Faculty Composer Brings a New Setting to Old Hymn

Faculty Composer Brings a New Setting to Old Hymn

Thomas Oboe Lee to premiere 'Stabat Mater 2002' on Feb. 2

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

Prof. Thomas Oboe Lee (Music), whose compositions have included a "Mass for the Holy Year 2000," will premiere his latest work, a setting of the centuries-old hymn Stabat Mater, this Sunday, Feb. 2, as part of the Boston College "Music at St. Mary's" series.

Prof. Thomas Oboe Lee (Music). (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
Lee's "Stabat Mater 2002" will be featured in "New Music for the Church," a program of contemporary pieces with religious and spiritual elements performed by the Ecclesia Consort of New England. The event will take place at 3 p.m. at St. Mary's Chapel on Main Campus.

A second performance will be held in Providence, RI, the following Sunday, Feb. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on Academy Avenue.

Commissioned last year by the Jesuit Community and Music Department to write a selection for the Ecclesia Concert's late winter-spring 2003 performances, Lee said he immediately thought of Stabat Mater, which evokes the emotions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Calvary and Bethlehem

"I thought, 'What could be better for the time of year, when our thoughts turn to Lent, than Stabat Mater?'" he said. "Having been a Catholic since boyhood, the events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ are indelibly tattooed on my soul."

Lee decided to work up his own arrangement of the hymn, which has been interpreted by composers such as Verdi, Vivaldi and Dvorak, and in about two months wrote what he terms "a quiet, meditative piece" for organ and a chamber choir of 20 voices.

"The greatest challenge of the Stabat Mater text is to figure out how to set 20 stanzas of pain and suffering without making it all sound too depressing. So, before I began composing, I looked at a number of scores and recordings of Stabat Mater by various composers.

"It was fascinating to see what each composer did with regard to text setting: the variety of musical textures from movement to movement, different approaches to the use of fast or allegro music to offset the mood of the text, solo versus choral sections, etc. Each composer took a very personal and creative approach to the task. After weeks of listening and scrutinizing, I decided to divide the text into six sections.

"It is my hope that the end result is formally coherent and emotionally affecting."

The "New Music for the Church" program in which "Stabat Mater 2002" will be featured, Lee says, reflects the growing interest among 20th-century composers in "music that has a spiritual quality, combining the contemporary and the ancient - almost 'neo-medieval.'" One of the other pieces to be performed at the concert was written by the late C. Alexander Peloquin, who founded the Boston College University Chorale and worked at BC for 38 years, and was credited with helping to reshape the musical character of the Roman Catholic Church.


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