Path of Miracles (2005)
It isn’t often that a new masterpiece comes along for a cappella choir. Only time can tell if a work will be considered a masterpiece, one that will be taken into repertoire by choirs around the world and performed by generations hence. We can imagine that Poulenc’s Figure humaine, Schoenberg’s Friede auf Erden or Rachmaninoff’s Vespers might once have been greeted thus.
In Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles, we might well have another such work. I certainly can’t think of another recently written work for a cappella choir that is so beautifully composed, so virtuosic, so profound, so thrilling. As a conductor, one of the most important indicators as to whether the work merits repeated performance is whether it keeps revealing more and more of itself each time. As a singer, I have performed Path of Miracles maybe a dozen times; I have conducted it at least ten times; I have spent countless hours in rehearsals studying the score. Thus far, like any great work, it has continued to reveal itself at the musical, structural, academic, historical and emotional levels. As with the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, Path of Miracles is a journey in itself—a challenge, an inspiration, a transformative experience.
But the birth of a masterpiece isn’t always easy, and Path of Miracles was no exception. As Talbot was conducting research on this masterpiece in Spain, he was involved in a nasty car accident. In the early stages of rehearsal, even Tenebrae’s top professional singers struggled with the virtuosity of the score. And then followed the London bombings—the very day of the planned premiere on July 7, 2005. But finally the piece was up and running and the results were sublime! I had the privilege to perform the work under Nigel Short’s direction and be part of its first tour across Northern Spain. I witnessed the rapture of the first audiences to hear the piece. I shared moments of such incredible intensity and profound beauty that performers would break down in tears upon leaving the stage.
A few years passed and I moved to Montreal, bringing with me a copy of Path of Miracles. In 2020, Voces Boreales gave the first full performance of the piece in Montreal, having previously given others in outlying areas. I have to admit that there have been plenty of occasions where the hair stands up on the back of my neck. And not many pieces can do that!
But the final proof of the pudding has to come from the singers themselves—which happens each time they hear of another performance being planned. “Fantastic!” they say. “Another chance to sing this amazing piece!” and, turning to other singers, “Do you know it? You have to hear it.” And then, singers say, excitedly, “I’m in. I can’t wait!”
I hope that your journey is equally enriching.
E ultreia, e suseia!
Year of composition
18 a cappela voices