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Karl Jenkins - Motets / New Classical Tracks

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LISTEN TO JULIE AMACHER'S INTERVIEW WITH KARL JENKINS.   Transcript is below

"I always write accessible music - it's tuneful, accessible and strikes an emotional chord with people, I believe. The Mass for Peace, for example, has been performed almost 2,000 times around the planet. So the music does strike a chord with people, which is very humbling and gratifying from my perspective, really."

That's Welsh composer Karl Jenkins describing the appeal of his music, which you've probably heard in advertising for Levi's, British Airways, Pepsi, Delta Airlines and De Beers to name a few. He's written music for Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Dame Evelyn Glennie and Bryn Terfel, and he's earned 17 gold and platinum disc awards. And that only begins to scratch the surface of a composer who marks not only his 70th birthday this year, but his 50th anniversary as a musician. Numerous celebrations are already underway, including a performance to celebrate Martin Luther King at Carnegie Hall in January, where a new work called "The Healer," will be premiered. Karl Jenkins is also marking this important anniversary with a new recording of uplifting works for a cappella choir titled, Motets. It features some brand new pieces, as well as new arrangements of some of his most popular works.

"And the idea was to strip the music to its bones, really, without any orchestration or accompaniment," Jenkins says. "I usually use a lot of percussion in my works. But it was revisiting some of the most evocative and memorable, to my mind, of my pieces whilst at the same time creating some new pieces. And I was inspired by Stephen Layton and Polyphony, a remarkable vocal group in the U.K. And his interpretation of the music is quite fascinating, really, and beautiful … the sound of it is quite beautiful. So I was thrilled to have him agree to do it"

One piece that really struck me was Laudamus te from Jenkins' "Gloria." The stunning key change is so subtle, as if the sun is rising through the clouds. "It's very beautiful," Jenkins agrees, "E-flat to F. But … he kind of milks it, really, the way Stephen interpreted it, exactly the way I would have dreamt it to be. It is, as you say, subtle. The music goes quiet for a while. Then the chord comes in and then it goes off on the tangent again. I'm glad you liked that part. So do I. It's quite thrilling, really."

In some respects, Jenkins says each of these works are personal favorites, though he does have a soft spot for the three new pieces written specifically for this release, "Ah, yes. Nunc dimitis, the last one on the recording. There's another one - Locus Iste … like, 'here lives God,' locus iste, which Bruckner set for his text with the same name. And there's hymn from Adiemus which is the Ave Maria text, which fits it like a glove, really. And there's another one - a William Blake poem, I think, which was The Shepherd. An ancient text - not ancient but old &helllip; so there are four, I think … there are three completely new works: The Shepherd, Locus Iste and Nunc Dimitis."

In addition to giving familiar works new text, and writing three completely new pieces, Karl Jenkins stretched himself even further by producing this recording in what was, for him, a completely new way. "I usually work in a conventional modern recording studio," Jenkins explains. "I've always produced pretty much like the way a pop recording is made … with a sound bed or a bass … over which is overlaid the orchestra and the choir. Which gives me control over each element. This was different - done in a dated way, I suppose … or a classical way … in which it's all done at once in a church. A slightly new experience for me - we did it in three days. And because it was done in a church, there were some issues as one gets with extraneous sound from traffic, aircraft or whatever. So the recording was interrupted a couple of times because of extraneous noises. But the sound within the natural acoustic was phenomenal."

Recording in All Hallows' Church in Hampstead, North London, was a memorable experience for Karl Jenkins, and one he shares with you as he marks his 50th anniversary season with these strikingly beautiful Motets.