Splendid Missa Gaia unusual cathedral fare

Rick Bonino
Spokesman-Review Staff writer

Spokane, WA - 4/28/03_ It was a Sunday, we were in a church, and the music was a Mass.

But the performance of Paul Winter's "Missa Gaia" -- literally, "Earth Mass" -- at St. John's Cathedral in Spokane wasn't what you typically hear in a house of worship.

The Kyrie eleison was launched by the recorded call of an Alaskan tundra wolf. Humpback whales introduced the Sanctus and Benedictus. And the Agnus Dei? How about harp seals.

This was a communion not with wafers and wine, but with nature.

Guitarist/singer Jim Scott, a former Winter sideman and co-composer of the "Missa Gaia," was the guest artist for the season's final The Cathedral and The Arts concert, led by Chicago-based conductor Lee Kesselman.

Winter fans will remember Scott as the voice on "Common Ground," a bonus encore on Sunday.

He was backed by some of the area's top jazz players, most notably Chris Moyer, who superbly supplied swirling, Winter-style soprano sax lines. Cathedral organist Janet Satre Ahrend added a powerful, extended organ meditation.

Anchoring it all, aurally and visually, was a 100-voice choir made up of members of the Spokane Area Children's Chorus, Unitarian Universalist Church Choir, Northwest Sacred Music Chorale, Spokane Community Choir, St. John's Cathedral Choir and Northwest Bach Festival Chorus.

"Missa Gaia," which premiered in 1981 at another St. John's -- the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City -- is a spiritually informed version of Winter's trademark blend of nature, New Age, jazz and world music sounds.

Its rendering of the Beatitudes built from a solemn beginning to a rousing gospel jam with sizzling solo work by Moyer. The packed audience, respectfully silent between most movements, couldn't help bursting into applause.

Applause also followed a vocal solo by Spokane Community Choir director Melanie Luedders on "Mystery."

Scott showed off his fingerstyle string talents on "Meditation," one of his solo compositions sprinkled throughout the program, accompanied by loon, musical wren, woodthrush and dawnbird.

"Missa Gaia" centers around St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology. When the piece is performed each October at St. John's in New York City to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis, participants bring their pets to be blessed.

"Even an elephant strolls into the huge cathedral to join in this celebration of the Earth," says Winter's Web site.

With the circus in town on Sunday, maybe it was a missed opportunity.

•Sunday's concert will be broadcast tonight at 7 on KPBX-FM (91.1). Rick Bonino can be reached at 459-5068 or by e-mail at rickb@spokesman.com.


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