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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 7

Musical Visions : The World Premiere of Robert Frederick Jones's La Terra Promessa

by Daniel Harley / April 1, 2011

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The Vanier College Music Department will be celebrating its 40th anniversary with fifteen events, including the world premiere of Robert Frederick Jones’s oratorio, La Terra Promessa.

Robert Frederick Jones is a composer, pianist, conductor and pedagogue who has been teaching at Vanier College since 1976. A prolific composer, he has a large body of chamber music and choral works to his name, and his compositions have been performed around the world.

With an MFA and PhD from Brandeis University, Jones studied with many noted composers and music theorists, including Elliott Carter, Roger Sessions, and Robert Cogan. In a 1984 interview, he described his style in terms of “freedom to combine traditional and novel features in the same piece, freedom to vary the stylistic mixture from piece to piece and movement to movement, freedom to combine the rigidly predetermined with the freely intuitive, and a desire to involve the ­listener’s whole self, not just the ears or the intellect.”

Born in Wisconsin but raised in Arizona, Jones’s compositions often allude to the desert landscape where he grew up, and his works often contain strong spiritual elements. His new work, La Terra Promessa, combines these influences. The idea for the work originated thirty years ago and has always been something that Jones returned to while working on other projects. After he was diagnosed with cancer last year, he renewed his focus on the piece, and continued work even when bedridden. The act of writing the music was therapy, he said, and the piece is an artistic summation, containing references to work throughout his career.

La Terra Promessa is a symphony for soloists, ­chorus, and orchestra, with texts in Sanskrit, Latin, Chinese, Italian, French and English. It is a large-scale work of twelve movements. According to the composer, the movements are “musical visions” that “evoke images of our world and the world beyond, and of outer and inner states of being.” The work, an ode to friendship, begins with the world at the dawn of time and the musical visions lead us from barren but beautiful prehistoric landscapes through to the ascent of humankind. Each movement has a different dedicatee, and the entire work is dedicated to his wife, Pamela. As a whole, the work is a spiritual ­progression ending with a “collage of songs sung by the heavenly beings.”

La Terra Promessa will be Vanier College’s Gala ­Concert. Directed by Philippe Bourque, it will be performed by the Vanier College Choir in collaboration with the St. Lawrence Choir and l’Orchestre ­symphonique Joseph-François Perrault.

» May 6 at 7:30 p.m., Église St. Sixte www.vaniercollege.qc.ca/music

(c) La Scena Musicale