Antiphon at second vespers on the feast of the Immaculate Conception (L)
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception , Washington, DC
Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine
Choral level of difficulty: 3 (5 greatest)
This piece has real ‘wow’ factor. It was written for the American Guild of Organists’ National Convention, commissioned by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and dedicated to the Very Rev. Dennis Corrado on the 40th anniversary of his ordination. So the text is wholly appropriate, but its setting is far removed from the unctuous, often sentimental/emotional settings from past generations. MacMillan’s setting here is incredibly rhythmic (in a way we don’t often see in his shorter works), dramatic and forceful. Here is MacMillan rejoicing in the beauty of Mary and allowing his fervour its reflection in an outpouring of joy.
The scheme is a) tutti, b) soprano verse in his familiar chant-like mode, c) tutti, d) tenors singing the chant-like section and e) tutti ending with full organ. A simple scheme but not always such simple chords to sing. The challenges here are: 1) absolute rhythmic accuracy as the tutti sections stand or fall by the incisive, edgy rhythm; 2) the notes themselves: this is another piece like Alpha and Omega which looks simpler on paper than it actually is, so be prepared to allow enough rehearsal time to master the unexpected chord progressions and the rapid leaps and bounds; 3) the demands of the ‘chant’ sections: absolute unanimity of grace notes (always on the beat), triplet semiquavers (16th notes) and demisemiquaver (32nd note) turns. Look, as well, at MacMillan’s careful articulation markings. The more reverberant your acoustic, the more these need to be worked on.
This piece would make a great opener or closing item in a concert.
Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer