Storm of war, prayer for peace
Orchestra, chorus to present concert Mass at cathedral
By ERIN RICHARDS
Posted: Sept. 10, 2006
The sound of cannons will explode tonight from within the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
Following the simulated artillery of bass drums, a battle charge of cellos and flutes and trumpets and trombones and shrieking humans will become hysterical enough to evoke images of war and death - or images of the attack America withstood five years ago.
The performance of "The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace," by the Menomonee Falls Symphony Orchestra and the Milwaukee archdiocesan and St. Sebastian choirs will commemorate Sept. 11, 2001, in a powerful and different way. Totaling 170 performers, the groups believe they are the first in the United States to perform the piece, written by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins more than five years ago. The theme suggests "the armed man must be feared" and that people must seek peace across cultures.
"People are trying to find meaningful ways to pay tribute to and respect the events that happened on September 11, but many of them are short," said Michael Kamenski, director of the Menomonee Falls Symphony Orchestra and the conductor of tonight's production. "This is a full hour involving the drama of music and the power of words."
The concert Mass, which involves the Latin Mass and secular texts, has 13 movements that draw from the Book of Revelation and authors such as Jonathan Swift, Rudyard Kipling and Toge Sankichi, a poet who wrote about the atom bomb attack on Hiroshima. He later died from radiation exposure.
Perhaps the most appropriate soloist is Amjad Khleifat, who was approached by Milwaukee Archdiocesan Choir Director Jeff Honore and Kamenski to perform the second movement's "Adhaan" or "Call to Prayers," which Jenkins indicated should be recited in its native Arabic.
From the marbled ambo in the center of the cathedral Sunday, Khleifat covered his ears and rehearsed, calling out to Allah in a sweeping, sitar-like voice.
"To do an Islamic call to prayer in this space is unusual; it shows that our first response should not be fear or terror, but peace," Honore said later from the back of the church. As the words, "Lord grant us strength to die!" rang out from the front, he added: "That's the power of this piece - people on either side of the battle pray the same prayer."
The Royal Armories museum in England commissioned Jenkins to write "The Armed Man" at the turn of the millennium as a way to remember past conflicts and look forward to a more peaceful future. But the Mass took on a larger significance after it was performed for the first time in Wales on Sept. 10, 2001.