Lux Mundi

I was at the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall Tuesday evening to hear the world premiere of John Allison Campbell's Lux Mundi. I've known John for many, many years. He's American, from the wrong side of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and was living in Friedenau. I was American, from the right side of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) and was living in Friedenau. We met at the little Methodist church in Friedenau.

Composers are kind of crazy. Kind, but crazy at times. We took to celebrating Thanksgiving together - one year at his place, with his tiny oven and the beautiful formal dining room with old china and glassware and linens; one year at my place with the monster oven and the ragtag assortment of chairs, linens, eating utensils, and attendees.

I've tried to attend as many of his concerts as possible, although I am not really a musical person. Those genes all went to my dearest brother, the musician. I couldn't really connect with much of what he wrote. The clarinet stuff was okay (although the double tonguing deal was kind of kinky), but the piece he wrote for 5 bassoons and some other instrument was just awful.

Just the same, we had him compose a piece for WiseKid's baptism as a challenge to dearest brother, who declined on short notice. We managed to get another organist to try it out, and he bravely put it on, although he messed up in the middle, stopped, and restarted the piece. After the baptismal service a professor of music who was attending to hear the presentation went up to the organist and tapped him on the shoulder. "Young man," she said, "this is modern music. If you make a mistake, don't stop, just make up something and get back into it. No one will notice!"

Back to Lux Mundi, the light of the world. Here, someone would notice. I don't know if it is because John is mellowing, but this is quite an enjoyable symphony for orchestra and choir. There was a 50 piece orchestra playing (including a great woman on the tympani) and a 50+ choir of 50+ people, including John. I asked him after the show what it was like to be in the middle of your own music, singing along, while it is being performed around you. "It's what I've been dreaming of for the past seven years," he said.

The piece is built around a five piece Russian icon from the 15th century in Nowgorod. It starts with John 1,1 ("In the beginning was the Word"), although he uses a German translation "Am Anfang war das Wort", I've learned that the translation is "Im Anfang war das Wort", meaning not at the start, but inside the starting moment.

The second part is the Magnificat from the Gospel according to Luke, the third is taken from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and the fourth is a veneration of Mary, closing with the Lux aeterna, the eternal light. During the introduction that was given in the foyer before the concert John explained that the veneration of Mary was the strangest part for him as a Methodist, as we have no truck with the Catholic cult of Mary. But, he said, it is fruitful to go into something foreign and discover important new things.

I had the feeling that the piece was well centered, going out to experiment with something - church bells! a piccolo! Bassoons (luckily, only 2)! But he kept coming back to this point of repose. My mind took me to a kitchen, reading on a rainy day, dancing around a maypole (!) and then off on a whirlwind tour of some of the churches and cathedrals I have visited, dwelling longer at the church in Magdeburg, where I had participated in a Catholic service involving Gregorian chants.

The piece ends very softly, very small, depositing me back in the here and now. Of course, someone had to clap the split second they felt it was over, but hey, you can't have everything.

I enjoyed the Turkish Sufi music that was performed afterwards, but was just too tired for the second half, so I enjoyed my Philharmonie champagne and headed for the bus. I hope this gets made into a CD, I'd like to hear it again!

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