October 16, 2013
ST. PAUL, Minn. —
“There! Do you hear it? There is a whispering of wings in the silence of the night. They’re coming. With features as white as snow, and faces as bright as the moonlight.
They come to chase the nightmares that gallop through the dark and to harvest the light of the stars. They spread it over roofs and beds and sleeping eyes And fill the night with music…”
That’s Luna Pearl Woolf reading the opening lines to Angel Heart, a music storybook that weaves familiar songs with a story about a guardian angel named Rahmiel and a broken-hearted young woman who happens to be named Luna. It’s a project that’s been in the works for the past three years.
“Lisa DeLan and I have been friends for a long time, and I’ve written music for her. She has commissioned me for a couple of song cycles. And we found that independently we were both thinking about music for children that would involve Matt Haimovitz and his cello ensemble Uccello. And she was thinking of songs and I was thinking of instrumental. And when we discovered that we were both thinking of this, we thought, ‘Well, how can we bring these ideas together and make one even better project?’
“And once the songs were chosen, we actually brought the project to Cornelia Funke, the wonderful children’s author of Inkheart and the Reckless series. Neither of us knew her before this but we brought the idea to her and she ran with it. And she actually chose the order of the songs and she wrote the story to go between them. And the songs are a little bit like illustrations in a storybook. And then I took that story and wrote the original music for cellos underneath the narration. It’s a little bit like ‘Peter and the Wolf’ in that sense. You hear the music illustrating what the narrator is saying.
“I love the story that Cornelia came up with for this,” Luna adds, “It’s not only about angels protecting but it’s also about the idea that as we go through life, there are heartbreaks and trials — and to come through them, you have to remember who you really are. And whatever that was, whatever is inside you, is what will heal you from heartbreaks later in life. I just think that’s such a beautiful sentiment and she does it so well in the writing.”
A cast of musical superstars accompany the narration of Jeremy Irons, who together capture the beautiful sentiment of this story. Luna and her husband, Matt Haimovitz, are joined by countertenor Daniel Taylor and baritone Sanford Sylvan, and Mike Marshall and his wife Caterina Lichtenberg play mandolins. Mezzo-sopranos Frederica von Stade and Zheng Cao, who died shortly after this project was completed, also appear on this recording.
“One of the reasons von Stade is involved is that she, in her semi-retirement, has been mentoring a group of kids who are recorded on here, actually — the Children’s Choir of St. Martin de Porres School in West Oakland[, Calif.]. These are kids who haven’t had a lot of contact with classical music or much of the arts at all. And she goes into their school, she sings with them and she teaches them about what it is that she loves about classical music.
“And we were very inspired by that and also by Matt and his ensemble. Uccello is an ensemble of his best students at McGill. Their ideas of mentoring these students is not just to deliver them classical music and say this is what you should know about — they’re saying, ‘Come with me and be a part of this and come on stage and perform with me.'”
The songs on Angel Heart are all traditional and many have personal significance to Luna Pearl Woolf. “For example, ‘Sleep Baby Sleep.’ That was my favorite lullaby growing up. My mother would sing that. And I love the imagery of the big stars are the sheep, the little ones are lambs, the gentle moon the shepherdess. And the idea of a dreamland tree — I just always loved that idea that dreams could float down on you from the natural world.”
While all of the musicians featured are well suited for this angelic project, it’s the voice of countertenor Daniel Taylor that seems to drift down from the heavens. “I think there’s something about an otherworldly voice coming to you,” Woolf says. “Especially when there’s a story about an angel, but also one of the reasons why we have the tradition of telling stories and singing lullabies at night is that the transition between wake and sleep is mysterious and scary sometimes. And I think that voice captures that in a way because it’s both human and unreal at the same time. Just as the story lets your imagination go, so does that countertenor voice.”
Angel Heart offers an opportunity to recapture innocence through a heartfelt story that will fill the night with music.
By: Julie Amacher
Read at: Minnesota Public Radio