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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Shadow of the Rainbow

From the Vault Dept.: For no studied reason, except that this piece of mine appeared in Metroland almost exactly 21 years ago, here’s a look at the kind of musical premiere that used to be more common in the Capital Region.


ALTHOUGH THE IDEA OF A REQUIEM, composed for full orchestra and chorus, is very old-fashioned, ideas of death and dying, grief and conciliation remain very current. While writing “In the Shadow of the Rainbow,” composer Timothy Luby found a compelling link. “As a singer, I was familiar with most of the major Requiems,” he says. “But I’d never studied the text before from a larger, literary standpoint.”

Timothy Luby | Photo by Martin Benjamin
The traditional Requiem Mass follows the sequence of prayers from a burial service, although Luby, like many other composers, took some liberties with the texts. He’s a traditionalist at heart, however, and was pleased to discover a reassuring aspect of the Requiem as he prepared his text. “The sequence of prayers follows the sequence of the grieving procedure. The five stages of a dying person’s grief, as described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – which also can be seen as sanctification. You find this mirrored perfectly in the text of the typical Requiem.”

Luby’s Requiem was commissioned in 1991 by Dr. Rudy Nydegger in memory of his father, Vernon Nydegger, a musician whose last few months of life were eased by Hospice care. As a founding board member of Capital District Hospice, Rudy Nydegger also wanted to draw attention to the benefits of Hospice, so the world premiere – which takes place at 8 PM Sat., Nov. 16 at the Troy Music Hall – will benefit Schenectady’s Capital District Hospice and St. Peter’s Hospice of Albany.

Luby also recently suffered the loss of someone very close, and finds himself drawn to two images in comfort: the rainbow of Genesis, presented as God’s promise of peace, and an actual rainbow he spotted during a hike in the Berkshires many years ago. He photographed the rainbow, with the vibrant colors of the hills behind it – then discovered the film was black-and-white.

“My initial idea was to do a piece about grief, but as I read and considered texts I hit on the idea of writing a Requiem.” Luby’s speech is measured, as you might expect from one so immersed in music. “Then there were multiple planes to deal with, not the least of which was confronting the significant models – Mozart, Fauré, those people,” he adds with a laugh. “It’s easy for a Requiem to be segmented because it’s a liturgy, but I decided to make a programmatic symphony out of mine. I started out early with the concept of the rainbow and decided to make the work as colorful as possible.”

Being commissioned to write a full-blown work for chorus and orchestra is every composer’s dream, and Luby looks upon it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “It’s just not a practical idiom for the modern composer to work in, so when it came along I leaped at it.”

It’s also been a huge challenge while the writing was in progress over the past few years. “One of the biggest discoveries I made is that I could do it at all. Could it sustain my interest that long? Yes – in fact, it became a way of life. The piece is about 70 minutes long, and that was a lot to hold in my mind.”

Dr. Nydegger placed no specific requests in the commission, which made for a very broad canvas. “Sometimes it’s nice to have those decisions made right from the start,” says Luby, but once I made the initial decisions about the piece and started seeking out texts, I developed a list of guidelines. It’s what Francis Coppolla does with his movies, figuring out what belongs there and what I’d like to put in. Those guidelines don’t always make it into the final piece, but they get me there. And, as you can imagine, with a piece this large, the management component is very large.”

Although setting texts to tunes can be intimidating, Luby says that he’s always been aware of the relationship between words and music. “My mother was a music lover and would have me entertain her at the piano when I was young. I’d play popular songs for her and she was always saying to me, ‘Play the words.’” Luby started his composition studies with Martha Carragan when he was 14, “and I was with her for four years.  After that I spent six years at the Crane School of Music up in Potsdam.”

He’s been working for many years at area churches--one of the few ways in which a composer can earn a living writing and arranging. “Which means I’ve been composing a lot of liturgical music – solos, organ music – and the kinds of things you might hear in a church that aren’t liturgical.”

Schenectady resident Luby was just appointed composer-in-residence at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Albany, a two-year position that gives him access to one of the most prestigious church choirs in the area. “It’s a beautiful church, with beautiful people. Albert Melton, the music director, is a fine organist and conductor.”

Saturday’s concert features Albany Pro Musica and what was the St. Cecilia Orchestra conducted by David Griggs-Janower; St. Cecilia co-founders Rob Taylor and Ann-Marie Barker will play violin solos during different parts of the program. “I put together the first half of the concert, a pastiche, as an extended prelude” says Luby. “The concert as a whole is designed to portray the struggle an individual goes through with a terminal illness – both the dying person and the one who’s losing a loved one.

“For the start, then, I’ve isolated the chorus from the instruments and we begin with the men’s chorus and some Gregorian chant – snippets of the Requiem plainsong. Then the string orchestra plays Barber’s ‘Adagio.’ A little more chant, and a string quartet plays Puccini’s ‘Chrysanthemums.’ After another chant interlude, Rob plays a solo violin work, the Bach Chaconne. We finish the first half with the chant ‘lux aeterna.’”

“In the Shadow of the Rainbow” also pays tribute to significant composers and musical styles – quotes from Bach and Stravinsky, among others, are woven into the work, which makes up the second part of the program.

Luby’s Requiem features soprano Valerie Lord, pianist Judy Avitabile and organist Keith Williams. Three wind instruments have solos, which will be played by oboist Randall Ellis, flutist Norman Thibodeau and French horn soloist Alyssa Coffey. Barker will play the violin solos.

Metroland Magazine, 14 November 1996

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