Music Preview: Portara Ensemble meets ‘The Lord of the Rings’

vardaWords cannot express her beauty. But that doesn’t stop the denizens of middle-earth from celebrating the semi-divine Varda, aka Elbereth, in hymn and prayer.

“A Elbereth Gilthoniel silivren penna míriel o menel aglar elenath,” sing a group of elves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

This Sunday at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, the singers of the Portara Vocal Ensemble will bring Tolkien’s imaginary prayer to life when they present the world premiere of composer Matt Walker’s “A Elbereth.”

The free concert, called “Passing of the Year, a Choral Reflection on the Nature of Beauty,” will also feature the music of Patrick Dunnevant and Jonathan Dove. The performance starts at 2:30 p.m.

matt3Walker, who is best known as a Nashville Symphony cellist and as a founding member of the Alias Chamber Ensemble, frequently contributes original compositions to Alias, and he has also composed music for Nashville Ballet and for the cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Joseph Johnson.

“I’ve been composing since high school,” says Walker. “I’ve always loved improvising, and I think my interest in composing grew out of that. For me, composing is the art of writing down and perfecting an improvisation.”

Walker has been looking for an opportunity to set Tolkien’s prayer to the goddess of the stars for some time. He got his chance when Alias began collaborating with the Portara Vocal Ensemble. Portara, like Alias, seems to be equally at home performing both early music and contemporary works.

Although a new piece, “A Elbereth” sounds old. That’s deliberate. “I wanted to create music that sounded ancient, ethereal and otherworldly,” says Walker. “This is supposed to be music from middle-earth.”

Walker imagined the elves accompanying themselves on harp, so he included that instrument in the arrangement. The score also includes passages for violin and cello – “I threw in the cello because I wanted to play it,” Walker says. Portara routinely sings in multiple languages. This Sunday, the singers will perform for the first time in Elvish.

The performance will also include Dunnevant’s Three Songs After Adelaide. Shreyas Patel, Portara’s artistic director, provided the following note about this work.

“For this trilogy of songs, [Dunnevant] chose the poems of Adelaide Crapsey, an American poet who invented the cinquain poem.  Inspired by the Japanese haiku form, a cinquain is a five-line poem which features an increasing syllable count with each line.  The first piece, November Night, symbolizes the sound that leaves make when they fall from the trees in autumn.  The second piece, The Grand Canyon, conveys the awe of a person observing the natural wonder of this powerful and inspiring landscape.  The final piece, Triad, explores three different aspects of silence.”

Patel provided the following information about Dove’s The Passing of the Year for double chamber choir and piano.

“Dove is one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music.  Dove is noted in particular as a composer of operas, and there are few composers active today who are as successful in the realm of opera as Dove.  Because of his deep understanding of the human voice, it is no surprise that Dove is also an inspired composer of choral music.  He has composed many works, both for concert and liturgical use, which are in the repertoires of choirs around the world.  The Passing of the Year is dedicated to the memory of Dove’s mother, and sets seven texts by William Blake, Emily Dickinson, George Peele, Thomas Nashe, and Alfred Lord Tennyson.  This rhythmically intense, beautiful and approachable music celebrates aspects of nature and the changes of each season.”


Portara Ensemble presents the world premiere of Matt Walker’s “A Elbereth” along with performances of Patrick Dunnevant’s Three Songs After Adelaide and Jonathan Dove’s The Passing of the Year. The free concert is 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13 at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, 2015 West End Ave.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.


  1. […] Words cannot express her beauty. But that doesn’t stop the denizens of middle-earth from celebrating the semi-divine Varda, aka Elbereth, in hymn and prayer. “A Elbereth Gilthoniel silivren penna m…  […]