The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace
Karen Schuessler Singers and Orchestra
Wesley-Knox United Church
November 21, 2015
Voices screamed, drums cracked and passions ran high and low on the evening of November 21 at London’s Wesley-Knox United Church.
The performance of Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’ acclaimed The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace took the packed house on the jarring emotional journey of combatants at war.
The mass was commissioned by the Royal Amouries Museum in 1999 to mark the transition from one millennium to another and was dedicated to the Kosovo crisis in the Balkans.
Based on a Catholic Mass, The Armed Man incorporates text from the Bible, the Islamic call to prayer and the Mahabharata. Additional historical text includes excerpts from poems by Rudyard Kipling, Toge Sankichi and Thomas Malory.
The Karen Schuessler Singers and its soloists and supporting orchestra were more than up to the challenge of performing this challenging modern classic.
Highlights included solos by guest mezzo soprano Gabrielle Heidinger Baerg and a prayer by Moath Abu Aysha which added greatly to the emotional tone of the piece. The mass explored the themes of war: pride, religion, death, destruction, sadness and finally celebration. The standout piece of the evening was the gorgeous “Benedictus” which began with a beautiful cello solo by London’s Christine Newland. When Newland was joined by the full choir the effect was both mesmerizing and deeply moving.
There was only one trifling drawback. Although there has been an audio/visual component to the production in recent years, the images presented for this performance were at times mundane and even a bit odd. There is an accompanying film available and one wishes the venue had opted for that.
It’s difficult to capture in writing the way the performance by the Karen Schuessler Singers and supporting musicians kept the audience enthralled. So consider this. At the end of the performance, there was a short five second moment of almost stunned silence before the entire audience took to their feet for a five-minute plus standing ovation.
It wasn’t an ovation of tradition but one of instinct. After the grueling emotional journey that was The Armed Man, it was the only appropriate response.
The Armed Man is traditionally performed in November – one hopes that the Karen Schuessler Singers attempt an encore next year. And the year after. Or until there is no more war. Yes, it was that good.