Dating from 2006, A drop in the ocean
commemorates the life Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The piece is the most extended example of Ešenvalds’ use of avant-garde techniques to serve his particular expressive ends: the ‘mystical’ atmosphere of the opening is achieved by a combination of whistling and the sounds of quiet breathing; a mysterious and elusive world is immediately conjured up. The altos murmur a self-communing Pater noster
on a monotone, while the sopranos’ plaintive prayer is shadowed by a blurred version of the same melody. Their serenity is contrasted with the male voices’ troubled, whispered rendering of that same prayer, which increases in intensity and venom as an unsynchronized pentatonic texture builds above them, eventually introducing the flattened sixth that will characterize the music that follows. After a brief blaze of light comes a sustained paragraph of saturated, ecstatic, ten-part polyphony. Eventually a solo soprano emerges—there is something of the Evangelical call-and-response tradition in her interaction with the full choir—before a lush cadence winds down into one of Ešenvalds’ ‘eternal’ codas, and we hear the same oscillation of tonic and subdominant chords that ends Passion and Resurrection
. In live performance, as the soloist’s repeated entreaties are gradually enveloped by muffled whistling, a semi-translucent cloth is drawn over the heads of the singers; once they are completely covered, and sound has returned to silence, the cloth reveals the face of Mother Teresa.
from notes by Gabriel Jackson © 2011