Orlando Sentinel: With 'Voices of Light,' composer touches the soul

“The Passion of Joan of Arc,” a 1928 silent French film by Carl Theodor Dreyer, inspired Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” (/Courtesy photo)

“The Passion of Joan of Arc,” a 1928 silent French film by Carl Theodor Dreyer, inspired Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” (/Courtesy photo)

"Voices of Light" is the type of program in which the audience sits silently at the conclusion. No rush to applause, no leaping to their feet — although those things happen eventually. Instead, there's a pause as the emotion that has built up is collectively exhaled.

Richard Einhorn's masterful composition is set as a live soundtrack to the 1928 silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc." In it, Einhorn shows exquisite technical skills and has created an emotional, insightful text. Written in 1994, it has been performed more than 150 times around the world.

Under the baton of artistic director John Sinclair, the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park on Friday night created a vivid portrait of sadness, strength, fear, hope — all the elements, in fact, of Joan's story.

The work grabs your attention right from the start as young women, candles in hand, sing a shimmering prelude to the tale of Joan, the medieval French girl who believed God wanted her to drive the English from her homeland. She was burned at the stake by pro-English clergy, but later made a saint by the Catholic Church.

Carl Theodor Dreyer's film dramatically recounts her trial and execution with swooping closeups and intimate perspectives. Brilliantly, "Voices of Light" doesn't overamplify the potent emotions generated by the film, but rather complements them: While the inquisitors try to trap Joan into condemning herself, female voices sing an evocative setting of the Lord's Prayer.

Women's voices play a key role throughout the oratorio. Soloists Clara Rottsolk and Morgan Davis Peckels hauntingly harmonize in lamenting tones. Although "maidenhood" is an old-fashioned word, it's what comes to mind while listening to sound that pure.

"Voices of Light" also provides a rare chance to hear the viola da gamba, a medieval stringed instrument not used in the modern orchestra. Lisa Terry added authentic color and a sense of movement through time with her playing.

The event, which sold out both its weekend performances, was presented in partnership with Gladdening Light, a Winter Park-based nonprofit initiative that explores the connection of art and spirituality. In pre-concert remarks, composer Einhorn connected Joan's life to ours.

He pointed out that she lived in an age when the disabled were routinely mocked or shunned, those outside the mainstream were persecuted and "women had a lower status than farm animals." It makes you think about our own times, doesn't it?

Einhorn also said: "Joan's spirit endures." That's certainly in part because of his exceptional work of art.