When asked to write a concert-long choral work for the ensemble The Crossing, composer Kile Smith turned to texts by Robert Lax, a poet who was friends with both Jack Kerouac and Thomas Merton. Donald Nally, conductor of the choir, had a history commissioning pieces with Smith, and knew that the resulting work wouldn’t disappoint. For the last two years, the Philadelphia-based new-music choir, has won Grammy awards for Best Choral Performance, and the new recording on Navona Records has already been described as “ecstatically beautiful” by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

There’s more information about the ensemble and the recording at The Crossing’s website.

“We’ve done a number of pieces over the last decade together, of varying sizes and shapes, but I knew that we wanted a big, concert-length piece,” Nally says. And Kile Smith says he approaches all of his works with the same goal: “I want them to sing music that they’ll love to sing. I want them to love it, I want them to fall in love with the piece. And not only that, but I want to liberate them so that they can sing to the full capacity that they each have as musicians.” Although that full capacity does mean it’s an incredibly difficult work to perform, especially entirely a cappella, without any accompaniment to give them a chance to rest. “When I gave the music to Donald and the singers, I apologized to them,” Smith says. “Because you know, they’re climbing a mountain the whole piece, and then they get to the top, and there’s another huge peak at the end.” The big sound of the 24-voice choir gave him flexibility to split the choir into two, but as Nally says, each singer working as individuals together makes the group sound. “Very often people write for us so that everybody in the room has to be independent, and yet keep their ears open, creating a true ensemble. And Kile does write that way for us, when he splits things into 12 or more parts.”