A concert in memory of Pope John Paul II and composer Henrick Gorecki will be presented at 8 p.m. March 11 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
The New Haven Symphony Orchestra, conducted by William Boughton and featuring soprano Paula Almerares, will perform "Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3" in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although the archdiocesan Sacred Sounds Music Series has brought together internationally recognized artists for this event, it has done so to realize its primary mission of offering the community a spiritual and prayerful experience.
John Paul II and Gorecki were friends who shared great mutual respect. Their biographies merge on many points – both were Poles, both lost their mothers at young ages, both resisted Communism, and both experienced deeply the sufferings of World War II and the Holocaust – but it is their profound faith and their fervent devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, that connect them at the deepest level.
It is most appropriate that Sacred Sounds is presenting Gorecki’s music for the first Friday of Lent, only four months after the composer’s death and less than two months before the beatification of Pope John Paul II.
While it may appear that the presentation was planned in response to these events, the dream of offering this music to the community began more than eight years ago and became possible with the efforts of many people who were guided by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It has been a huge undertaking, designed to inspire all who hear Gorecki’s profound music in the sacred setting.
The concert will begin with a short choral piece composed in 1987 for Pope John Paul on the occasion of his third visit to his homeland. The piece is titled after the Pope’s motto, Totus Tuus (Totally Yours), and is a hymn to the Virgin Mary based on chants of the Catholic Polish Church. The words of the text, from a poem by Maria Boguslawska, point to the Pope’s own fervent dedication to the Blessed Mother: "I am completely yours, Mary, Mother of our Redeemer."
"Totus Tuus Op. 60" will be sung by the Cathedral Choir, conducted by Colin Britt, assistant choir director at St. Joseph Cathedral. The concert will continue with Gorecki’s "Symphony No. 3, Opus 36."
This symphony, best known as the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," embodies Gorecki’s Polish and Roman Catholic heritage. The piece combines texts spanning five centuries: a 15th century liturgical work, "Lament for the Holy Cross"; a prayer inscribed on a prison wall by a young woman held by the Nazis; and a Polish folk song.
Each piece speaks of devotion, sorrow and love. In the first, the Virgin Mary pleads with Jesus to "share [his] wounds with [his] mother." In the second, the young prisoner pleads with Mary not "to weep, Most chaste Queen of Heaven, [but] Support me always." In the final movement, a mother laments the death of her son in war, trusting "God’s little song-birds" to console both her and her child.
This marvelous symphony premiered in 1977. The piece embodies the work of a composer whom Cardiff University lauded for "his profound humanity and [appreciation for] . . . the folk and religious culture of his native Poland."
In its memoriam to Gorecki, the Polish Music Newsletter wrote that "there is no doubt that, with its widely enduring spiritual appeal, Gorecki’s music will always find an audience who desire to reflect on the most fundamental questions mankind has struggled to answer."
"Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" coincides with Christians’ Lenten preparations for the holiest day of the liturgical year, Easter.
The concert will be presented at 8 p.m. March 12 in case of snow. The concert is free; free-will offerings will be accepted.
Information is available by contacting the cathedral at (860) 249-8431 or www.cathedralofsaintjoseph.com.Ezequiel Menéndez is the music director for the Cathedral of St. Joseph. Dr. James Gentile, a faculty member at Manchester Community College, contributed to this article.