Program Notes for "A Concert for the Presentation of the Lord"


The Notre Dame Conductors’ Project


A Concert for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

James Joseph Wright, conductor



Adam's Lament (2009)                                                         Arvo Pärt(b. 1935)


Adorna thalamum                                                               Processional Chant


Ich habe genug, BWV 82                                                J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Stephen Lancaster, Baritone

Katelyn Simon, Oboe

Lobet den Herrn, BWV 230                                                                J.S. Bach


Program Notes

In programming the repertoire for this concert, my aim was to develop a narrative that could enable listeners to contemplate and experience the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, both in a uniquely personal and subjective way and through the lens of biblical history.

The concert begins with Adam's Lament by Arvo Pärt, wherein we reflect on the fall of Adam and all humankind. St. Silouan's poem, upon which the work is based, introduces the listener to a uniquely subjective and personal narrative: Adam's experience from his own point of view. The poet examines both the experience of having known God in pure grace and in contrast, and the contrasting experience of having fallen away from God, one that is most familiar to us. Adam's Lament sets the backdrop for the story of the Feast of the Presentation to be understood in an historical- and theological context.

The chant Adorna thalamum introduces the listener for the first time to Christ and his birth, with an emphasis on his mother Mary's fiat, creating a bridge to the subject matter of the feast. Here, we turn to J.S. Bach's Ich habe genug, during which we hear the story of the Presentation of the Lord from Simeon's perspective, and the confirmation from Luke's Gospel that the prophecy revealed to Simeon was fulfilled. Again we are presented with the personal experience of an encounter with God, but in Simeon's case the encounter prefigures the undoing of Adam's sin. The somber tone of this music paired with Simeon's words presentsevokes the pain of approaching bodily death, existing concurrently with the great joy experienced in meeting Christ. Theis conflicting mixture of joy and affliction in this mood helps us to personally encounter and embrace the triumphs and hardships associated with task of following after Christ.

Through the experience of listening to the final piece, Lobet den Herrn, we are not only given hope of the heavenly life to come, but also a paradigm for living joyfully amid the ups and downs of life. Bach offers the listener a method of practicing the true joy present in the eternal wedding feast, where all creation rejoices in the salvation of humankind through Jesus Christ.


Adam's Lament

To mark Arvo Pärt’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Istanbul Music Festival, a new work was premiered at a concert featuring highlights from the composer’s career: Adam’s Lament for choir and orchestra. The piece was co-commissioned by the European Capitals of Culture for 2010 and 2011, Istanbul and Tallinn respectively. The premiere recording of this work from conductor Tonu Kaljuste recently won the award for Best Choral Performance at the 56th Grammy Awards.

Arvo Pärt has been fascinated by the life and work of St Silouan of Athos (1866–1938) for many years. As early as 1991, the writings of Silouan inspired Pärt to compose Silouan’s Song, “My soul yearns after the Lord…” for string orchestra. Pärt’s new work Adam’s Lament is once again based on a text by Silouan, in which the monk laments Adam’s pain over the loss of paradise. Silouan’s sketches and writings are of great poetic power, and represent some of the most significant works in Russian poetry. The content and structure of the texts, which are sung in Russian, dictate the course of the music down to the smallest detail. Punctuation, syllable counts and word emphases all play decisive roles in the composition.

“For me, the name Adam is a collective term, not merely for the whole of humanity, but for each individual, regardless of time, era, social class or religious affiliation. And this collective Adam has suffered and lamented on this earth for millennia. Our ancestor Adam foresaw the human tragedy that was to come and experienced it as his own guilty responsibility, the result of his sinful act. He suffered all the cataclysms of humanity into the depths of desperation, inconsolable in his agony.” (Arvo Pärt)

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Ich habe genug, BWV 82

This cantata was written and performed during Bach's tenure as Kantor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. Sources say that Bach had a great affinity for this cantata since he performed it often throughout his life, and even revised it in a different key for soprano soloist. The first performance took place on the Feast of the Purification of Mary, February 2nd, 1727, exactly 286 years ago today. The text is associated with the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, from the second chapter of Luke's Gospel, but focuses exclusively on Simeon and his poignant realization that histhe long-awaited promisephecy has been fulfilled—and so, too, his life on this earth. Although the text is an ideal proclamation of faith, it can be said that the musical affect represents bodily death, therefore allowing both the uncertainty and discomfort of  death, and the joy of faith in the life to come, to lie side by side, comfortably in tension with one another.

Lobet den Herrn, BWV 230

Lobet den Herrn is a motet setting of Psalm 117 for chorus and basso continuo, written in stile antico (old style), which pays tribute to the great motets of the Renaissance. Just as in a Renaissance motet, the formal musical structure is shaped by the form of the text, with very clear markers for each new line of text and musical section. Very little is known about the time or place in which it was composed.  Bach uses the rhetorical device of repetition through a technique called fugue to emphasize and create excitement in the music. Listen especially for the way Bach uses word-painting in the middle section to bring out the character of the German word "Ewigkeit". This word is translated into English as “forever[JC4] ,” and Bach beautifully exemplifies this by having each vocal section (beginning with the altos) sing it on one pitch [JC5] for a seemingly perpetualendless period of time.

J.J. Wright is a student of Professor Carmen-Helena Téllez