Durban Chamber Choir to present a programme titled ‘The Great Mystery’


Members of the Durban Chamber Choir. Photo: Val Adamson

The Durban Chamber Choir continues its 2016 series of concerts with a programme intriguingly entitled ‘The Great Mystery’.

Performed under the baton of director, Dr Christopher Cockburn, this event, featuring choral music from the 16th and 21st centuries, is being staged at St Thomas’s Church in Musgrave, Durban, on Sunday, October 30 at 3pm.

The programme will be reprised at the Hayfields Lutheran Church in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday, November 6 at 3pm.

Says Cockburn: “Many of the great choral composers of the 16th-century Renaissance produced settings of the Latin text O magnum mysterium, which have remained amongst their best-loved works.

“In recent years, the same words (and the earlier musical settings of them) have been a source of inspiration for a number of contemporary composers.

“In its forthcoming concerts, the Durban Chamber Choir sings five of the Renaissance settings and four of the contemporary settings, providing listeners with a fascinating comparison of different composers’ responses to the same text.

“The words are associated with the season of Christmas, and refer to the ‘great mystery’ that animals should be able to see God lying in a manger. Most of the composers seem to have taken their cue from the word ‘mysterium’ and have created music that is by turns otherworldly and intensely expressive.

“The predominant mood is one of mystical contemplation, and will offer listeners an opportunity to step out of the busyness of the everyday world into a quieter dimension, but several of the composers also take advantage of the ‘Alleluia’ that appears at the end of the text to create contrasting sections in a lively and energetic style.

“The earliest setting is by the Spaniard Cristobal Morales, who lived from 1500 to 1553. The most recent setting was composed in 2012 by the Norwegian Ola Gjeilo, whose music made a deep impression on many of the audience who heard it at the choir’s concert in May.

His setting of ‘O magnum mysterium’ is titled Serenity and adds a solo cello to a rich choral texture that at times divides into as many as twelve different voice parts. The Renaissance settings also feature varied arrangements of the voices, from four parts (Morales and Victoria) to six (Palestrina) and eight (Gallus and Gabrieli).”

The choir is offering patrons a programme of remarkable music rarely heard in live performance – in fact some of these pieces will be performed here for the first time. In addition to the choral items, there will be short interludes of music for solo cello played by Nigel Fish, and music for organ played by Christopher Cockburn.

Tickets are R70 at the door (concessions for students and pensioners R40). School choir groups may attend for free, by prior arrangement. Contact


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