Classical Music

Houston Chamber Choir Shows Spiritual Side In 'Two Streams'

The Grammy Award-winning Houston Chamber Choir returns for another season filled with music ranging from the classics to contemporary.
The Grammy Award-winning Houston Chamber Choir returns for another season filled with music ranging from the classics to contemporary. Photo by Jeff Grass Photography
The Grammy Award-winning Houston Chamber Choir opens the 2021-22 season Sing Out the New Day on Friday with the world premiere of "Two Streams," a cantata scored for choir and string orchestra by the internationally-renowned American composer Daniel Knaggs. Based on Biblical texts and the writings of Polish nun Saint Faustina, this 70-minute work was composed in memory of the composer’s father. Bob Simpson serves as conductor and artistic director for the concert and season.

The piece is based on texts by a Polish nun named Maria Faustina Kowalksa. Sister Faustina was a young, uneducated nun in a convent of the Congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland during the 1930s. She came from a poor family that struggled during the years of World War I. She had only three years of simple education, so hers were the humblest tasks in the convent, usually in the kitchen or garden. However, she received extraordinary revelations — or messages — from the Lord, who asked her to record these experiences, which she compiled into notebooks. These notebooks and the words contained within them are God's loving message of Divine Mercy. Saint John Paul II canonized Faustina in 2000 making her the first saint of the new millennium.

"She lived a short but impactful life. Her writings formed the text of 'Two Streams;' her insights into God’s mercy and love formed the crux of this piece. This piece is inclusive of music from the Middle Ages, baroque, and contemporary periods…not to be eclectic, but to be expressive of the timelessness of the text. There will be times with the Gregorian chant, fugal sections, and other breathtaking movements are stamped with 2021, and it holds together in an extraordinary way that goes beyond the composition of the movements. Mercy and God’s love are the threads that hold all this together," Simpson explains.

Simpson continues, "When people start to hear voices, especially the voice of God, you think ‘That’s not normal.’ There are many things we can’t grasp with our rational minds, and Saint Faustina is considered a spot where the distance between this world and the other world is thin, and that transparency allowed her to feel things that weren’t easy for others to experience. Her message was of love and compassion for people. There is no greater description of God’s love for us other than His son’s death on the cross. God’s will for us and the events of Jesus’ life that underscore that really are the texts that most express the themes in this piece."


For Knaggs, the piece is deeply personal. He began working on the piece in September 2019, and the events that unfolded shortly afterward brought him to a new understanding of this piece's importance.

"On September 14, 2019, I spoke with my dad on the phone for over an hour. I told him about this new piece I was writing, and he was really looking forward to it. Only hours later, he passed away really unexpectedly in his sleep. He had a pulmonary embolism. He was super healthy, but that sudden loss of my father robbed me of words, so I chose to process it not verbally but by dedicating this piece to his memory," Knaggs said.

"My dad’s sudden passing, or even that passing of a lot of people this past year and a half reminds us of the fragility of life, so this composition reflects that fragility but at the same time celebrates the hope that transcends even the most ambitious and well-meaning utopian projects of our time. For me, this hope gives a consolation that nothing else can...wrestling with the fragility of life and coming to terms with it as best I can," he added.
click to enlarge Young composer Daniel Knaggs brings a personal touch to Houston Chamber Choir's season opener, Two Streams. - PHOTO BY CHUCK SMITH
Young composer Daniel Knaggs brings a personal touch to Houston Chamber Choir's season opener, Two Streams.
Photo by Chuck Smith
Joining the Houston Chamber Choir for this concert is Kinetic, the dynamic Houston-based string ensemble, and international soloists Caitlin Aloia, soprano; Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano; Christopher Bozeka, tenor; and Mark Diamond, baritone.

"This is a lineup of who's-who of soloists. We’re thrilled at who will be joining us, and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to work with them. It’s a stressful way to start the season. I’ve made promises to myself in the past that I won’t front-load our season and force ourselves to be at the top of the game [from the very beginning], but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass," Simpson said.

While Simpson might have made that promise to himself, a glance at the upcoming season reveals anything but easy work.

The Houston Chamber Choir’s new season Sing Out the New Day runs the gamut from timeless masterpieces by Rachmaninoff and Brahms to new works by young contemporary composers, including two world premieres, traditional holiday concerts, music of South and Central America and whimsical fairy tales set to song.

In November, the choir will perform Johannes Brahms "A Requiem For Humanity," which is dedicated to the men and women who risked their personal safety to care for the victims of COVID-19 and their families. December will bring Candlelight Christmas, featuring organ recitalist Daryl Robinson and the Treble Choir of Houston, directed by Marianna Parnas-Simpson.

January will welcome the annual Hear The Future, the much anticipated concert that spotlights three K-12 schools. March's De La Noche El Dia will showcase the music of Central and South America, followed by one of Sergei Rachmaninoff's most acclaimed works, "All-Night Vigil," in April. The Houston Chamber Choir concludes its season with an evening of enchantment to delight children and adults alike in May with Once Upon a Time.

Audiences will have the opportunity to join in person or view the concert(s) via a digital format on the choir's Digital Stage.

Two Streams plays at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main, and will be released on Houston Chamber Choir's Digital Stage on September 26 at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit houstonchamberchoir.org or call 713-224-5566. Individual concert tickets range from $10 - $25. Season subscriptions range $80 - $140.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd