A Canadian Composer Bestiary: Jocelyn Morlock

This Friday, the Laudate Singers might very well be premiering a piece of own (Don’t worry – they are). However, I’m at least wise enough to know when I’m in the presence of something magical and I feel obliged to hold up a big sign to let you all know that this concert is going to be all about Jocelyn Morlock’s Exaudi.

Exaudi was commissioned by Vancouver’s musica intima vocal ensemble in 2004 and it has gone on to be performed very widely and even been nominated for a Juno award in 2011. Scored for vocal ensemble and cello, it’s an extremely powerful statement of rising tension and catharsis. The composer says, “I wrote it after my grandmother had died so I wanted it to be in memory of her. In a weird way it’s a little bit about her life. Her husband died very young – young enough that she didn’t know what to do – so she tried to throw herself into the grave with him. It’s one of those stories your family tells you and you remember it forever”.

The first section of the piece begins with ritualized incantations from the choir that are soon joined by the cello. The opening figure from the cello seems to mimic what occurs in the choral parts but quickly fancies itself another foil. Once the opening elegy peters out, taking the cello with it, the women’s voices add a new urgency to the mix. The piece throttles up until the air is sundered with our largest sonority yet – completely unlike any other thing until now – and it’s at this point that the cello rejoins us by scraping the sky above the choir before tipping into the bedlam below.

The closing section draws us back from the earlier horror and more to a place of acceptance and peace. “She was stuck where she was but gradually became better” says Jocelyn about her grandmother. “As she became much older, the idea of death became very peaceful to her – very calming”. In these closing measures, the sopranos are invisibly roused by sweet melodic turns from the cello; an unmistakable mini tone-poem painting a choir of angels; and the piece closes on a prayer for eternal rest.