass for Double Choir is considered one of his most important works.
“It’s one of the greatest and most sublime choral masterpieces of the 20th century,” Spalding said. “After World War I, people were not writing large works for a cappella choirs, but this is a really stunningly beautiful piece. Martin was very influenced by (Johann Sebastian) Bach and (Claude) Debussy. “Spalding wrote very tonal music with a large palette of colors. He also has chant-based tunes. Some people listening to it might even say there are medieval themes in it. There’s a mystic, haunting quality in this music. And it’s very difficult, too.”
The second half of the program is comprised of music by contemporary composer Jake Runestad, interwoven with works by the 19th-century composers Anton Bruckner and Felix Mendelssohn. Born in 1986, Runestad is a Minneapolis-based composer whose music, according to Spalding, has an unusual sound.
“It has a quality that is unlike that of other composers of the day like Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre or Ola Gjello. We commissioned him to write a piece called ‘Spirited Light,’ which is based on texts by St. Hildegard von Bingen, who was a 12th-century German philosopher and mystic and one of the first female composers. The text is really fascinating. It’s about spiritual beings, angels, and their connection and interaction with the human world. “Jake’s created lots of effects that represent heaven and effects that represent Earth. ‘Spirited Light’ also has a mystic and medieval quality to it. It’s a very vivid, flashy and energetic piece.”
The choir also will perform Runestad’s psalm setting, “I Will Lift Mine Eyes.” To heighten the 21st-century sound of Runestad’s music, Spalding is alternating his two pieces with classics of 19th-century German romanticism.
“ ‘I Will Lift Mine Eyes’ will transition without pause into Bruckner’s ‘Ave Maria,’ so that we’re lifting our eyes, lifting our hope to the Virgin Mary,” Spalding said. “Then we’ll go into ‘Spirited Light,’ and then into the Mendelssohn piece ‘Richte Mit Gott’ or ‘Judge Me, O Lord.’ We chose that because it’s another psalm setting. We wanted to stay with what the psalms have to say about humanity’s relationship to the divine.” After a program of deeply spiritual, ethereal music, the Spire Chamber Ensemble will conclude the concert with a rockin’ work by Runestad.
“ ‘Nyon, Nyon’ is a fun vocal effects piece,” Spalding said. “You have the singers making sounds with their voices that are very uncommon, like a guitar amp or a wah-wah pedal or sirens. It’s meant to be a collage of sounds and a flourish of energy. It’s what one might hear in a garage band, only all done by voices.”
7:30 p.m. Saturday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 5601 W. 62nd St., Mission; 3 p.m. May 18 at Visitation Church, $15-$20.
5 Browns concert
The ridiculously talented 5 Browns will fill Helzberg Hall on Friday with the glorious sound of five Steinway pianos. All five Brown siblings — three sisters and two brothers — attended the Juilliard School, so they not only know how to put on a show, they are serious musicians as well. This should be a concert with appeal for connoisseurs of rarified pianism and those looking for spectacular musical entertainment.
8 p.m. Friday. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $29-$49. Go to KauffmanCenter.org or call 816-994-7222.