Our May 4, 2014 program, with the Vermont Choral Union
A special Sunday evening spring concert on May 4 highlighted two community-based choral ensembles, theVermont Choral Union and the Middlebury College Community Chorus. The concert took place at Mead Chapel on the college campus at 7:30 p.m. The Choral Union made its first appearance in Middlebury under the direction of Jeff Rehbach in this performance, while the Community Chorus returned to the Chapel for its annual May concert.
The program opened with inspirational American choral works performed by the Community Chorus: Omnia Sol by Z. Randall Stroope; The Ground by Norwegian-born Ola Gjeilo; and Sure on This Shining Night by Morten Lauridsen. Tim Guiles accompanied the chorus, in these works whose melodies and harmonies deeply touch both performers and listeners. The eighty members of the Community Chorus come from communities throughout Addison, Rutland, and Chittenden counties.
The 35 Choral Union singers opened their program entitled "There is Sweet Music" with joyful Renaissance and early Baroque motets by European composers Palestrina, Sweelinck, and Schütz as the ensemble members, quoting texts from Psalms, "make a joyful noise" and "sing a new song."
The program continued with music by Brahms, Elgar, and Thompson. Johannes Brahms composed the three richly sonorous songs of his opus 42, scored for six voice parts, during the Romantic era. In the first decade of the twentieth century, English composer Edward Elgar uniquely arranged Tennyson's text "There is Sweet Music" with beautiful melodies and surprising harmonies as a four-part men's chorus sings in a key just a half step away from the women's four-part chorus. Thirty years later, distinguished American composer Randall Thompson, inspired by the painting "The Peaceable Kingdom" by American artist Edward Hicks, composed an extended work on texts from Isaiah, including "Ye Shall Have a Song," also scored for eight-part chorus.
The Choral Union had the honor of premiering "Ave Verum Corpus" by Northfield, Vt. composer Dennis Báthory-Kitsz in this concert. Báthory-Kitsz composed this work in late 2013 in memory of distinguished British composer John Tavener, who passed away in November. Tavener's works often reflect his orthodox spirituality, as can be heard in the "Song for Athene" that will also be performed in this program (that song was heard worldwide as part of the memorial service for Princess Diana). The new Báthory-Kitsz work sets an ancient Latin hymn text in a hushed, ethereal manner, with the voices seemingly suspended as they gradually shift from one note to the next. The composer says, "Sometimes mundane events produce ethereal results." He reports that his setting of "Ave Verum Corpus" arose from an argument on Facebook about the merits of John Tavener’s music. "I claimed that any competent composer could write like Tavener, and aimed to prove it—though when the composing began, I was quickly drawn into the argument from the other side," Báthory-Kitsz noted. Within a few measures, the composer says, he dropped the 'Tavener way' and followed his own path.
Violinists Raymond Karl Malone and Patricia Fitzgerald, violist Paul Reynolds, and cellist Michael Close joined the Choral Union for the premiere of the Báthory-Kitsz work. They also accompanied the choir for contemporary American composer Eric Whitacre's delightful "Five Hebrew Love Songs." Whitacre originally scored these for violin and soprano Hila Plitmann, who wrote the texts. He remembers, "Each of the songs captures a moment that Hila and I shared together. These songs are profoundly personal for me, born entirely out of my new love for this soprano, poet, and now my beautiful wife, Hila Plitmann."
Michael Close last accompanied the Choral Union on cello in 2012 for Ola Gjeilo’s "O Magnum Mysterium." He observes, "the opportunity to play solo cello with a large a cappella chorus does not come up often. The sound of string instruments and voices together is something special. I am very much looking forward to this year's concert."
Conductor Jeff Rehbach notes, "This program highlights the idea that something new may always be heard in music: the unique settings of ancient texts by masters of early music; the wondrous sonority of nineteenth and early twentieth-century music written for six to eight voice parts that masterfully bring poetry to life; and the exquisite melodies and extraordinary harmonies of contemporary choral works."
The Vermont Choral Union, founded in 1968 by the late UVM professor James Chapman, has long been noted for its diverse repertoire of classical and contemporary choral works. It currently numbers 35 singers who hail from Chittenden, Franklin, Lamoille, and Addison counties. Singers gather once a week to explore a diverse repertoire in rehearsals they describe as challenging, restorative, joyous, collaborative, rewarding, and uplifting. The Middlebury College Community Chorus traces its origins to the Middlebury Musical Institute, founded in the 1850s.
The Choral Union also performed its program at the McCarthy Arts Center on the campus of St. Michael's College on Saturday evening, May 3, also at 7:30 p.m.
This season's Choral Union performances are supported by a Vermont Arts Council / National Endowment for the Arts grant. Tickets at the door are $15 general admission, $10 seniors, FREE for Middlebury College students. See www.vtchoralunion.org and go.middlebury.edu/communitychorus for more information about the ensembles and their programs.
Our recent April 2014 program, with the Champlain Philharmonic
With the Champlain Philharmonic we offered a special concert in early April. The Champlain Philharmonicincludes players from throughout Addison County and beyond, and we delighted in the opportunity for our two community ensembles to join forces. The program featured a new orchestration of Reflections of the Sky, written by Professor Peter Hamlin '73 for the College's bicentennial. That work includes texts by Langston Hughes and Middlebury faculty members Julia Alvarez, Robert Pack, and Jay Parini. Also on the program was a variety of masterworks for chorus and orchestra, including beloved opera choruses and by Giuseppi Verdi (such as Va, pensiero from Nabucco; the famous "Anvil Chorus" from Il Trovatore) along with delightful selections from Gilbert & Sullivan's The Gondoliers and HMS Pinafore.
Our Thanksgiving 2013 program
We offered a setting of a psalm of thanksgiving, It is Good to Give Thanks (Psalm 92) by 35-year-old American pianist-composer Dan Forrest. His compositions are noted for “superb choral writing…full of spine-tingling moments.” We turned to classical works including How Lovely is thy Dwelling Place from the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms, and in anticipation of the season of Advent, Behold a star from Jacob Shining by Felix Mendelssohn. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. "I have a dream" speech, we presented an arrangement of the spiritual "This little light of mine" entitled True Light by Chicago Community Chorus conductor and composer Keith Hampton.
The centerpiece of our program was contemporary American composer Morten Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna (Light Eternal). composed in 1997. Its five movements include a mix of a cappella and accompanied settings of sacred texts, each containing allusions to light, set to soaring melodies and inspired harmonies.
Our Spring 2013 program
We offered a mix of music old and new for our Mother's Day weekend performance. The main work on the program was baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi's splendid Gloria! From past performances we reprised two works loved by our singers and our audiences, contemporary American composer Morten Lauridsen's beautiful pieces Sure on This Shining Night and Dirait-on. We performed American composer Emma Lou Diemer's delightful Three Madrigals on texts of Shakespeare. The program included an upbeat dynamic setting of the text Sing a New Song by Ron Staheli, director of the choral program at Brigham Young University.
Our Thanksgiving 2012 program
We offered a setting of a psalm of thanksgiving, Psalm 100 by Minnesota composer René Clausen. and an inspiring version of texts from the Mass entitled The Ground by contemporary Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjeilo whose music is increasingly performed by choirs across the globe. We also sing a beautiful Thanksgiving Hymn for America by contemporary American composer Stephen Paulus. We sang two choruses on the poetry of Robert Frost, set to music by noted American composer Randall Thompson: The Road Not Taken and Choose Something like a Star. We also performed the just-published arrangement of Carly Simon's Let the River Run, by Craig Hella Johnson (watch this work performed by the ensemble Conspirare!) The main work on the program was Franz Schubert's inspired Mass #2 in G Major, written when he was just 18 years old, a setting full of energy with delightful melodies and harmonies. Join us!
Our 2011 Thanksgiving Program
The Chorus presented its annual fall concert the weekend before Thanksgiving, this year with themes of thanksgiving and remembrance.
We acknowledged the passing of ten years since 9/11, and the sufferings of so many locally from tropical storm Irene, with a special set of music including "Let Nothing Ever Grieve Thee" by Johannes Brahms; "There is a Season" by Albany, NY organist and composer Alfred Fedak, based on the text from Ecclesiastes; "Kyrie" by Concordia College composer-conductor René Clausen, written as part of the larger work "Memorial" commemorating the tragic events of 9/11; and, the powerful opening movement of Mozart's "Requiem" that includes the traditional Latin text "Rest eternal grant them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them."
We celebrated singing and offering thanks with a variety of songs, including "Dreamer of Dreams" with poetry by Arthur O'Shaugnessy set to music by Vermont composer Gwyneth Walker: "We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams" alongside American composer Debra Scroggins' setting of Edgar Allen Poe's "A Dream within a Dream." We sang of the delights of the season with British composer-arranger Bob Chilcott's setting the traditional Thanksgiving hymn "Now Thank We." We also presented the joyful "Let the People Praise Thee" by Welsh composer William Matthias, and British composer-conductor John Rutter's "This is the Day" written, respectively, for royal weddings of Charles and Diana, and William and Kate.
We closed the program with the thanksgiving "Hymn for America" by Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus, and rousing gospel setting of "Let Everything that Hath Breath" by American composer Jeffery Ames.
Our Spring 2012 program
We offered a potpourri of music past and present for our annual May concerts that fell on Mother's Day weekend. In the 1690s, English composer Henry Purcell wrote special musical odes each year for Queen Mary's April 30th birthday. We will present choruses from Come, Ye Sons of Art, written in 1694, with its invitation to "come, come away, ye Sons of Art, tune all your voices and instruments play to celebrate this triumphant day." About 100 years later, Franz Joseph Haydn acknowledged the request of Empress Marie Therese, wife of Franz I of Austria, for church music, with his delightful setting and performance of the traditional Latin text Te Deum. This work was largely unknown until some fifty years ago, and we look forward to sharing it this spring.
We also presented several newly composed works, including Prayer, based on writings of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, by Minnesota conductor-composer René Clausen, and an inspiring version of Ubi caritas by Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjeilo. We offered new arrangements of classic poems and texts: Morning has Broken arranged by British composer Bob Chilcott; a Welsh Lullaby (Suo Gan) set by American composer K. Lee Scott; Afternoon on a Hill (Edna St. Vincent Millay) by another Minnesota conductor-composer, Eric Barnum; The Moon is Distant from the Sea (Emily Dickinson) by New Zealand native David N. Childs; and Omnia Sol (Let Your Heart Be Staid) by American composer and lyricist Z. Randall Stroope that incorporates lyrics from the medieval song, Carmina Burana.
We also featured two stirring songs by Vermont composers about Vermont, Counterpoint conductor Nathaniel Lew's arrangement of These Green Mountains by Diane Martin, and My Vermont, a chorale for voices and piano by Rutland composer-teacher-conductor Daniel Graves.
Our 2010 Thanksgiving Program
The centerpiece of our Thanksgiving program was Johann Sebastian Bach's "Nun Danket Alle Gott" (Cantata 192) with chorus and organ, based on the traditional thanksgiving hymn tune "Now Thank We All Our God." The hymn also appears within a brand new composition by English composer John Rutter, "With Heart and Hands" that we shared. Program selections included settings of "O Be Joyful / Jubilate Deo" and "O Clap Your Hands" (Psalms 100 and 47) by Rutter, contemporary American composer David Childs, and noted twentieth-century British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.
We acknowledged the change of seasons with three works, including "Late Summer Purple," a poem by Middlebury College professor emeritus Robert Pack set to music by Middlebury College professor Peter Hamlin, originally composed for the College's bicentennial ten years ago. We present "The Time of Turning" by Craig Courtney that utilizes a beautiful Irish traditional melody with newly written text "…as summer turns to autumn and bids farewell to spring, there comes a time for turning to every living thing." American composer Aaron Copland's "The Promise of Living," with its delightful melodies, offers "the promise of living, the promise of growing born of our singing in joy and thanksgiving."
Travel and journeys are often a part of Thanksgiving. The chorus sang "The Road Not Taken" on poetry of Robert Frost, set by American composer Randall Thompson. We reprised two works from our past Thanksgiving concerts by contemporary American composer Stephen Paulus, "Pilgrims' Hymn" and "The Road Home" with text by poet Michael Dennis Browne. Our program concluded with Vermont conductor and composer Robert De Cormier's energetic setting of "Lonesome Traveler" as we "keep right on a-travelin' on that road to freedom."
Our spring 2011 concert included a variety of music celebrating the the new life brought by spring and summer, as well as reflecting on remembrance of past lives and our universal desires for peace.
In celebration of spring, we presented several madrigals from the sixteenth and seventeenth century, including Thomas Morley's Now Is the Month of Maying, Spring Returns to the music of Italian composer Luca Marenzio, and William Byrd's This Sweet and Merry Month of May that includes a tribute to Queen Elizabeth I.
We offered selections from Haydn's delightful work, The Creation, as well as an abridged setting of Beethoven's uplifting Choral Fantasy, a work originally scored for orchestra, chorus and piano solo, with senior music major Hannah Waite at the piano.
A special set within the program featured songs by contemporary American and Canadian composers. We will sing Eliza Gilkyson's poignant Requiem, written following the Asian tsunami of December 2004, and recently arranged for chorus by Craig Hella Johnson, director of the award-winning chorus Conspirare. We offered selections from Morten Lauridsen's Nocturnes, featuring his setting of Rilke's Sa nuite d'ete (Its Summer Night) and James Agee's Sure on This Shining Night. The Chorus sang the beautiful love song Roses I Send to You, a text by Canadian explorer, prospector and writer George E. Winkler, set to music by British Columbia composer Stephen Chatman.
The chorus presented arrangements of traditional tunes include Shenandoah; O Waly Waly (The Water is Wide) by noted British composer John Rutter; and a stirring setting of Let Me Fly by Vermont's Robert De Cormier as arranged for Counterpoint.
For the Sunday evening performance, the Middlebury College Women's Glee Club also performed. This 15-voice choir, under the direction of Jessica Allen, will offered a set of classic and contemporary works, including arrangements of the beloved Ave Maria by Franz Schubert and the uplifting psalm setting Cantate Domino by baroque composer Heinrich Schütz. The women will also sang the traditional Philippine children's song Pen-pen de Sarapen (from Tatlo Sa Buhay), arranged by Sidney Marquez Boquiren, and the American spiritual Down in the River to Pray. Works by contemporary composers included Remember by Donna Gartman Schultz and Midsummer (from Seasons of Love) by Eleanor Daley. The Women's Glee Club was founded in 2008.
A Thanksgiving Celebration
Our Thanksgiving 2009 program featured music of noted British composer-conductor John Rutter, including his vibrant settings of texts from psalm 47, O Clap Your Hands, alongside his stirring Gloria! Also included is Make a Joyful Noise by 20th-century Welsh composer William Mathias. The program highlights selections from G. F. Handel's splendid Dettingen Te Deum (We Praise Thee, O God).
Songs of our hope, peace, and love included Blessed are the Peacemakers by Middlebury College professor Peter Hamlin; Set Me as a Seal by Concordia College composer-conductor René Clausen; and the serene anthem Grant us Thy Peace by Felix Mendelssohn. We reprised two pieces from our past Thanksgiving concerts by contemporary American composer Stephen Paulus, Hymn for America and Pilgrims' Hymn.
Our program concluded with Vermont composer Gwyneth Walker's setting of the Quaker song How Can I Keep from Singing, and the rousing gospel song Rejoice! by African-American composer Jeffery Ames.
A Choral Potpourri
Special Concerts on Mother's Day Weekend
Our spring 2010 concert, titled A Choral Potpourri, included classic choral music as well as new works receiving their Vermont premiere. Works by George Frideric Handel included the powerful "Awake the Trumpet's Lofty Sound" and "Let Thy Hand be Strengthened", one of four extended anthems written for the coronation of England's King George II in 1727. The choir also prepared the beautiful "Cantique de Jean Racine" (a translation of a traditional Latin text) by French composer Gabriel Fauré, and "Locus iste" by Austrian composer and organist Anton Bruckner.
A special set within the program featured songs by contemporary American composers: in celebration of spring, "Come Live with Me and Be My Love" by David Dickau, a setting of the sixteenth-century poem by Christopher Marlowe; "i carry your heart" by Vermont composer Gwyneth Walker, based on a poem by E. E. Cummings; composer-conductor Z. Randall Stroope's poignant song, "Homage;" a moving Hebrew song by composer and opera director Allan Naplan entitled "Al Shlosha D'Varim" (the world is sustained by three things: truth, justice, and peace); and prominent composer Eric Whitacre's brand new composition, "The Seal Lullaby" on a text of Rudyard Kipling.
The chorus also prepared the energetic "Geographical Fugue" by 20th-century German-born pianist and composer Ernst Toch with its references to places around the globe. The program closed with Mormon Tabernacle Choir director Mack Wilberg's stirring arrangement "Bound for the Promised Land."