A Hoping for Peace: Pax vobiscum
The word premiere of Sidney Marquez Boquiren’s Pax vobiscum on our concert tonight at the San Francisco Center for New Music makes this a special landmark for the group. This is the first piece that we’ve commissioned for the group since the early days of the group.
I met Sidney when he was visiting the campus of my college, Lawrence University, to audition for a job there. When I heard him perform one of his piano solo pieces for one of my classes, I knew that he was a kindred spirit. Since then, nearly ten years ago, Sidney and I have kept in touch, and when I was in New York we became friends. I love the spiritual intensity of his music — he doesn’t give us sugary ear candy and expect us to accept it as an authentic expression of the sublime. Pax vobiscum is a visceral piece that reaches deep into our guts even as it aims at our hearts.
I asked Sidney a few questions about the piece.
What is the meaning of the title? Both in the sense of the translation, and why did you pick it?
Pax vobiscum translates to “Peace be with you” in Latin. This is a liturgical salutation used at various times during the Roman Catholic mass but of course, a greeting of peace is a common salutation in other religious traditions, from “Sala’am Alaikum” and its variants in Arabic to “Shalom Aleichem” in Hebrew (sometimes abbreviated to “Shalom”). I suppose I’m using this phrase in a much broader sense, not so much as a greeting but more as a hoping for peace. Over the summer, I was so dismayed by the Syrian crisis and the US government’s response to this that the work morphed into something else completely—I had not originally planned to compose a work with this title. Yet at heart I am a pacifist—violence should never be the answer to conflict of any form.
What kind of peace are you inviting with this music? Is it an individual, personal peace, or are you thinking bigger?
The piece itself is not intended to be a musical version of a greeting of peace nor a depiction of the concept of peace, and it is most definitely not a call for peace. It is instead an attempt at conveying a hoping for peace. At the time that I was composing this work, I was truly fearful that the Syrian crisis might devolve irreparably. If there are unsettled moments in Pax Vobiscum, then this is because I am still unsure of what will happen as the civil war in Syria continues, seemingly unabatedly.
We are incredibly excited to be giving the world premiere of this piece tonight. See you there! The details of the concert are here.