Monday, February 23, 2015

An American Composer and English Tea Sandwiches

Robin and I have now returned to California, and one of the reasons we left Hawai‘i earlier than usual was so I could participate in a very exciting musical event: The preeminent American choral composer Morten Lauridesen would be composer-in-residence for a week in mid-February at Cabrillo College. 

During this time he’d attend music classes and chorus rehearsals and do a Q&A session, with the week culminating in a concert of his music under the baton of the talented and tireless Cheryl Anderson.

Dr. Lauridsen at our rehearsal
(with Cheryl at left)

Six different choruses performed at the concert last Saturday night. The group I sing with, the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus, had learned Lux Aeterna, one of Lauridsen’s most well-known compositions, for its Christmas concert last December. This piece—a mix of 16th century sacred and modern, almost jazzy, styles—is heart-achingly beautiful, but also exceedingly difficult to learn. I didn’t sing with the Cabrillo Chorus last fall, but I was fortunate enough to have already sung the Lux Aeterna the previous year with the Hilo Community Chorus, so I was able to step into rehearsals without any problem. (Thanks, Tom McAlexander!)

Dr. Lauridsen attended our rehearsal last Tuesday evening. He listened to our renditions of his works while pacing the hall, brows furrowed. I can only imagine how stressful it must have been for Cheryl to have the composer right there, listening to her interpretation of his famous works.

Dr. Lauridsen in his Richard Wagner pose

And he did indeed have opinions to voice. “Not so even and regular during the “O Nata Lux,” the composer admonished us. “The tempo should vary and the music undulate.” (Mind you, this is something Cheryl had already told us many times.)

And he was not at all happy that the orchestra was missing its second viola and clarinet for the rehearsal (notwithstanding that he had been warned in advance that they would be absent that night).

working with the orchestra

But he also showed us his jovial side. He loves to tell stories—about himself and about his music. Here is a short clip of him telling us about visiting Los Angeles Master Chorale director, Paul Salamunovich (who commissioned the Lux Aeterna), shortly before his death:

Saturday morning we had a full rehearsal at the church where the concert would be held that night, and we were all relieved to see that Dr. Lauridsen seemed quite pleased with what he heard. Here you can see him sitting behind Cheryl, studying his score as we sing:

It was such a treat to get to meet one of of the foremost choral composers of our day, to listen to him talk about his music, and to hear him accompany his songs himself on piano. This is a very short clip (I had to stop filming when my alto part came in) of Dr. Lauridsen playing piano for us on his song “Prayer”:

But most of all, if was truly amazing to get to sing so many of his wonderful works, and with such a terrific chorus. (I should note that Dr. Lauridsen told us that never before had so many of his pieces all been performed in one concert.)

So thank you to Cheryl, and to all the others who worked so incredibly hard to make this amazing week possible! I and my fellow chorus-members shall never forget the experience.

Now on to the food! There was a gala reception following the concert, and choral members were asked to contribute finger food. I decided to make two kinds of English-style tea sandwiches: cucumber with lemon-dill cream cheese; and ham, cheese, and mango-ginger chutney:

For those who would like to recreate them, here are photos of the process. Make sure you buy thinly-sliced “sandwich bread” (it’s more square than the regular kind) and cut off the crusts (which I’ve saved in my freezer for a future batch of stuffing).

For the cucumber sandwiches, I used a hand-mixer and whipped the cream cheese with lemon zest and juice, as well as a little yogurt to make it softer and easier to spread. Here you can see my assembly line. On half the slices spread mayo. On the other half, the cream cheese spread, then chopped dill, then the cuke slices. (I left a little of the peel on for its color). Ziggy is looking on, hoping for a dropped slice of bread.

For the ham and cheese, spread chutney on half the slices. On the other half spread Dijon mustard, ham, and cheese (I used Havarti). 

The last step is to cut the sandwiches into four pieces. Voilà the finished product:

we were instructed to bring lots of food
(and yes, they were all gone by the end of the evening)


  1. I've really enjoyed Laurensen's work at the holiday concerts over the years. I considered going up to this one, but didn't manage it. I'm glad you were able to take part!

  2. What a wonderful account--wish I could have been there to hear the music and eat the sandwiches! (I definitely would've fallen off the Atkins Wagon for the occasion)