The inspired bringing together of Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble has resulted in consistently inventive music making since 1993. It was the groundbreaking “Officium” album, with Garbarek’s saxophone as a free-ranging ‘fifth voice’ with the Ensemble, which gave the first indications of the musical scope and emotional power of this combination. “Mnemosyne”, 1998’s double album, took the story further, expanding the repertoire beyond ‘early music’ to embrace works both ancient and modern.
Now, after another decade of shared experiences, comes a third album from Garbarek/Hilliard, recorded, like its distinguished predecessors, in the Austrian monastery of St Gerold, with Manfred Eicher producing. Aptly titled, there is continuity in the music of “Officium Novum” and also some new departures. In ‘Occident/Orient’ spirit the album looks eastward, with Armenia as its vantage point and with the compositions and adaptations of Komitas as a central focus. The Hilliards have studied Komitas’s pieces, which draw upon both medieval sacred music and the bardic tradition of the Caucasus in the course of their visits to Armenia, and the modes of the music encourage some of Garbarek’s most impassioned playing. Works from many sources are drawn together as the musicians embark on their travels through time and over many lands. “Officium Novum” journeys from Yerevan to Byzantium, to Russia, France and Spain: all voyages embraced by the album’s dramaturgical flow, as the individual works are situated in a larger ‘compositional’ frame.
"Hays hark nviranats ukhti" and "Surb, surb" are part of the Divine Liturgy of the Holy Mass which Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935) arranged on different occasions and for different formations. The versions here derive from those made for male voices in Constantinople in 1914/1915. "Hays hark nviranats ukhti" is a hymn traditionally sung at the beginning of the mass while the priest spreads incense. "Surb, surb" (Holy, holy) corresponds to "Sanctus" in the Latin Mass.
"Ov zarmanali" is a hymn of the Baptism of Christ (Sunday after Epiphany), sung during the ceremony of blessing the water, and "Sirt im sasani" a hymn of "Votnlva" (the bathing-of-the-feet ceremony celebrated on Maundy Thursday).These Komitas pieces are from the period 1910 to 1915, but their roots reach back to antiquity. Ethnomusicologist as well as forward-looking composer-philosopher, Komitas not only showed how Armenian sacred music had developed from folk music, but used folk styles expressively, to make new art music for his era.
Other music in the “Officium Novum” programme also spans the centuries, medieval music and contemporary music unified in the concentrated approach of Garbarek/Hilliard, now definable as a specific group sound. Jan Garbarek contributes two compositions. For “Allting finns” the saxophonist sets “Den Döde” (“The dead one”), a poem by Sweden’s Pär Lagerkvist (1891-1974). “We are the stars”, meanwhile, last heard on the saxophonist’s “Rites” album, is based on a Native American poem of the Pasamaquoddy people.
Longest piece on the album is the thirteen-minute “Litany” imaginatively bringing together works of spiritual and musical affinity: “Otche Nash” from the Lipovan Old Believers tradition is preceded by a fragment of the “Litany” of Nikolai N. Kedrov.
Kedrov (1871-1940) was a student of Rimsky Korsakov, a founder of the Kedrov Quartet, a vocal group that toured under Diaghilev’s direction, and writer of many compositions and chant arrangements which have since found their way into the repertoire of Orthodox choirs.
Arvo Pärt’s “Most Holy Mother of God”, a piece written for the Hilliard Ensemble in 2003, is heard in a pristine a capella reading. If the Hilliards have proselytized persuasively for Pärt’s music they have surely also been affected by the austerity of his writing.
The Byzantine “Svete tihij” (Gladsome Light), composed in the third century, is one of the oldest Christian hymns, and once accompanied the entrance of the clergy into the church and the lighting of the evening lamp at sunset. The Spanish “Tres morillas” from the 16th century “Cancionero de Palacio” radiates a different kind of light, as its dancing rhythm underpins a tale of lost love.
Perotin’s “Alleluia. Nativitas” is a new account of a piece which the musicians had previously recorded on “Mnemosyne”: the freedom of interpretation is testimony to the way the project as a whole has grown since its introduction on ECM New Series.
As for the saxophone, from an improvisational perspective this remains an exceptionally pure context in which to experience Jan Garbarek’s creativity. Garbarek is still approaching this music freely, improvising with the soloists, creating roving counterpoint, weaving in and of the web of vocal texture, and helping to shape what England’s Evening Standard called “some of the most beautiful acoustic music ever made”.
The album concludes with actor Bruno Ganz reading Giorgos Seferis’s “Nur ein Weniges noch”, from the Greek poet’s 1935 “Mythistorema” cycle, a poem previously embraced in ECM’s album devoted to T.S. Eliot and Seferis, “Wenn Wasser wäre”.
New discoveries continue to be mined by the Hilliard/Garbarek collective. In an era in which musical alliances are often short-lived or speculative, ECM is able to present “Officium Novum” as a CD production of a ‘working band’ continuing to grow after 17 years of creative collaboration.
This autumn Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble take the “Officium Novum” repertoire into different European spaces and the “White Light Festival” of the Lincoln Center in New York, the tour beginning in Hamburg’s St Michaelis church on September 14. This is followed by concerts at the Salzburg Dom (Sept. 15), the Czech National Memorial in Prague (Sept. 19), the Dom St Martin in Bratislava (Sept. 20), the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Bergamo (Sept. 21), Bazylika Najswietszego Serca Jezusowego, Warsaw (Sept. 29), Berlin Dom (Sept. 30), King’s College Chapel, Cambridge (Oct. 2), Heidelberg Heiliggeistkirche (Oct. 4), Eberbach Kloster (Oct. 5), St Agnes Kirche, Cologne (Oct. 6), Lukaskirche, Munich (Oct. 8), Großmünster, Zürich (Oct. 9), Votivkirche, Vienna (Oct. 11), Nancy Cathedral (Oct. 12), St Ignatius Loyola, New York (Nov. 12).
Further tour details at www.ecmrecords.com.