Vespers in Condemned to Music, Arts Journal

David Patrick Stearns compares Monteverdi and me. He went to recent performances of a “Vespers” (not 1610), put together from later Monteverdi works by the Green Mountain Project, and my Vespers, and believes that both the master and I resolve dichotomies by bringing “enemies together.”

Monteverdi brought a new kind of music—less contrapuntal, more operatic—into the Church. My piece comes from someone Stearns describes as an “ultra-devout” composer who writes “almost anti- evangelical,” or not preachy, music. It “speaks to him without histrionics.”

“There’s absolutely no guile or strategy behind it…. There’s plenty of joy – though not with anything as superficial or as potentially vulgar as jubilation. Smith’s Magnificat is full of wonderful canonic writing that has a simple, straightforward effect – achieved through a complexity of means that could only be the work of an extremely accomplished composer… De-dramatized, de-politicized spiritually-oriented music is no stranger to admirers of Arvo Pärt. But even at his most secular, Pärt seems to echo, however distantly, the asceticism of the Eastern Orthodox Church. If Smith is writing for a church, it’s one without walls.”

I don’t know what that means, though people of all faiths have told me marvelous things about their experiences listening to it. I see, simply, a Lutheran Vespers, a traditionally formed Christian work with Psalms, hymns, a Lord’s Prayer, and so on. What I tried to put in it was what I have felt from the inside: the power of a chant, of a hymn, that churns and overwhelms. Many, many greater ones than I feel this, the saints from books, the saints who I sit next to. He says it speaks to his “integration-starved soul.” I bow my head at those kind words.

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