Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Holy Spirit Church Presents Chamber Music Premiere

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published April 29, 2004

Catholic musician Dr. Albert Ahlstrom has composed a work entitled “The Gardens of Mount Paran” to be premiered in the final concert of the Atlanta Chamber Players’ “Chamber Music in Sacred Spaces” series on May 9 at Holy Spirit Church, where the composer serves as principal organist and director of the Cappella Antiqua group.

The evening of chamber music to close ACP’s 28th season entitled “Americana And…” will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the church, located at 4465 Northside Drive, NW, Atlanta. Ahlstrom’s world premiere work is for the ACP ensemble of clarinet, violin, cello and piano. The program will also include a largo for clarinet, violin and piano by Ives, a trio for trumpet, violin and piano by Ewazen and a piano trio in D major, “Ghost,” by Beethoven.

For the last three years ACP has been presenting their “Chamber Music in Sacred Spaces” series, a chance to celebrate the powerful spiritual connection between chamber music and sacred spaces. They have performed in venues such as The Temple, Sacred Heart Church and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta.

Ahlstrom said that his brand new piece is a mixture of Bruckner, Mahler, jazz, minimalism, Messiaen, Stravinsky and Ives. He called it a peaceful, gentle and abstract piece with a variety of styles and “richly colored music.” It has three movements on a reflecting pool, noon garden and rose arbor. “It’s sort of avant-garde, minimalist. When you listen to it, it has a turbulent beginning and resolves (the turbulence) in a meditative way. It’s sort of prayerful in a way,” he said.

He explained that like much of chamber music of today, it is pleasant and easy to listen to, making it enjoyable for the average listener, while being “on the edge” and highly technical with “little aesthetic ideas going on” beneath the surface. And “what’s great about chamber music is you don’t have a conductor so the group itself is generating rhythms so they sort of lead each other forward in rhythms,” he continued. “It’s kind of exciting.”

Ahlstrom holds a doctorate in musical arts in organ performance from The Julliard School and has composed extensively for diverse groups ranging from full orchestras to performers, and performed solo organ recitals and appeared with various instrumental ensembles, including a solo appearance and interview at the American Music Festival of Radio France. He is grateful to Deacon Thomas Shuler at Holy Spirit, who had the idea to write the piece and has encouraged him to also compose other works for the church, such as the Requiem he had written for All Souls Day and “The Seven Last Words of Christ” for Good Friday. And he appreciates the initiative of the pastor, Msgr. Edward Dillon, who initiated the church’s choral program, which includes Gregorian chant on Sundays and his Cappella Antiqua on Saturdays which presents masterworks of the Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic and Modern periods. He enjoys carrying on the church’s historical role as the great patroness of the arts through presenting traditional masterpieces including some of those commissioned by the Vatican at Holy Spirit. For “The Gardens of Mt. Paran,” he was influenced in particular by French master Olivier Messiaen. Messiaen was a major 20th-century master and mystic who did not write liturgical music but rather pieces that nevertheless embodied the prayerful, reflective tradition of Catholicism. Messiaen’s work reflects the “thinking that the church can be the embodiment of art,” Ahlstrom said. “The church for centuries is basically where everything was going on and what happened is you have 100 years of great music, sitting around waiting to be done.”

Paula Peace, ACP artistic director and pianist, is not surprised by Ahlstrom’s Messiaen influence, as she noted he spent time in France with one of his most acclaimed interpreters. “Albert is a brilliant musician and composer. It is a thoroughly modern work, with sections alternating between floating/dreaming and even jazzy/bebop,” she said. “The music features interesting textures and rhythms and will give audiences a chance to stretch their ears which enjoying a musical meditation.”

Holy Spirit’s Deacon Shuler is a former piano student of Peace and has known the group for a couple of decades. “We love performing in such a gorgeous and spiritual sanctuary. And years ago I helped Tom select the seven-foot Steinway piano that I will be performing on,” Peace added.

Ahlstrom is glad to be able to collaborate with Peace and all of the very talented Atlanta Chamber Players and share such a beautiful musical space as Holy Spirit.

“They like playing here. It’s a beautiful church with great acoustics,” he said. “They’re just great players. They’ve got all these players from the Atlanta Symphony. They’re really great, internationally known;… They tour around the country.”

Making his debut with the ACP is Christopher Martin, ASO principal trumpeter, who is featured in American Eric Ewazen’s trio for the unusual combination of violin and piano plus trumpet. This work has a strong rhythmic and harmonic character, while exploring the lyric qualities of the trumpet. The largo for clarinet, violin and piano by American Charles Ives is an introspective meditation and completes the “Americana” component of the program and features Laura Ardan, ASO principal clarinetist. And Beethoven’s beloved “Ghost” trio will showcase the piano trio in this melancholic and also bright work.

Peace said that “Ghost” gets its nickname from its substantial slow movement, a very expressive, even tragic movement featuring Beethoven at his most pensive, with both outer movements bright and outgoing. Ewazen writes in a rhythmically engaging, almost pop style with wonderful lyrical writing for the trumpet and interesting rhythmic accompaniment by piano, she continued.

Peace is also excited to have Martin appear with the ACP, as he’s a brilliant trumpeter and an Atlanta native “who has earned a national reputation and is beloved for his sweet, lyrical style of playing.”

“We are proud to work with him.”

In addition to Peace, other ACP core members to play are Christopher Pulgram on violin, also violinist with the ASO, and Brad Ritchie, who plays cello for the ASO.

For the ACP fall season, Pulitzer Prize–winning American composer John Hurbisson has written a new quintet called “Songs America Loves to Sing” with flute, violin, clarinet, cello and piano to receive its world premiere this Oct. 24 at Emory’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.

ACP appears in public, private and special audience concerts, television and radio broadcasts and has performed critically acclaimed concerts in more than 200 cities and to millions world-wide through live international radio broadcasts. Their broad-range repertoire crosses boundaries from traditional masterpieces of Brahms and Beethoven to contemporary classics of Crumb and Shostakovich. Performances range from the three-instrument core of piano, violin and cello to works with musicians from the wind, string, vocal and brass families.

Advance ticket purchase is not required for the concert at Holy Spirit. For more information call the ACP concert hotline at (770) 242-2227 or visit or for directions call Holy Spirit at (404) 252-4513.