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The Crossing to Premiere Gavin Bryars' THE FIFTH CENTURY, 1/23

In its tenth anniversary season, THE CROSSING - the extraordinary chamber choir from Philadelphia, dedicated to new music and conducted by Donald Nally - comes to New York on Saturday, January 23, 2016 to perform the NY premiere of THE FIFTH CENTURY, a large-scale work for the rare combination of choir and saxophone quartet by the iconic avant-garde English composer GAVIN BRYARS. The event, which will also feature the great sax quartet PRISM and will have Bryars in the audience, takes place at 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul's Chapel at Trinity Church, Wall Street.

THE FIFTH CENTURY was commissioned by The Crossing - "to my mind North America's finest choir," says Bryars-for performance with PRISM, one of America's preeminent saxophone quartets. This spring, ECM Records will release The Crossing's all-Bryars recording.

A beautifully melancholic, forty-minute reflection on Thomas Traherne's Centuries of Meditations, THE FIFTH CENTURY was described by The Philadelphia Inquirer after its 2014 premiere as an "ambitious and subtle" work that "gives Traherne's words an ethereal showcase."

The concert also includes Bryars' TWO LOVE SONGS - a setting of two Petrarch sonnets-as well as Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits' Hymns from the Western Coast, a piece that The Philadelphia Inquirer says "opened up to encompass realms of tragedy without horror-creating a sense of earthly contrast to the infinite sky of THE FIFTH CENTURY."

The Crossing has increasingly been turning heads with its impeccable technique, glorious sound, emotional resonance, and championing of new music. Under the direction of Donald Nally, the choir has commissioned an important body of work by composers including Louis Andriessen, Ted Hearne, John Luther Adams, and David Lang. Currently the choir is preparing for a mammoth project this June, called Seven Responses, a collaboration with ICE and Robert Mealy's Quicksilver Baroque Orchestra, in which Buxtahude's sacred masterpiece Membra Jesu Nostri will be juxtaposed with commissioned "responses" from seven composers of wildly diverse backgrounds: Caroline Shaw, Anna Thordsvaldsdottir, David T. Little, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Santa Ratniece, Lewis Spratlan, and Hans Thomalla.

Like Philip Glass and Steve Reich in the U.S. (yet quite different), the English legend Gavin Bryars is a combination of an avant-gardist who is accessible and a musician who is innately classical yet hip. Bryars' landmark works Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1971) and The Sinking of the Titanic (1969, originally released on Brian Eno's Obscure label in 1975), were both famously released in new versions in the 1990s on Point Music, selling over a quarter of a million copies.

Though his recent music has been increasingly influenced by early music, Bryars was originally a jazz bassist influenced by the art-school conceptualist crowd. Today he continues to produce masterful and thoughtful music in his supremely affecting, directly tonal style.

From conductor Donald Nally: "Being a part of the creative team for Gavin's THE FIFTH CENTURY has been a highlight of my work at The Crossing. The work is a beautifully elegiac series of reflections on Eternity, based on texts of 17th-century metaphysical author Thomas Traherne, whose Centuries of Meditations I love and introduced to Gavin. He responded with ethereal music that surrounds, swirls, and lingers in a perfect marriage of voices and saxophones. The focus on Eternity is particularly poignant because Gavin began writing music just after the sudden passing of my co-founder Jeff Dinsmore, so he dedicated the work to Jeff and invested a certain kind of wonder and questioning that truly pay homage to him. Sometimes a work comes along that we want to perform as often as possible; it just seems to fit the ensemble in sound, idea, ethos, identity. PRISM feels the same way-like it's just written for them, or, maybe even, by them. We're really fortunate to have this from Gavin."

The concert takes place on Saturday, January 23, 2016, 7:30 PM atSt. Paul's Chapel at Trinity Church, Wall Street. $30 General Admission; $20 Student Admission (All tickets $5 more at the door) at


Gavin Bryars writes: "This work sets a text from the English poet and theologian Thomas Traherne's Centuries of Meditations, taking lines from the last section "THE FIFTH CENTURY." As with all vocal works, for me, the most critical thing to establish is the text and it was Donald Nally, director of The Crossing, who suggested that I look at the writings of Thomas Traherne.

"Although Traherne lived in the 17th century, his work was unknown for over 200 years, and was first published in the first decade of the 20th century. It has an intense spirituality, celebrating the glory of creation, his almost intimate relationship with God and leading, in the final section to an apotheosis in which he declaims the "essence of God." In many ways his work is astonishingly modern with its unwitting "Eastern" sound and feeling. The constant recurrence of certain images and abstract nouns is a feature of the language and is reflected in the musical setting:

"The work is in seven sections drawn from different parts of Traherne's "Fifth Century." The saxophone quartet-soprano, alto, tenor and baritone-has a prologue and short interludes but the instrumental writing is relatively restrained. In some movements the saxophone accompaniment is quite busy, whereas at other times the choir is left virtually a cappella. The musical setting itself is not complex; though the choir is often divided into multiple parts."


Gavin Bryars writes: "These two settings of Petrarch sonnets were written for the English group Juice, a trio of sopranos-like the Scandinavian Trio Mediaeval with whom I've worked for many years-a combination that has a purity and serenity that I enjoy.

"At the same time it gave me an opportunity to write more settings from Petrarch's Rime Sparse, which has been an abiding passion ever since I wrote my Second Book of Madrigals in 2001-2002. These madrigals, like the two songs here, set the fourteen-line sonnet form that consists of an "octave" and a "sestet," contrasting the two parts rhythmically and formally as 2x4 and 2x3. This gives four appearances of two rhymes followed by two appearances of three rhymes-though occasionally vice versa. (Shakespeare, who I set later, has a different division within the 14 lines.)

"The purpose of the Rime Sparse (this term appears in the first line of the first sonnet and has the deceptively casual meaning of "scattered rhymes") is to immortalize the real or imagined Laura; these two settings, while not naming Laura directly, are imbued with the same feeling of profound and idealized love.

"Petrarch's sonnets attracted me for many reasons. Initially it was because they have such prominence in Italian madrigal music, but there was also the heart-rending beauty of the poetry and their sheer technical brilliance. Some time ago I wrote that, as a composer, I live from commissions and these can take me in many different directions. But in an ideal world, when I would be free to write whatever I want, I would chose to write vocal music. Moreover, in a really ideal world, this would involve setting Petrarch."

About Gavin Bryars ( - Gavin Bryars (composer, b. 1943) is perhaps best known for his landmark works Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet, featuring Tom Waits, and The Sinking of the Titanic. Both pieces have enjoyed major recording success in various versions. Gavin's music draws on his minimalist training with John Cage and the ambient influences of Brian Eno, with whom he was a founding member of the Portsmouth Sinfonia. His music is deeply humanist, at once iconoclastic and emotionally charged. Gavin has collaborated with artists from across the arts spectrum, including theatre with Robert Wilson and dance with Merce Cunningham, he has written extensively for vocal groups, including Hilliard Ensemble, the Latvian Radio Choir, the Estonian National Men's Choir, Red Byrd, and Trio Mediaeval. Bryars' full bio is here.

About The Crossing ( - The Crossing is a professional chamber choir conducted by Donald Nally and dedicated to new music. Consistently recognized in critical reviews, The Crossing has been hailed as "superb" (The New York Times), "ardently angelic" (The Los Angeles Times), and "something of a miracle" (The Philadelphia Inquirer). Formed by a group of friends in 2005, the ensemble has since grown exponentially and "has made a name for itself in recent years as a champion of new music" (The New York Times).

Highly sought-after for projects, The Crossing's first collaboration was as the resident choir of the Spoleto Festival, Italy, in 2007. Collaborations are now an important aspect of their work; The Crossing has appeared at Miller Theatre of Columbia University in the American premiere of James Dillon's Nine Rivers with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE); joined Bang on a Can's first Philadelphia Marathon; and has sung with the American Composers Orchestra, Network for New Music, Lyric Fest, Piffaro, red fish blue fish, Tempesta di Mare Baroque Chamber Orchestra, PRISM Saxophone Quartet, Toshimaru Nakamura, Dolce Suono, and The Rolling Stones. The ensemble has sung at Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They premiered John Luther Adams' Sila: the breath of the world at Lincoln Center in a collaboration with the Mostly Mozart Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival, eighth blackbird, Jack Quartet, and TILT brass. The 2014-15 season featured a major project with The Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Fabric Workshop and Museum, conceived by Allora & Calzadilla, with a new score by David Lang.

The Crossing commissions works regularly and has presented over forty world premieres. The 2015-16 season will feature an additional twenty-five commissioned works, with substantial contributions from Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, David T. Little, Santa Ratniece, Caroline Shaw, Kile Smith, Lewis Spratlan, Hans Thomalla, and Anna Thorvaldsdottir. Major commissioned world premieres have included John Luther Adams' Canticles of the Holy Wind (2013, co-commissioned with Kamer), Gavin Bryars' THE FIFTH CENTURY (2014, written for The Crossing and PRISM), Kile Smith's The Consolation of Apollo (2014) and Vespers (2008, a commission of Piffaro), David Lang's Statement to the Court (2010), Lewis Spratlan's Hesperus is Phosphorus (2012, co-commissioned with Network for New Music), and Ted Hearne's Sound from the Bench (2014, co-commissioned with Volti).

The Crossing has released six recordings: Lewis Spratlan's Vespers Cantata: Hesperus is Phosphorus (on Innova, 2015, with Network for New Music); Moonstrung Air (choral music of Gregory Brown, on Navona, 2015); Christmas Daybreak (on Innova, 2011, with world premiere recordings of James MacMillan and Gabriel Jackson); I want to live (on Innova, 2011, with the complete to-date choral works for women by David Lang); and It is Time (on Navona, 2008, featuring music commissioned for our first Month of Moderns). Gavin Bryars' THE FIFTH CENTURY is due to be released on ECM records in the coming year.

The Crossing is the recipient of the 2015 Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence, two ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming, as well as the Dale Warland Singers Commission Award (with composer Joel Puckett) from Chorus America. Donald Nally was awarded the 2012 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal for his work with The Crossing. The Crossing has been named in The Philadelphia Inquirer's Top Classical Events of the Season numerous times; a July 2015 review in that journal led with the headline, "The event of the season."

About PRISM Quartet ( - Intriguing programs of great beauty and breadth have distinguished the PRISM Quartet as one of America's foremost chamber ensembles. Two-time winners of the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, PRISM has been presented by Carnegie Hall, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and as soloists with the Detroit Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra. Champions of new music, PRISM has commissioned over 200 works, many by internationally celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning composers. PRISM's discography includes 15 recordings for Albany, Innova, Koch, ECM, Naxos, New Dynamic, New Focus, and its own newly-launched label, XAS Records. PRISM may also be heard on the soundtrack of the film "Two Plus One" and has been featured in the theme music to the weekly PBS news magazine "NOW." PRISM performs exclusively on Selmer saxophones.

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