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Fiat Lux: Creating "Magnificence"

Fieldstead and Company hosted a salon on Sunday, 18 June 2023, with Carl St. Clair moderating a discussion between Sir James MacMillan and Dana Gioia about the creative process behind Fiat Lux.

To celebrate the consecration of Christ Cathedral in Orange County, California, Howard and Roberta Ahmanson commissioned Scottish composer James MacMillan, whose music draws on his faith and heritage, to write a large-scale liturgical work. The oratorio, which includes music for orchestra, chorus, organ, and two vocal soloists, was a collaborative effort with librettist Dana Gioia (former California Poet Laureate and director of the National Endowment for the Arts), Pacific Symphony conductor Carl St. Clair, and Pacific Chorale director Robert Istad.

According to the Symphony's website, "The work was premiered on 15 June 2023 as part of a program spanning five centuries and celebrating the spirit. The mystical Miserere by the Renaissance composer Gregorio Allegri was so popular the Vatican forbade it to be published (though a teenage Mozart secretly transcribed it, having heard it just twice)." Pacific Chorale director Robert Istad conducted the Miserere, followed by Carl St.Clair leading Richard Strauss’ transcendent tone poem. After a brief intermission, St. Clair conducted the world premiere of Fiat Lux by Sir James MacMillan.

Fiat Lux was performed a fourth time at Christ Cathedral on 20 June 2023. Of the performance, the Los Angeles Times noted, "Fiat Lux takes second place to none." The classical music critic at the Times also wrote, "The 45-minute epic is a work of unfettered exultation and radical religiosity, as weird as it is wondrous.

"'Fiat Lux' picks up where the symphony lets off, but it is not so 'unknown.' The text is by the California poet Dana Gioia, who seamlessly localizes paradise as a place to be preserved. Through the verses, Gioia’s gaze deflects the light of our 'August sky' and 'human eye' to a 'crystal spire/ built in a land/ of quake and fire.' The amen that follows reaches deep into a Californian’s soul.

"MacMillan’s ultimate amen follows its own path from solemn reflection to earthy sonics (the organ thrills) to unearthly ones (tuned gongs). Chant grows into glorious song, with soprano Elissa Johnston assigned the extravagance of praise and baritone Christopher Maltman that of contemplation. They — along with the orchestra, chorus and Christ Cathedral’s organist, David Ball — shared in a thrilling exuberance that won’t let go." To read the entire article, click here.


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