Northern Lights

for mixed or female choir, power chimes, and water-tuned glasses

The ecstatic collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere known as the ‘aurora borealis’ is the subject of Northern Lights, commissioned in 2012 by the Choir of the West at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. Named in 1621 by the French astronomer Pierre Gassendi after Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, and Boreas, the Greek god of the north wind, the Northern Lights have fascinated and terrified all who have seen them from the beginning of time: many cultures have tried to account for this remarkable and beautiful sight, some seeing it as threatening, others as benign. Latvian folkore, for example, tells that the Northern Lights are the restless spirits of fallen warriors, still fighting their battles in the sky.

Ešenvalds combines a Latvian folk song, sung by a solo tenor, with less fearful, and factual, observations of the Northern Lights by two nineteenth-century Arctic explorers, Charles Francis Hall and Fridtjof Nansen. In a lilting triple-time metre throughout, with tuned glasses played by the singers adding an unearthly aura at salient points, the music is full of wonder, with an especially dramatic moment of revelation early on. Twice, a moment of special transcendence is summoned up by the gentle sound of chimes and, after a return of the opening folk song, it is they who have the last word in a quiet, but questioning, apotheosis of magical bell-sounds.

— from notes by Gabriel Jackson © 2015

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Year
2012
Commissioner
Choir of the West and conductor Richard Nance at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA (mixed choir), Iowa State University Cantamus Women’s Choir and conductor Kathleen Rodde (female choir)
Instrumentation
T solo and SSAATTBB or S solo and SSSSAAAA, power chimes, water-tuned glasses
Lyrics
Latvian folk song, Charles Francis Hall (1821–1871), Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930)
Language
Latvian, English
Duration
6 min
Score
ISMN
979-0-69795-298-0 (MB1366), 979-0-69795-481-6 (MB1553)
Recordings
State Choir LatvijaAt the Foot of the Sky
State Choir LatvijaFrom the dim and distant past
The Choir of Trinity College CambridgeNorthern Lights & other choral works