Nostos Producer’s Notes

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Tes Mousikes

The Homecoming of Music

Collaborations in music, and perhaps in life in general, can be among our most rewarding experiences. At Yarlung, these collaborations and camaraderie are what keep us going.  Nostos offers an example of just how fruitful this sort of relationship can be.

Music director Robert Istad is one of the most exciting choral conductors in the next generation of American music.  He recently inherited the venerable post of Music Director of the Pacific Chorale, led by the eminent John Alexander since 1972.[1]  Dr. Istad also serves as president of the California Choral Director’s Association, and is Professor of Music and Director of Choral Studies at California State University, Fullerton.  Rob has conducted the Cal State Fullerton University Singers for eleven years.

The School of Music at Cal State University Fullerton justifiably prides itself in excellence, and has done so for many decades.  In the vocal arts alone, singers such as Deborah Voigt and Charles Castronovo studied at Fullerton.  Cal State University Fullerton President Mildred Garcia takes special interest in music and she counts herself among the many fans of the University Singers.  She has described the members of the ensemble as worldwide ambassadors for the university.

President Garcia should be proud.  One week before our recording sessions, Rob Istad and the University Singers returned from a triumphant tour in Scandinavia, the Baltics and Russia.  Happily for me, the ensemble sang the same repertoire as in our recording, so the singers arrived perfectly rehearsed and in an ideal psychological frame of mind for our project.  The singers performed without sheet music on their tour, and this deep familiarity with the repertoire made it possible to record each of the pieces you hear on this disc in one take.  There is no editing involved.  Rob’s singers actually sing this well.

Yarlung’s board president Aaron Egigian introduced me to Rob Istad and suggested that his students at Fullerton ranked among the very finest vocal ensembles.  Indeed Aaron had hired the singers for concerts at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, where he serves as senior director for music programming.  Aaron mentioned their recent tours in Europe and Asia and their 2015 residency in Paris, and commended their local performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Pacific Symphony Orchestras.

Great music needs excellent acoustics for a recording like ours.  In the wrong concert hall, subtleties in the music and interpretation can be lost.  Happily, our friend Thor Steingraber invited us to make the first recording at the Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge.  Thor runs a dynamic concert series at VPAC, but the venue had not yet been showcased with a recording it could share with the world at large.  Thor knew that Yarlung had been asked to make the inaugural recordings in Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa and The Brain and Creativity Institute’s Cammilleri Hall at USC, and invited us to use his beautiful auditorium in Northridge.  As you will hear in this album, we were thrilled with the sound in the hall, and it offered flawless acoustics for a powerful and nuanced vocal ensemble like the University Singers.

Another person happy we were making this recording at VPAC was my friend Dan Avchen, who served as CEO for HGA Architects and Engineers, the firm that built the Valley Performing Arts Center.  I remember attending the first pre-opening concert at VPAC, given by Yarlung’s Yehuda Gilad and Colburn Orchestra.  Great as the acoustics were then, we were delighted to take advantage of the acoustic flexibility of the hall to allow the University Singers to truly shine.  Side and rear panels and curtains, as well as the stage itself, all adjust to enable various acoustics.  Dan and his architecture firm did a great job.  The hall is as beautiful to look at as it is exciting to sing in.  Arian, Cliff and I sat with our microphones and recording equipment on stage, looking at the singers facing us with the beautiful backdrop of the Valley Performing Arts Center concert hall behind them.

Technical Director Charlie Matthew and his extraordinary team: Nick Oldham, Zack Leuchars, James Walsh, Gina Routi, TJ Herrington and Michael Turner, as well as Justin Souza and Thor himself, made us feel welcome at VPAC.  Their friendliness and expertise enabled our recording to go smoothly from start to finish.

Rob Istad gives much credit to his mentor and friend John Alexander, not only for building the Pacific Chorale and the University Singers into two of the most dynamic and exciting choral ensembles in North America, but for being an inspiration to Rob personally and encouraging him over many years.  It is with much appreciation and warmth that Rob Istad, the University Singers and I wish to dedicate this album to John.

Many thanks to the School of Music at Cal State University Fullerton, Kimo Furumoto, Dale Merrill, Patricia Falzon, Cal State University Northridge Valley Performing Arts Center, Thor Steingraber and

Leslie Bigos for giving us the funds and ability to make this wonderful recording.

Leslie Bigos, executive director for this album, also serves on our Yarlung board of directors, and enjoys a particular passion for sacred choral music.  She has worked with me on this project since its inception and we are grateful for her leadership, generosity and sense of humor.

This collaboration between two universities, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge, between our conductor and our wonderful singers, between the architecture firm that built the hall and the composers whose sacred music fills that hallowed space in our album… this collaboration promises to remain one of my lasting favorites.


Rob Istad planned this recording and the repertoire for their tour carefully.  This is church music, from the sacred traditions in Europe, Russia and the Americas.  The University Singers gave this concert in four beautiful houses of worship in Västerås, Tallinn, Helsinki and St. Petersburg.  Rob wanted to take the best American choral tradition on tour, and take home music by composers from these areas.  Rob talked about how important it was to “connect each student to the culture of the places they would visit through the repertoire,” while he also acknowledged that “European audiences expect American choirs to bring music from their own folk tradition.”  The University Singers performed this wide-ranging music from memory, and their concerts were effectively and entertainingly staged by Fullerton colleague Jim Taulli.  I attended a pre-tour concert in Newport Beach, and I was impressed with how well the staging and music worked together.

Tracks 4 and 10, Herbert Howells and Johannes Brahms:

Herbert Howells’ Requiem and Brahms’ Op. 29 motet served as the foundation stones of the program.  The singers performed other works by Howells in 2015, and asked for more.  Istad was happy to oblige, especially since he had fallen in love with the Requiem and with its companion work, Hymnus Paradisi when he was a student.  Istad wrote his dissertation on the two works.  Rob talked with me about his reaction to the Requiem several times, and stressed that even though it is a mass for the dead, it celebrates life through its promise of the peace that comes through faith, contemplation and acceptance.  This performance, anything but morbid, emphasizes the Requiem’s transcendence, its reassurance, and its foretelling of eternal light.

Howells’ inclusion of Psalms 23 and 121 in the Requiem encouraged Rob to balance them with Brahms’ setting of Psalm 51 in the Op. 29 motet.  Istad elaborated that “Brahms takes the penitential words of the Psalmist and creates an emotional journey from which exhilaration emerges out of supplication.” He also relished how Brahms’ tonal language contrasts sharply with the harmonic structure in the Howells Requiem.  Rob looked forward to hearing how the singers would respond to the Brahms, which demands such different vocal production and choral color than does the Howells.

Both composers’ works acknowledge the fleeting nature of life and the grief we must all suffer on our journey, balanced hopefully by spiritual transformation.  Both composers wrestle with conflict and doubt but emerge stronger in their optimism for spiritual enlightenment.  This became the overarching theme of Rob’s program.  He wanted the students and listeners to experience mortality and grief, transfigured ultimately through the promise of enlightenment.

  1. Nunc dimittis, Arvo Pärt

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, born in 1935, is one of the Founding Fathers of what came to be known as “Holy Minimalism.” Beginning his career with impeccable avant garde and modernist credentials, Pärt hit a creative and spiritual impasse in 1968, resulting in a self-imposed silence of nearly eight years. When he re-emerged, his music was stripped down to its most pure and rarified elements, delighting in the purity of sound and exuding a radiant spirituality. Nunc dimittis was commissioned by the choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, and received its world premiere under the direction of Matthew Owens in an Evensong during the 2001 Edinburgh Festival.

  1. O crux Op. 79, Knut Nystedt

Knut Nystedt (1915-2014) ranks among the towering figures of 20th century Norwegian music. Nystedt studied with Aaron Copland and while he wrote music in many genres, it is Nystedt’s sacred choral music that made him the most famous.  Nystedt drew inspiration from earlier material, especially music by Palestrina and the composers of the Gregorian chants. While he employed myriad contemporary compositional techniques, Nystedt favored simple and direct musical communication. Nystedt was the first Norwegian composer to be nominated for a GRAMMY® Award, for the 2005 album Immortal Nystedt performed by the Bærum Vokalensemble and Ensemble 96.

  1. Amazing Grace, traditional, arranged by Ēriks Ešenvalds

The American hymn Amazing Grace may be one of the most recognizable songs in the world.  Will anyone forget President Obama’s performance in Charleston’s Emanuel AME church? Since its first publication in 1779 in Olney Hymns (as a text only), Amazing Grace has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named “New Britain” to which it is most frequently sung today. The Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds was born in 1977, and arranged  Amazing Grace almost as a prelude for choir, in which he varies the melody and setting with each recurrence. Ešenvalds’ unerring sense of musical drama reveals itself in his confident writing for voices and some goose-bump inducing modulations.  I have played this recording for several people who told me more or less “I didn’t think I needed to hear Amazing Grace yet again. But I love this performance! I’m glad it is on the album.”

  1. Media vita, Michael McGlynn

Before “Riverdance” and “Celtic Woman”, there was Anúna, the internationally famous Irish choral sensation, founded in 1987 by Michael McGlynn, born in 1964.  Irish choral music had been on the verge of extinction. Drawing upon a full range of ancient, modern and international influences (McGlynn and Anúna recently performed with Gensho Umewaka, one of Japan’s supreme masters of Noh theater), McGlynn created a truly original art form, fresh and unmistakably Irish in spirit.   For his setting of Media vita, McGlynn has drawn upon medieval Irish sources for both text and melody.  McGlynn originally wrote the tenor solo for himself.  Think of Rob Istad’s concept for this performance by the University Singers when you listen to or read the text of Media vita.  From a tenuous midpoint, a pilgrim reflects on his life and thinks ahead to death, expressing the fear of collapse and hope for transcendence through salvation.

  1. Spaseniye sodyelal, Pavel Chesnokov

Chesnokov lived from 1877 to 1944 and composed Spaseniye sodyelal (Salvation is Created) in 1912.  The motet is one in a cycle of ten Communion Hymns (Russian-Orthodox Anthem), Op. 25, No.5 composed during Chesnokov’s tenure at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Moscow. He based his motet on a synodal Kievan chant, which he intertwined with newly composed material.  Outside of Russia, Chesnokov’s Spaseniye sodyelal is one of the most performed and popular pieces in the Russian repertoire.  Thanks to our friend Michael Jacob Sklansky at the LA Philharmonic, we provide the original Slavonic text for tracks 6 & 7, below, for listeners familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet.

  1. Zapovedi blazhenstv, Vladimir Martynov

Dr. Istad chose Vladimir Martynov’s setting of Zapovedi blazhenstv (The Beatitudes) as the encore for their tour program. Martynov was born in 1946. Martynov’s choice of text and his mystical aesthetic connected deeply with the ensemble’s mission to communicate peace and cross-cultural understanding.  Because the piece calls for six soloists, Rob decided to stage the work to be performed in the round on the tour, culminating in a stately procession out of the churches.

  1. Alleluia, laus et gloria, Tarik O’Regan

Tarik O’Regan was born in London in 1978.  I consider him to be Irish-Moroccan-American, and he has been living in New York since 2004.  O’Regan has taught at Harvard, Columbia and Princeton, and has been commissioned by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Royal Opera House and Houston Grand Opera among others.  Tarik also serves as composer in residence for the Pacific Chorale at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, which Rob Istad now directs.  Alleluia was commissioned by the BBC for the Pro Musica Girls’ Choir of Hungary. We look forward to recording more of Tarik’s music.

  1. Pseudo-yoik, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

Finnish composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi (b. 1963) describes himself as an eclectic traditionalist.  Trained as a linguist and translator, Mäntyjärvi wrote Pseudo-yoik as an experiment in vocal textures.  It happens also to be great fun to perform. The text consists entirely of nonsense syllables and draws its inspiration from the Yoik singing of the Sami (Lapplanders), an indigenous people of the Arctic area of Sápmi, a region spanning northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. The Yoik or Joik is more than a song, it is a personal relationship. One does not sing a Yoik about a pretty girl, the Yoik IS the pretty girl.

  1. My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord, traditional, arranged by Moses Hogan

Oberlin and Juilliard trained pianist and arranger Moses Hogan (1957 –2003) gives us his rousing arrangement of this traditional American spiritual to end our program.  Hogan wrote this arrangement for Sonja Sepulveda and the Sumter High School Concert Choir in 1998.  I wish Hogan could hear the University Singers and Rob Istad performing his arrangement at the Valley Performing Arts Center.  I think this version would make him happy.  Hogan was one of America’s finest arrangers of African American folk hymns and spirituals.  He stood on the shoulders of Jester Hairston, William Dawson, and H.T. Burleigh, and put his own unique mark on the genre.  Moses’ arrangements are driving, rhythmic, and more influenced by gospel style than his predecessors’.  The tour audiences responded with great enthusiasm to Hogan’s aesthetic, and My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord was a definite audience favorite.

Nostos Tes Mousikes, which can be translated as “The Home Coming of Music,” responds to this vision of travel, struggle, transformation, evolution and return throughout life.  Nostos also reflects the ensemble’s tour to Russia, Estonia and Finland, some of the countries in which this music was composed.  We thank Stephen Saavedra for suggesting our album title.


We recorded the stereo version of Nostos using Ted Ancona’s AKG C-24 stereo microphone with a special new-old-stock RCA 6072 vacuum tube, supplied and calibrated by David Bock, Yarlung’s microphone technician.  We chose Elliot Midwood all vacuum tube microphone preamplification and fed our signal into our SonoruS ATR12 analog tape recorder using Agfa 468 tape made by EMTEC and into our Merging Technologies Hapi converter recording DSD256 using Pyramix Software.  Yarlung designed our interconnects.


We used the AKG C-24 and added two additional mid-hall Ted Ancona Schoeps M222 vacuum tube microphones,  which Yarlung recording engineer Arian Jansen fed into the SonoruS Holographic Imaging processor to create a 2 channel mix that uses a proprietary matrix incorporating phase, timing and EQ information from the four microphones to reproduce a three-dimensional listening experience from two speakers.  We captured this Holographic Imaging version using a SonoruS ATR12 analog tape recorder which we then converted to PCM and DSD for our downloads.  For more information please visit


NativeDSD mastering engineer Tom Caulfield gets all the credit for encouraging Yarlung to release 5 Channel Surround Sound.  He has flown in from Boston to record prior Yarlung albums, and has offered to return in the future.  For Nostos, Arian Jansen, Cliff Harris and I did our best to follow Tom’s inspiration, and added two Bock 5ZERO7 microphones for the left and right channels.


We believe that the musical intent communicated directly by our musicians is generally superior to a musical arc that I could create in postproduction, so we don’t edit. In this case, however, it was logistically important for us to use unedited movements given the number of formats involved (analog tape, DSD, SonoruS Holographic Imaging and 5 Channel Surround Sound). Even though it was more work to prepare for a recording like this, Rob and the University Singers rose to the challenge and appreciated that their interpretations would not be surgically assembled by the producer after the fact. Kudos and congratulations to them for their achievement.

–Bob Attiyeh, producer

1. Arvo Pärt

(b. 1935)
Nunc dimittis
Areli De La Torre, soprano

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace,
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum,
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum,
Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.

Lord, now lettest thou they servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

2. Knut Nystedt


O crux, Op. 79

O Crux, splendidior cunctis astris, mundo celebris,
hominibus multum amabilis, sanctior universis;
que sola fuisti digna portare talentum mundi:
dulce lignum, dulces clavos, dulcia ferens pondera
salva presentem catervam, in tuis hodie laudibus congregatam.

O Cross, more splendid than all the stars, honored throughout the world,
most worthy of the love of mankind, more holy than all the universe,
who alone were worthy to bear the ransom of the world:
sweet wood, sweet nails, that bore the sweet burden,
save your flock assembled here to sing your praises.

3. Amazing Grace

arr. Ēriks Ešenvalds
(b. 1977)
Vanessa Yearsley, soprano

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved,
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed.

Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.

4. Herbert Howells


 Salvator mundi

O Savior of the world,
who by thy cross and thy precious blood
hast redeemed us,
save us and help us,
we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.

Psalm 23
Katie Martini, soprano
Lauren Adaska, alto
Daniel Alvarez, tenor

The Lord is my shepherd: therefore can I lack nothing.
He shall feed me in a green pasture:
and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.
He shall convert my soul:
and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: thy rod and thy staff comfort me.
Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me:
thou hast anointed my head with oil, and my cup shall be full.
But thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Requiem aeternam

Requiem aeternam dona eis.
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.

Eternal rest grant unto them.
And let light perpetual shine upon them.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.

Psalm 121
Jason Pano, baritone
Sammy Salvador, tenor

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills:
from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh even from the Lord:
who hath made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:
and he that keepeth thee will not sleep.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel:
shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord himself is thy keeper:
he is thy defense upon thy right hand;
so that the sun shall not burn thee by day,
neither the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:
yea, it is even he that shall keep thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in:
from this time forth and for evermore.

Requiem aeternam–I heard a voice from heaven

Cameron Johnson, tenor
Patrick Kohlieber, baritone
Erika Jackson, soprano
Matthew Kellaway, baritone

I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, write,
From henceforth blessed are the dead
which die in the Lord:
even so saith the Spirit,
for they rest from their labours.

5. Michael McGlynn

(b. 1964)

Media vita
Sammy Salvador, tenor

Media vita in morte suumus
Quem quaerimus ad iutorem nihi site domine
Qui pro peccatis nostris
Sancte Deus Sancte fortis
Sancte misericord salvator
Amare mortis ne tradas nos
In te speraverunt patres nostris
Speraverunt et liberasti eos.

In the midst of life we are in death
What helper do we seek except you, O Lord
You who for our sins
Holy God, holy and powerful
O holy compassionate savior
Do not give us over to the harshness of death
In You, our fathers placed their hopes
They placed their hopes and you freed them.

6. Pavel Chesnokov

Spaseniye sodyelal (Salvation Is Created)
Op. 25, No. 5

Спасение соделал еси посреде земли, Боже.
Аллилуия, аллилуия, аллилуия.

Salvation is created in the midst of the earth, O God.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

7. Vladimir Martynov

(b. 1946)
Zapovedi blazhenstv (The Beatitudes)
Katie Martini, Vanessa Yearsley,
Erika Jackson & Sarah Lonsert, sopranos
Alison Stickley & Mackenzie Simao, altos

Блажени нищии духом,
яко тех есть царствие небесное.
Блажени плачущии,
яко тии утешатся.
Блажени кротцыи,
яко тии наследят землю.
Блажени алчущии
и жаждущии правды,
яко тии насытятся.
Блажени милостивии,
яко тии помиловани будут.
Блажени чистии сердцем,
яко тии Бога узрят.
Блажени миротворцы,
яко тии сынове Божии нарекутся.
Блажени изгнани
правды ради,
яко тех есть царствие небесное.
Блажени есте, егда поносят вам,
и рекут всяк зол глагол
на вы лжуще, мене ради.
Радуйтеся и веселитеся,
яко мзда ваша многа на небесех.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger
and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted
for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall revile you
and shall say all manner of evil
against you falsely for My sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad,
for great is your reward in Heaven.

8. Tarik O’Regan

(b. 1978)
Alleluia, laus et gloria

Alleluia, laus et gloria et virtus Deo nostro,
Quia vera et justa sunt judicia ejus.

Alleluia, praise and glory, and honour, unto the Lord our God,
For true and righteous are his judgments.


9. Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

(b. 1963)


The text for Pseudo-yoik is nonsense syllables.

10. Johannes Brahms­

Schaffe in mir, Gott – Motet, Op. 29, No. 2
Psalm 51

Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz,Und gip mir einen neuen, gewissen Geist.
Verwirf mich nicht von deinem Angesicht
Und nimm deinen heiligen Geist nicht von mir.
Tröste mich wieder mit deiner Hülfe,
Und der freudige Geist erhalte mich.

Create a pure heart within me, O God,
And grant me a new and sure spirit.
Do not drive me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Comfort me once again with your assistance,
And sustain me with Your joyful spirit.

11. My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord

arr. Moses Hogan

My Lord my soul’s been anchored in the Lord
Hallelujah! My soul’s been anchored in the Lord
Before I stay and help one day
I sing and pray myself away

Goin’ shout and pray and never stop
Until I reach the mountain top

Do you love Him? Oh yes!
Do you love Him? Hallelujah!
Do you love Him? Oh yes!
God Almighty! Are you anchored?
Are you anchored? Oh yes!
Yes my soul’s been anchored in the Lord

Will you serve Him? Oh yes!
Will you serve Him? Hallelujah!
God Almighty! Are you anchored?
Oh yes!

Anchored in the Lord!

This album made possible with generous support from:

Cal State University Fullerton School of Music
Kimo Furumoto
Valley Performing Arts Center, Cal State University Northridge
Thor Steingraber
Leslie Bigos

Nostos is warmly dedicated to John Alexander

Recording Engineers:
Bob Attiyeh & Arian Jansen

Microphone technician: David Bock

Vacuum tube microphones:
Ancona Audio & Bock Audio
Assistant Producer: Cliff Harris

Mastering Engineers: Steve Hoffman & Bob Attiyeh

Layout: Eron Muckleroy

Cooper Bates Photography

Executive Producer: Leslie Bigos



 Professor Alexander taught at Fullerton, and in fact conducted the University Singers for ten years.