Heart of the Arts: Inspirare Nova

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Tom Peterson, composer & co-founder of Inspirare Nova

Music lovers, rejoice! A new choir has recently emerged on the Valley art scene: Inspirare Nova. The sixteen-voice choir is "dedicated to creating original choral works and presenting them in a visually engaging concert format. " Co-Founding member and composer Tom Peterson, shares a few thoughts with K-Bach's Jane Hilton.

There are a number of choral groups in the Valley that present new work from time to time. What sets Inspirare Nova apart?

Choirs have been better than most musical ensembles at embracing newly-composed music, but we will build entire concerts around the large works we commission. Other music is then programmed as a way to put the new work in context. For example, The Chapels of Westminster Abbey, a twenty-minute suite, is preceded by works written by composers who were themselves choirmasters at the Abbey.

Our visual and dramatic presentation will also set us apart. Our Executive Director, Rick Ashcroft, has a long history in musical theatre and opera performance and direction, so future projects may include instrumentalists, costumes, or dancers.

Where are the Sixteen voices from? Was this a handpicked, invitation only "curated" ensemble, or was there a formal audition process?

We invited professional-level folks from Phoenix’s wide and deep talent pool. In addition to being fine singers, many are conductors and composers themselves. One piece on the concert was written for us by one of our sopranos, Kira Rugen, who is also the director of her own group, Solis Camerata.

What do you hope the choir will have accomplished one year from now? Five years from now?

One year from now? Survive. We hope to build an audience and a supportive community, but getting a group like this off the ground is challenging.

And five years? We feel the sky is the limit. And not just in terms of getting the biggest names to compose or conduct, but in terms of developing as creatively as we can. We will have collaborated with artists in other media and genres. We will have produced our own recordings. We will have brought together an audience in Phoenix excited about hearing what composers are writing right now.

I understand that you are a recent graduate of the Royal College of Music. Did your time in London directly inspire your new work, The Chapels of Westminster Abbey, the work feature on the inaugural concerts, May 16 & 17?

Absolutely. Westminster Abbey is an awe-inspiring place: architectural marvel, burial place of monarchs and poets, site of coronations, weddings, and memorials. While living in London I was very fortunate to get to know Graeme Napier, then a Minor Canon at the Abbey. Together, we plotted out the arc of the piece, which takes the listener on a kind of musical tour through seven of the Abbey’s chapels. He selected specific texts, commissioned a beautiful new poem from Christiania Whitehead (a poet and scholar of medieval history), and I tried to do those texts justice in music.

One example of how the piece is woven together: the medieval craftsmen who built the incredible fan-vaulted ceiling of the Lady Chapel did so as an Earth-bound metaphor for the heavens that God had set in the sky. So Graeme chose this text from the 1549 prayerbook:

I will consider thy heavens, even the works of thy fingers,

the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained.

Here, God is the craftsman of a fan-vaulted cosmos. But why the specific 1549 version? Because it was published during the reign of Edward VI, who is buried in the Lady Chapel.

You are a versatile composer, Tom, but it's obvious, looking through your history of works, that you have a penchant for the human voice. Why?

Truthfully, I’m not sure. Perhaps because the voice is such a direct, pure form of musical expression. An instrument to be mastered, surely, but without strings or reeds or valves.

Or perhaps because literary works are so often the kindling for my musical ideas. Text — or for that matter, any idea or image — can form for composers and listeners alike a pathway into unlikely sounds, music that they might otherwise dismiss as unusual. I still believe that complex, layered music can be deeply meaningful and rewarding — perhaps even moreso now in the internet age of immediacy — and I hope that the text that inspired me to write a work keeps others listening.

In the future, will Inspirare Nova seek to also collaborate with contemporary composers outside of our region?

Yes, and conductors and possibly soloists as well. It’s a balance between bringing wonderful music to the Valley and utilizing the potential we already have. We want to be a place for creativity to bloom in our own community, and we want to reflect that in our programming. Our fall concert will likely be a showcase of Phoenix-area composers.

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(Photo by  Courtesy of Inspirare Nova)

Inspirare Nova's inaugural concerts,The Chapels of Westminster Abbey, will be held 7:30pm, May 16 & 17, 2014. at Christ Church of the Ascension in Paradise Valley. For more details, visit www.inspirarenova.org.