Conspirare/Craig Hella Johnson — The Hope of Loving: Choral Music of Jake Runestad (Delos)
"Every time I start a new piece, I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing: This is the most difficult thing in the world. I don't know how to do this. Then I just start small and work my way into the piece, and then I begin to say, 'Oh yeah — that's right. That's how this works.'"
More than 100 compositions later, composer Jake Runestad is off and running. The Austin-based vocal ensemble Conspirare recently released a complete recording of his choral works.
The recording you've just released with Conspirare is called The Hope of Loving. What's that all about?
"That's the name of one of the pieces on the album. It's a piece for choir, string quartet and soloists. And it's a setting of texts by mystics throughout history. These are translations by Daniel Ladinsky, and the piece explores the various aspects of love, which sounds really general. But I feel like we don't necessarily think about that — if you pass someone on the sidewalk, why do you look away and not smile at them? That short element of engagement can be a sign of love."
In the suite, The Hope of Loving, you take advantage of some of your other composing skills, and you've incorporated a string quartet. Why was a string quartet the right fit for this suite?
"The string quartet is building tension. They're building a sense of those things that sometimes prevent us from showing love, from feeling open and vulnerable. And so, there's a theme I introduce with imitative counterpoint, and it just begins to wrap and wrap and wrap around itself, and the strings speak so beautifully in that intimate setting of a string quartet. I really love that movement and how we can find our way into it even without the use of text."
I want to talk about my favorite movement in that suite, which is actually the second piece, 'Wild Forces.' It's breathtakingly beautiful. Tell me about this work.
"There are beautiful wild forces within us / Let them turn millstones inside / Filling bushels that reach to the sky. I think the idea is that we have beauty and we have possibility inside us, and it's a matter of pushing forward and letting that out. In the case of this piece, we ultimately have this possibility of potential for love and showing it to others. And so we need to feed that in order for us to be able to exert that."
In "The Peace of Wild Things" the layers just continue to build. And then that final line — I rest in the grace of the world, and I'm free — it's kind of overwhelming.
"It is. It's a beautiful poem by Wendell Berry. He's looking at his life, and he's looking at the world and how so many elements fill him with with grief and with fear. He's looking at what his children's lives might be one day and the way the world is moving, but then he remembers he can go and lie down where the wood drake rests in the beauty and the water where the great Heron feeds. And he says 'I come into the peace of wild things, who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.' It's this idea that we can't control the future, but we can control what's happening now."
The recording wraps up with Flower Into Kindness. Why was this the right way to wrap up this beautiful project?
"The final text for this is: I shed my words on the earth as the tree sheds its leaves / Let my thoughts unspoken flower into kindness. It's the idea that what we meditate on, what we think about and have inside of ourselves — if those are beautiful, good, positive things, then they will come out as good, beautiful, and positive things as we live our lives."
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
The Hope of Loving (Amazon)