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Lenten concerts take over March Fridays

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state premiere of James MacMillan’s dramatic song of Christ’s agony centers the third annual “Fridays in Lent” series at the Cathedral of St. John.

Solo guitarist Jeremy Mayne will perform a Lenten concert on March 20.

Solo guitarist Jeremy Mayne will perform a Lenten concert on March 20.

Launched in part to showcase the talents of local musicians, the series is slated for Friday evenings through March 27. The stages will range from the cathedral’s mammoth sanctuary to its more intimate Anna Kaseman Hall, said music director and organist Maxine Thévenot.

Eighteen singers from Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico will sing MacMillan’s “Seven Last Words from the Cross” accompanied by 16 string players on March 13.

“James MacMillan is a Scottish-based composer with very strong Catholic roots,” Thévenot said. “With his music you’ll find a lot of Celtic-isms.”

Dissonant counterpoint, dense clusters, and abrasive effects in the strings contribute to a vivid depiction of the Passion of the Christ.

“This is a 45-minute cantata,” Thévenot continued. “Each movement depicts those seven last words. It’s a very, very powerful work.”

Founded in 2006, Polyphony: Voices of New Mexico is the only resident professional vocal ensemble in the state, Thévenot said. The group has performed with both the New Mexico Philharmonic and the Santa Fe Concert Association, as well as in music series in both Placitas and Corrales.

March 6 will feature violinist Megan and cellist James Holland with special guest violist Kim Fredenburgh in an intimate trio ensemble in Anna Kaseman Hall. The March 20 audience will hear the solo guitar of Jeremy Mayne in a contemplative program, again in Anna Kaseman Hall.

Thévenot will perform Bach’s “Orgelbüchlein Chorales” on the organ for the final concert on March 27.

“They’re Lenten chorales,” she said, “born out of need for his students to study technique on the organ. So they’re short pieces.”

The composer wrote his “Little Organ Book” between 1708-1717 while he was the court organist at Weimer. The chorale preludes form the first of Bach’s masterpieces for organ. At the same time, they represent a collection of organ music for the church, a treatise on composition, a religious statement and a pedagogical manual.