REVIEWS & ARTICLES
January 25, 2019
Conspirare’s Hope of Loving
This concert of works by Jake Runestad conveyed a sense of love as a force that soothes, enlightens, and heals
In devoting this program to music by contemporary composer Jake Runestad, Artistic Director Craig Hella Johnson had his Grammy-winning choral ensemble gift us with love that was wild, blazing, healing. Runestad takes his musical inspiration from philosophers and poets who link love to nature and light and the eternal. Its celestial avatars are not chubby cherubs but angels who soar “up to God’s own light,” as Alfred Noyes puts it, on wings that beat like eagles’. Its light burns away darkness and transcends grief. Love gives us purpose.
The world in which Runestad places us is a hard one, one fully acknowledging the loss and sorrow and hopelessness that afflicts us. In Todd Boss’ text for “Waves,” the narrator confesses, “My sadness is as enormous as the sea.” In “And So I Go On,” the same poet has a figure who’s grieving a lost love say, “There is no sea/ that can drown my pain.” This mourner is no more free than the caged bird of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s famed poem, also set to music by Runestad. Then there are the opening lines to Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” which seem to capture precisely the despondency of the days we live in: “When despair for the world grows in me/ and I wake in the night at the least sound/ in fear of what my life and my children’s lives will be ….”
But more remarkable was how Runestad infused these expressions of heartache with empathy, a secondary voice or underscoring that conveyed a sense of understanding and compassion. In “Why the Caged Bird Sings,” the hushed repetition of the words “I know, I know” seemed a response to the description of the trapped animal, an affirmation that its torment was recognized by another. No hurt here went unheard or unshared…
Jake Runestad: Sing, Wearing the Sky
That composer Jake Runestad (b. 1986) has achieved so much success before the age of thirty-five makes his accomplishments all the more impressive. Versatile and prolific, he’s written for orchestra, wind band, chorus, chamber groups, and opera, and received numerous awards, including the 2017 McKnight Fellowship. His choral compositions are particularly well-regarded for their expert craft and emotionally potency, which makes Sing, Wearing the Sky , only the second album of his music to be issued, an especially appealing proposition.
The ten pieces (half of them world premiere recordings) show the Denver-based choral ensemble Kantorei to be a superb interpreter of his material…
October 11, 2015
…there is clearly a progression in text and music from extreme violence to a kind of peaceful and well-earned acceptance that is not at all sentimental. Light seems to enter the music in Runestad’s beautifully written — and imaginatively orchestrated — final pages and, for the first time, we hear solo voices singing a gentle upward-climbing melody, suggesting that humanity has finally prevailed and might even survive. Turner’s haunting opening words are repeated at the end: “And I keep telling myself that if I walk far enough or long enough, someday I’ll come out the other side.” [Dreams of the Fallen]
August 19, 2016
The 30-year-old Runestad is becoming a new household word among the choral cognoscenti in this country. He embraces all choral idioms, from experimental (see his “Nyon, Nyon”) to seriously challenging 21st century works, the two on this program among them.
Most arresting was a multi-layered piece with accompaniment, Reflections, a commissioned premiere based on the poetry of Thoreau. Following the text, the music similarly reflected life’s yin and yang — a reflection of how Runestad writes.
October 11, 2015
It is hard to pigeonhole Runestad’s style. At times it is tonal and Romantic, infused with lyrical passages. Other sections suggest John Adams in the driving, rhythmic scherzos. Runestad’s sense of pace and balance makes The Hope of Loving a work that bears repeated hearings.
June 7, 2012
Other famous pieces in the genre have viewed war from the top down, celebrating battlefield victories, military leaders and patriotic fervor. But this one — titled Dreams of the Fallen — will try to convey the experience from the bottom up, exploring the impact of war on individual soldiers.
May 6, 2018
Born in Rockford, Ill., and currently living in Minneapolis, Runestad based his 25-minute piece on texts by the Iraq War veteran and poet Brian Turner. His bullet-borne language represents a soldier’s interior conflicts, on and off the battlefield. Runestad’s music gathers their staccato cadences in what he calls “a ceremony addressing the life-changing experiences of war.”
The piano’s pensive, agitated volleys of chords and torrential figuration – expertly taken by Reznik – are incorporated into a choral-orchestral progression from violent darkness to a quiet acceptance bathed in luminosity. Solo voices climb upward at the end, suggesting without sentimentality that mankind might just learn how to rise above its self-destructiveness, one of these days.
Runestad writes beautifully for massed voices, in an accessible but never New Age-y tonal idiom that sometimes recalls that of Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen but remains idiosyncratically his own. No wonder he’s considered one of the best of the younger American choral composers. His writing for orchestra is equally accomplished. He was present to share in the audience’s warm applause.
February 16, 2016
[Daughters of the Bloody Duke] combined humor with blood-and-guts–a kind of spin on the classic movie musical “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” taken to the nth degree; this time, it’s 40 daughters for 40 sons, with the women’s goal of killing all the men. Screams from all over the theatre punctuated the action, adding to the delight of the audience. The attractive cast…found the smart score congenial to perform.
May 18, 2013
Three contemporary American composers put the company’s versatility to a test that it passes with flying colors: …especially, the beautiful piece that young Runestad (b. 1986) composed to accompany Psalm 121, a work that uniquely captures Seraphic Fire’s style and spirit.
December 9, 2012
The choir gave the world premieres of three works it commissioned specifically for its Christmas programs by the young American composer Jake Runestad. Sleep, Little Baby, Sleep was a lullaby with a classic American folk-song quality. Fear Not, Dear Friend was a quietly stirring and uplifting overcoming of fear, and Nada Te Turbe was a work that blended the contrapuntal style of older choral works with contemporary harmonies and turns of phrase, all tying together the present with the past.
October 6, 2015
Runestad…has a particular knack for marrying powerful music to texts that speak to some of the most pressing and moving issues of our time.
November 8, 2013
To be sure, the piano represents the character’s perspective. It is not like background music to a film score. The music reflects the soldier’s reactions and thoughts on the battlefield and which dwell incessantly within his dreams.
December 22, 2013
Jake Runestad’s Nada te Turbe combines staggered melodies passed between sections of the choir with accompaniment that evokes gently rolling waves. The 27-year-old Runestad has already received commissions from ensembles around the country. It’s worth keeping an eye on this young composer as his career unfolds in the coming years.
May 15, 2013
The young American composer Jake Runestad’s I Will Lift Mine Eyes, featured on the new Seraphic Fire disc, closed the program proper. It’s a highly accomplished work whose sweet melody and pretty harmonies make it an instant favorite for choirs, and the singers gave it an expert performance.
November 19, 2014
The score threads its way elegantly through the psychological twists and turns of the chaos of war and the soul-numbing confusion that afflicts the veteran as he or she confronts the challenge of creating normalcy in a life so terribly disrupted by the experience of combat.
October 11, 2015
Runestad’s lyrical style, his use of the motif and the progression of his texts, from an opening question about the importance of accepting love in one’s life to the final affirmation that love is something people absolutely require, make the cantata something of a spiritual journey.