Director's Blog

From the music stand of...

will wickham

This is the place to find occasional musings about music, choral singing and other random thoughts as well as program notes from our concerts. - - will
 
there’s always something to be said about the music...

Part of a great local Arts scene...

One reason the Cantata Singers exist, like so many other arts organizations, is to give the members a chance to share the gift of whatever art they are so passionate about. The multi-year success of the Cantata Singer's own "Festival of Women in the Arts" attests to how many and varied such groups are in our small corner of the world. What is truly wonderful, however, is realizing that others in community are noticing. And not, perhaps, because they are passionate about creating or performing art, but because they realize how their own lives, and the life of the community as a whole are enriched by the arts. A recent example is a letter to the editor of our local newspaper. I share that letter with you here in the hope that wherever you might be reading this post, wherever your travels or life may lead, that you'll seek out those wonderful artistic opportunities that thrive in every community. Seize the opportunity to create, share, or just enjoy the Art that you can find everywhere you go. - ww

Region hosts variety of great musicians (submitted to and printed in the Elmira Star Gazette)

In the past few weeks, I have been privileged to attend superb concerts put on by outstanding local musicians.

I wonder if the community realizes how fortunate we are and what a privilege it is to hear these fantastic groups: The Cantata Singers, The Orchestra and Chorus of the Southern Finger Lakes, The Youth Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes, Common Time and Crystal Chords.

For the most part, these are everyday people who like to perform and in doing this bring great joy to us who are the listeners.

Recently, two of our own — Todd Thomas and Daniel Bates, Southside High School graduates — returned to present a concert which gave me chills and thrills. Todd, a renowned baritone, each year gives a benefit concert to fund the Todd Thomas Music Scholarship. This is awarded annually to a high school senior living in Chemung County who plans to pursue musical performance in college studies. This year, Daniel Bates, an upcoming operatic tenor, joined him, as did the 2014 scholarship winner, Patrick Leslie, on saxophone.

This is a small community and to have so much talent available to us is amazing and truly a blessing.

MARJORIE MACPHERSON

Anniversary Season is Well Underway!

Wed, 12/18/2013

Wow!

What a way to begin a golden anniversary year of celebratory concerts. All our singers, with amazing help from the Youth and Children's choirs of the Church of St. Mary Our Mother and the perfect jazz accompaniment of the Dan Paul Trio from Philadelphia, got the season off to a wonderful start last Saturday night. In spite of the worst weather of this young winter, the relatively large audience simply loved the performance! The appreciation was certainly felt in the hearty applause and standing ovation that evening and continues to reverberate around the community even today, days later. I continue to hear from folks who were there but didn't stay for the reception about how much they loved how good the choirs and band sounded and what we did with Dave Brubeck's "La Fiesta de la Posada". Each day since the concert I've heard from others who would have been there if the weather hadn't gotten in the way and now are regretting their decision to stay home. They've heard from others how enjoyable the evening was. The buzz in the community is THAT positive!

And deservedly so! The Cantata Singers are a great group of talented and hard working singers who have worked so very hard to earn this praise in the community! I can not adequately describe the joy that this group brings to my life, both personally and musically. If you haven't seen or heard the group recently this would be the perfect year to get reacquainted.

See you in March. Or sooner if you are ready to sing with us! - - will wickham

50 years? Wow! 50 years? How?

On the cusp of another wonderful season of music making with the great folks of the Cantata Singers I find myself reflecting on a couple of themes that are so important to this year's golden anniversary celebration. The first, and most important, of the themes is the community that continues to thrive around the sublime joy of performing great music. I have been involved with the organization for over 30 years having joined under the baton of then music director Bill (William) Payne. One of my greatest joys through all of those years has been watching and enjoying the evolution of the singers into the welcoming and close knit family-like group that sings together currently. The singers are as hard working a choral group as I can even imagine and they play and socialize with equal ferocity! Sometimes just getting the focus back after a break during rehearsal is a bit like getting that proverbial horse to drink once at the water... No matter. To belong to such an organization in any capacity is a wonderful gift. To be able to work with this bunch as we find the beauty in the music we prepare and present is simply awe inspiring!

The other theme that seems particularly important as we begin this season is the dedication of the organization to not only sharing great music with everyone in our area by keeping great music alive through rehearsal and performance but also their dedication to fostering the creation of new music. Not an easy thing to do for an all volunteer organization but for the past 3 decades the group has commissioned a new major work at least every ten years. It is with a great deal of excitement that as this anniversary season kicks off I realize that we will be working on Warren Benson's "A Score of Praises", commissioned for the 20th anniversary season in 1984, at the same time we are preparing to premier the newest commission, "Each Song is a Journey". To be involved with a community choral organization that cares deeply enough about the music to keep finding ways to cover the cost of not only performance but of the creation itself is indeed a special treat. To have been the recipient of more than one of those commissions is personally so very gratifying.

If you've ever been involved with the Cantata Singers in the past but aren't currently, we extend a warm welcome for you to join us, to experience the community and great music making that continues from when you "used to do that". This invitation is open for the entire season but particularly for the performance the great Mass in B minor at the far end of this very special season. If you've never been a part of the group this would be the perfect year to join us. This will be an amazing and truly rewarding season for all involved. If singing with the choir isn't your thing please come join us as part of the audience. The excitement of the anniversary, the thrill of great music, new and old, the love of the family that is the Cantata Singers will make each performance truly inspiring and an occasion not to be missed. Here's to those 50 great years that live on in our memories (and the occasional recording) and at least 5 times 50 more years of great music and friendship to come for such a musically dedicated and community oriented choir! - - will wickham

The end of the first era...

20 May, 2013 - - Sitting here in the beautiful Southern Tier of upstate New York on a most peaceful, sunny early summer-like morning, it is easy to recall the joy contained in some pretty amazing music making yesterday! Our 2012-13 season concluded on a high note with some wonderful Palestrina and absolutely luscious music by Eric Whitacre. The ovation at the end pretty well summed up not only the concert and the amazing effort by the current group of dedicated singers, but summed up the 50th May concert of a truly amazing organization.

Our current musical family is but the latest version of a very long line of singers who have all shared several things in common. Along with the close-knit family feeling of this amazing group of singers, perhaps the most important of these is a love of singing great music! This most recent successful season aside, the list of great music this group has accomplished is amazing. Most of the great choral works of the last millenium have been covered at some point in the 49 years since the group was founded. And covered well, at least in my experience which goes back to 1981 when my "audition" for then musical director Bill Payne placed me with a rather rambuctious group of first tenors. What fun we had! The joy of watching that same fun, the same dedication and hard work, from the other side of the podium for the past 17 seasons is among the greatest joys of my life.

With all of this in mind I can shamelessly admit to looking forward so very eagerly for our 50th anniversary season to begin in September. The opportunity to continue with this current group of talented, dedicated and loving singers along with new regular voices and what alumni we can gather for what we hope to be a huge May program, is truly an honor for me. To all of this season's singers: My most humble thanks and heartiest congratulations on a great year. We did good. To all past and future Cantata Singers: I extend my most sincere invitation to join us in sharing such a warm and intimate experience of making music together and the joy, the thrill that can only come from then sharing that gift with the world. - - will wickham

Season's Greetings!

It's here again! The season to be jolly. The consumer season. The season for caroling, for egg nog, for Wassail and stockings. And even the season for bah-humbugs! Although the jury is still out on the "fiscal cliff", we've survived yet another apocalypse and made it through another cycle of winter, spring, summer and fall.

At the very root of this holiday season is the inescapable fact that a child was born in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago, and His birth changed the world. Forever. No matter what your personal faith, no matter what you believe, your life is affected in some way by the legacy of that long ago night. It is my fervent wish that all may realize the peace and the promise of the season. That the Christmas miracle might touch your heart and your soul in the most meaningful way.

On behalf of Cantata Singers past, present and future, we wish you all the joy and peace of Christmas and the hope of the very best in the New Year!  - - will

“Do you really know what he means with all those hand signs?”

“Do you really know what he means with all those hand signs?”

I’ve been involved in music virtually my entire life. For most of that time, currently not far from 50 years, that music has included some form of conductor. From the elementary band conductor who demanded watching by the constant threat of the occasionally fired pencil or drumstick through the drum and bugle corps drum major who couldn’t be seen most of the time, depending on where one might have been on the field, to several levels of demanding (or not) choral and instrumental ensemble conductors through college and adult musicianship. Even the great Aaron Copland, conducting some of his own music in a rehearsal was quoted as saying “why on earth would you follow me?” With all of that firmly in mind and including my own practice and subsequent experience as a conductor (for all you geeks I’ll swear to my dying breath that at room temperature I’m only a semi-conductor), I’ve not felt qualified to answer the question until just recently. Within the past few days I have come across the same unequivocal answer in two totally different places.

Just to try and avert some unhappy comments, let me say right now that conductor-less absolutely can work. And music can work very well that way! And sometimes the music actually works beautifully in spite of the conductor. Even when that conductor is me. Sigh.

The proof, as they say, though, is in the doing. This past weekend I had the privilege of conducting the Cantata Singers in Franz Biebl’s gorgeous setting of “Ave Maria”. We did the piece twice during dress rehearsal (the first time was because we had to, the second because we wanted to...) and once during the performance the next day. The amazing thing was that in those three runs of the tune we did three substantially different interpretations. That was, in a word, an amazing experience for me. It turns out that not only were the singers watching, they were actually following. Wow! Curious, and perhaps not coincidental that the question that opens this entry was overheard after the concert.

The second confirmation the conducting matters was a study that was reported on, where else, All Things Considered, NPR’s comprehensive news program almost a week ago. The article can be found here and is a very interesting read or listen if you are into to the nuts and bolts of music and music making. If you take the time to read the comments you’ll see there is still a great deal of debate about the subject.

To this humble semi-conductor at least, this issue is settled. I waved. I made hand signals. I made faces and moved around a lot. And those things all seemed to work together to make a big difference in at least one performance!

Bravo!

Post Turkey, Pre Opening Concert!

Well, we made it! Most of us Cantatans survived Thanksgiving with our voices and musical excitement fully intact, with perhaps only our waste lines a bit bloated from all the turkey and pie. Nice! Better still we've now had a chance to rehearse in the Presbyterian Church on Main Street in Big Flats where next Sunday, December 2, we'll be performing some great music for a very lucky audience! And what a great performance they will enjoy!

Sunday's rehearsal, although not without a few of what we might euphemistically call "moments" was a great deal of fun and sounded much more polished and assured than many dress rehearsals this group has worked through in the past. This is going to be one stellar performance! Morten Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium" and Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria" are both simply amazing works being sung brilliantly, and the "Ceremony of Carols" that so poignantly reflect Benjamin Britten's inner turmoil as he sailed back towards his homeland in the spring of 1942 under the constant threat of U-boat attack. This is a program not to be missed!

Additionally our hosts at the historic First Presbyterian Church of Big Flats have a grand reception planned for both audience and musicians after the program. Treats to delight the tummy even as the glorious sounds of the choir still resonate in the ear! The singers and I are sincerely looking forward to seeing you on Sunday to share the fun we've had and beautiful music we have found along the way in preparing for this opening concert of our 49th year of making music in the Twin Tiers!

Ceremony of Carols (and dark days)

We have spent a good deal of time working on and thinking about Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols" in recent days and weeks. Realizing the work was written during a voyage from America to Europe across the North Atlantic at the height of German U-boat activity in March of 1942, it seems likely that some of the musical choices made by the composer reflect the mood of not only the voyage but also of the world as a whole at that time.

Britten, following W. H. Auden, with whom he had collaborated frequently in the 1930's, left his homeland for American shores in the spring 1939 under the looming specter of German aggression throughout the continent. The change of residence was a good one, at least for the sake of Britten's career as a composer. His friendship with Aaron Copland allowed many important connections with influential people in the musical world and, more directly, allowed Britten the opportunity to hear and be inspired by the music of his friend. The war, and the effects of that war, however, were inescapable, finding its way into daily life in so many ways. In spite of, or maybe because of, German targeting of England and the danger of a sea voyage during those times, Britten, inspired by an article he read about the Suffolk poet George Crabbe and his poem "The Borough" (which inspired the opera "Peter Grimes"), found some deep seated national pride and set sail for his homeland.

Working through the emotional weight of those war years for Britten continued at least through the completion of the "War Requiem" nearly two decades later. Join us in December to listen closely to the "Ceremony of Carols" and see if you can hear the not-so-distant drum beat of war; the angst of the composer sailing to an unknowable future as he returned to the land of his birth.

 

50th Anniversary Text

An important note to all Cantata Singers past and present!

As you are probably aware the 2013-2014 season is the organization's 50th anniversary season. Over these years many, many singers have shared talents with each other and with the residents of the Twin Tiers through performances in the region. We are celebrating the anniversary with a couple a special programs. In a tradition begun by long-time music director Bill Payne to celebrate the 25th season, the group is commissioning a new choral work in honor of these 50 years of service. To create a very special text for this work we would like all Cantata Singers to contribute their own thoughts and ideas about the theme of or specific wording for the work. Any contribution is encouraged and will be gratefully accepted. Please contribute a single word that sums up your feeling about this milestone achievement, a short phrase or even a favorite memory of your time with the group. While we can not guarantee that all contributions will be used in the final work, as many as can be incorporated will be come a part of the Golden Anniversary celebrations!

Current singers can contribute through the forums in the "Let's Talk" link on the members section of the Singer's Info page of this web site. Former singers can contribute by sending contributions to us by email to cantatasingers@ymail.com with "anniversary text" in the subject line. Everyone should keep checking back often to track the progress on the composition's progress over the next 12 months.

Where's the summer now??

Seeming to happen as suddenly as a midsummer thundershower, the heat is gone and the cold mist seems to settle in to our very bones! All the more reason to spend some quality time in a nice cozy choral rehearsal room with a few friends singing from the heart. Or, perhaps a bit more correctly, from the diaphram (just below the heart). The Cantata Singers are in very good voice this season and, with another 10 rehearsals to go before our season opener in Big Flats, there is still time to take in new voices! As always there is no required audition only a little bit of experience and a lot of enthusiasm for great music. And, at this time at least, it helps if you are a tenor or a bass. For more information send an email to me at cantatasingers@ymail.com or feel free to call me at (607) 796-5034 for more information. - - will wickham

3 B's!

Sunday, May 22, 2011
 
   Bach, Beethoven and Brahms are surely among the most influential musicians who are the foundation on which rests our tradition of classical music. In 1854 when the "three B's" was first coined, Brahms was less than a year into a public music career, but replaced the original "third B"  (Berlioz) later in the century thanks to famed 19th century conductor Hans von Bülow. In addition to calling Bach, Beethoven and Brahms his "three flats in the key of Eb", Bülow was transfixed by the idea of a sort of "holy trinity" of music. Thus he wrote "I believe in Bach, the Father, Beethoven, the Son and Brahms, the Holy Ghost of music." Setting aside any attributions of Holy Trinity-like power, all three certainly could write a tune. And write, they did! Music that is truly timeless in both musical and textual language.
   In the case of Bach, the text of Cantata 131 comes directly from Luther's Bible, specifically, the "Penitential" Psalm 130 with the superposition of the Soprano and Alto singing two verses of the Hymn "Herr Jesu Christ, du höchstes Gut," (Lord Jesus Christ, the highest good). And the music is quintessential Bach, serving to heighten the meaning of the text through musical style and form that was as familiar in the 18th century as it remains fresh in the 21st. Originally written around 1707-08 in Mühlhausen, it is among Bach's earliest Cantatas and the earliest complete work in his hand that survives to this day.  
   Beethoven's "Hallelujah Chorus" comes from his only Oratorio, "Christus am Ölberge" (Christ on the Mount of Olives) and was completed and first performed almost a full century (1803) after Bach's Cantata 131. Like the Bach, the text, by Franz Xaver Huber, is universal in scope: a simple hymn of praise. And the music is, well, the music is Beethoven! Every chord, every phrase the man ever wrote was filled with the sturm and drang, yin and yang, all the anguish and joy of the ages.
   The opus 65 "Neue Liebeslieder" (New Love Songs) of Brahms is equally universal. The first 14 texts originated in the poetry of many different lands and were translated to German by Georg Friedrich Daumer. The texts portray the universal irony and hopelessness of "romantic love" with Brahms' music heightening the effect through some brilliant choral text painting in spite of the chamber music scope of the work. Brahms ends the cycle with text from German-born Goethe that, with the music, offers a renewed sense of hope and peace in endeavors of the heart.
   Of all the "B" composers that have lived more recently than these, none have found as wide an audience or universal appeal than Samuel Barber with his "Adagio for Strings". Originally composed as the slow movement of the opus 11 string quartet, the orchestra version was arranged by the composer in the same year (1938) the quartet was completed in hopes of increasing the likelihood of publication of the quartet. Barber sent the music to Arturo Toscanini, who premiered it with his NBC orchestra in a live broadcast. Since then dozens of arrangements and transcriptions of the work have appeared in hundreds of settings with the composer himself writing the transcription of the "Agnus Dei" in 1967.
   And here, today, seeking an A grade with B composers, we are the
C(antata) Singers! - - will wickham

Warming up for Bluegrass!

Sunday, February 27, 2011
 
The opening concert of the 2011 Festival of Women in the Arts is now finding it’s way to our archives. If you were there, thank you so much and we all hope that you enjoyed our snapshot of contemporary music of women composers. By all accounts the singers, the band and the audience had a great time! I know that I most certainly did.

Our next appearance will be as a small part of the Festival Closing concert on March 27, at the Clemens Center in Elmira. We do hope to see you there! And if you missed us in February and want to see a bit about what we were up to, the program notes are posted below! Enjoy. - - will
Sunday, February 27, 2011

Program Notes (February 27, 2011)

   Music of women composers contains something, some quality that defies easy identification or definition. Certainly one root of this mysterious quality is the kind of strength that only a woman could possess. Where a male composer might find that strength through domination of the material (think of Beethoven hammering away at that four-note motif that is the fifth symphony), the female composer has a quiet strength from which the music simply flows.

   The eight or so minutes of Nancy Bloomer Deussen’s “Et in terra pax” are as unstoppable and beautiful as any spring swollen river. The simple and elegant tune trips and dances through the watercourse, always changing but ever the same, offering a refreshing taste of that peace to everyone who stops by to drink of, bathe in or simply enjoy the passage of those clear, flowing waters.

   Another facet of the music of women composers is a kind of insight into the relationships we all create with each other. Is this a learned skill or instinct? Good question! Wherever it comes from, Gwyneth Walker’s “White Horses” has it in abundance. The composer’s own program notes call the work a “love song dating back to the time of the Troubadours” but that is also true of e. e. cummings’ poem on which the music is based. Walker’s music takes the text, the singer and the listener to a much deeper connection between the knight and the lady, a spiritual realm where chivalrous love, care and concern reside full time.

There is an insight in the physical world that makes up part of the mysterious quality of the work of women. A stellar example in this program is “The Mirror” by Rebecca Sacks. A self-proclaimed nature enthusiast, Rebecca writes that she hopes to inspire that love in others through her music. The insightful nature of the music, however, is the use of musical mirrors: a repeated melodic phrase here, harmonic repetition there. Sometimes clear and other times masked as if by ripples in the water, Sacks’ technique clearly evokes the appearance of the doppelgänger swan within the water of the lake.

   Societal insight is also a strong part of what women composers bring to bear on their work. In “Arirang”, a traditional Korean folk song that is almost a national anthem, Chinese-born American composer Chen Yi finds her way to the very soul of Korean society. Set simply but elegantly for unaccompanied voices, Dr. Chen’s choral music clearly expresses the deep feeling and Korean identity of the well known and well loved folk song.

   And fun. The music of women composers is fun. And what could be more enjoyable than just “Fiddlin’” around? Jennifer Higdon gives us a chance to do just that. Using the time honored vocal tradition of Shape Note or Southern Harmony style, Higdon, with a wink, turns the voices of the choir into a quartet of southern Appalachian fiddlers improvising around what could well be a traditional tune.

   Above all other facets of the compositional art, women composers bring creativity to their music. “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass” is the perfect example. Marisha Chamberlain’s wonderfully evocative texts turn both the proper and ordinary of the catholic mass upside down and shake ‘em up a bit. Composer Carol Barnett welds a folk-style bluegrass accompaniment to strong contemporary choral composition to create a stunning work that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

   Whatever you take from this glimpse into the creative world of women in music, we sincerely hope that in some way you will have been touched by their efforts. All music has the power to reach us at the deepest emotional levels. Perhaps in some small way this recent music of American women might make your life, or at least your outlook on that life, a bit better in some way. Soli Deo Gloria! - - will wickham

When musical worlds collide

Thursday, February 17, 2011
 
There’s always something exciting about pushing the boundaries. That is as true for musicians as it is for painters, sculptors, snow boarders and teenage sons and daughters. “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass” of Carol Barnett is a great example! The singers have been hard at work preparing an encore performance of this groundbreaking work which will take place in just over a week. At the same time some really adventurous and determined folk musicians have been working just as hard!

Bluegrass music, much like the folk styles of the Appalachian region of the United States from whence it arose, is based on aural tradition with technique and music passing down from one generation of players to the next. Reading music? Mixed time signatures? Harmonies that aren’t typical of the American folk tradition? It’s enough to give even the most seasoned picker an ulcer. Pushing through comfort levels of harmonic structure and even time signatures, although somewhat scary for all involved, can be hugely rewarding! And when that band of players includes a veteran of the Grand Ol’ Opry, a pair of players from a working band in Ithaca, and a couple of very talented Elmira and Corning musicians, the results are electrifying!

This coming Monday evening the band and choir will hear each other for the first time in rehearsal, brought together by the amazing and exciting music that Ms. Barnett has crafted. This is music that weaves the best of contemporary choral writing with amazing heartfelt texts by Marisha Chamberlain and some really excellent playing on fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar and upright bass. Will we be considered an alternative “green” power source? Probably not. But that soft glow you see pulsing in the sky over Horseheads on Monday evening won’t just be from the parking lots at the shopping centers!

The best advice anyone can give regarding this crash of musical worlds is to find your way to the First Methodist Church on Broad Street in Horseheads on Sunday, February 27 to experience the electricity for yourself! - - will

Gloria! The Advent of a King

Sunday, December 5, 2010
 
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.

So a choir of angels began a great tradition of sung praise literally at the dawn of the Christian era. These few words, sung to shepherds quietly tending flocks, continue to resound to this very day. Can we find a better way to join in this continuing chorus of praise?

It is with a great deal of pleasure that we are able to offer you this collection of carols and songs that remind us of that magnificent choir of angels, songs that evoke the joy and awe of the shepherds, the tenderness of the new mother’s touch, the shivering of the infant Jesus in the cold Bethlehem night.
Antonio Vivaldi captures the rapture of the angels elegantly, simply and very powerfully in his much loved setting of the Roman Catholic Gloria text. Randall Thompson’s “Glory to God in the highest” races excitedly, almost tripping over itself, in a 20th century invocation of the angel’s song of pronouncement and praise. The traditional Austrian carol “Still, Still, Still”, the traditional French carol “What is this Fragrance?” and Stephen Main’s 2007 award winning carol “The Darkest Midnight in December” all speak to the sensual aspects of that long ago night. The tender way Mary cradles the Savior in her arms, the peaceful stillness of the night, the overwhelming joy of the shepherds even as they struggle to not wake the infant King.

We are particularly pleased to be able to present three works by Breeseport native Dan Forrest. “Carol of Joy” and “Never a Brighter Star” are both poignant looks back to the time of the Nativity. Poet Eileen Berry’s texts provide fertile ground for Dan’s powerful writing leading to a profound experience for both singer and listener. Forrest’s “Hosanna” is simply intended to “reflect the irrepressible joy and celebration” that hails Christ as both Savior and King.

As is our custom in celebrating the Advent season, we encourage you to raise your voices in this unending stream of joy and praise. Please join us in our closing carols, the texts of which are printed in this program.

Most importantly, all of us wish each and every one of you, the most joyous and blessed Christmas this year.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Rutter!

Sunday, May 16, 2010
 
John Rutter is perhaps the best known and most prolific living composer. Although his works include music for orchestra and other instrumental ensembles, his choral works are the best known. In 2003 Rutter was featured in a 60 Minutes segment. During the interview he admitted that he is “not a particularly religious man” but that he is “deeply spiritual and inspired by the spirituality of sacred verses and prayers”.
And his work is proof of that inspiration. Rutter’s choral works include several dozen anthems and motets, the vast number of which use sacred texts and are intended for use during religious services. Included in his writings are several major works including ‘Requiem’.
Like Brahms and Faure before him, Rutter does not adhere strictly to the Catholic liturgical Requiem text but also includes some of the seven texts that appear in the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer and are known collectively as “funeral sentences”. You can hear three of the “sentences” woven through the ‘Agnus Dei’ movement and the final movement, ‘Lux Aeterna’ which opens with a fourth text from the sentences. According to Rutter, “The seven sections of the work form an arch-like meditation on the themes of life and death: the first and last movements are prayers on behalf of all humanity, movements 2 and 6 are psalms, 3 and 5 are personal prayers to Christ, and the central Sanctus is an affirmation of divine glory.” These texts combined with Rutter’s gift for melody and orchestration have made his ‘Requiem’ a twentieth-century classic of choral literature.
One of Rutter’s earliest visits to the US was in 1974 at the invitation of Mr. Olson who’s ‘Mel Olson Chorale’ commissioned and premiered the major work ‘Gloria’. ‘A Gaelic Blessing’ was commissioned in 1978 by the Chancel Choir of the First United Methodist Church of Omaha, Nebraska in honor of minister of music Mel Olson.
Having studied music as an undergraduate at Clare College, he spent the last half of the 1970’s directing the choir there, leading them to international prominence. As a result of that and other early contributions to choral literature and practice, Rutter was made an honorary Fellow of Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. The anthem ‘For the Beauty of the Earth’ was also written in 1980 for the Texas Choral Directors’ Association.
‘Musica Dei donum’ was written in 1998 using text from a musical setting Lassus published in 1594. The work was originally commissioned by Clare College Cambridge and was contributed by the composer for an album in honor of Linda McCartney who died from breast cancer in 1998. The composer contributed the work because “of its theme of the power of music, to uplift sad minds”.
‘Creation’s Alleluia’ was commissioned in 1989 in honor of Lowell Lacey, the music minister oat Second Congregational Church I Greenwich, Connecticut.
In 1981 Rutter founded his own choral group, the Cambridge Singers largely to record definitive versions of his own work. That same year he honored the memory of choral director and composer Edward T. Chapman with our closing work ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You”.

March 2010

The current season's first performance is now in the history books! A good crowd and somewhat fresh snowfall greeted the 'O magnum mysterium' concert. Ss. Peter and Paul's church was beautiful to see and to hear; the perfect venue for a cappella singing in general and for Renaissance motets and a mass in particular! A hearty congratulations and thanks to all the singers for a glorious beginning to the 2009-2010 season and an excellent beginning to the Advent/Christas holiday season!

We all had a great time with 'JS Bach and the Ladies' as we kicked of the 2010 Festival of Women in the Arts. Our second program this season with snow in the air and on the ground! The First Presbyterian Church was very cozy and filled with glorious music including a very exciting performance by Jacob Carpenter, this years Young Performance Competition winner.
To see the program notes from 'JS Bach and the Ladies' please click here. Bravo to all the singers and orchestra members and a special thanks to the ladies of Zonta for providing such a fabulous reaception!

Rehearsals for "John Rutter!" have begun. We are rehearsing Sundays, 6:00 - 8:30 pm at the First Presbyterian Church of Elmira on West Clinton Street. Please come join us!
As we approach the half-way point in our 'Rutter!' rehearsals it is wonderful to report that the sections are all full! With the fine voices of the Congregational Church choir joining us for the May performance, the choir will be about 65 voices strong! John Rutter's music will be getting a bit more showing as we have been invited by the ARTS of the Southern Finger Lakes to perform at their annual meeting at the end of April. We also are working out the details to perform at the June 5th 'Relay for Life' in Horseheads. More details to follow!

Festival of Women in the Arts

Sunday, February 28, 2010

 
Johann Sebastian Bach would be pleasantly surprised to find his music still admired – perhaps more today than ever.  He composed his cantata Ihr werdet weinen und Heulen (No. 103) as part of a long, steady stream of cantatas – more than a hundred – written during his first two years at Leipzig, from mid-1723 to mid-1725.  His job in Leipzig entailed producing and overseeing music in all the city’s churches for every Sunday (and other holy days) of the year.  Ihr werdet weinen und heulen was written for the Third Sunday after Easter – falling upon April 22 – in 1725.  While he himself reused the cantata from time to time over the next 25 years, doubtless he thought it would soon pass into oblivion with ever-changing times and tastes.

The text for the Third Sunday after Easter is Jesus’ farewell to his apostles, foretelling his own death and resurrection (beginning with John 16:16):

A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again a little while,
and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.  . . .   
Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice:
and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned to joy.

As usual, Bach relied on a skilled poet to write a libretto for his cantata based on the gospel text.  Often the librettist is anonymous, but in this case we know who it was:  a local poetess named Marianne von Ziegler, who lived from 1695 to 1760, published several volumes of poetry, was named a “poet laureate” of Wittenberg University, and played several musical instruments on the side.  Marianne von Ziegler wrote texts for a series of nine consecutive cantatas by Bach, starting with this one and ending with the First Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday), May 27, 1725.

In the present cantata Ziegler illustrates “weeping vs. rejoicing” with the analogy of “sickness vs. health.”  The first recitative and aria (movements 2-3) pursue the analogy of sickness.  Bach sets Ziegler’s aria text with the poignant tones of the flute and alto voice, in a pensive “siciliano” rhythm.  The second recitative and aria (movements 4-5) take up “health,” which Bach represents with the bright sounds of trumpet and full string section, together with the tenor voice, all set to a lively “bourrée” rhythm.  These wonderfully colorful solo numbers are framed by two choruses.  The opening chorus (movement 1) makes extraordinary use of the sopranino recorder – the highest member of the recorder family – to depict the “wailing and howling” of the gospel text with utmost brilliance.  The concluding chorale (movement 6) is a single verse of an old hymn, Barmherzger Vater, höchster Gott (Merciful Father, God most high), set to the tune of Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh allzeit (What my God will, so be it always), one of the greatest of the old Lutheran hymn melodies.

*    *    *

Marianna Martines (also styled Marianne von Martínez) was born in 1744 to a Spanish-Italian family who lived in high social standing in Vienna.  From childhood onward, Marianna counted among her friends some of Vienna’s finest musicians and artistic personages, including the composers Haydn and Mozart and the poet Metastasio.  She showed early talents as a singer and keyboard player.  At sixteen she took up composition, and within a year a complete mass written by her was sung at the Vienna court church.  By her late twenties she was widely known throughout Europe; the English music historian Charles Burney praised her works, as did the noted Italian theorist Padre Martini.  She never married but led a vivacious public life.  She kept a large household where she held musical soirées to entertain the best of Vienna’s society, even on occasion playing four-hand sonatas with Mozart himself.  Later in her career she ran a singing school that produced many notable operatic performers.

Martines’ compositions include numerous songs, keyboard pieces and church works.  The two songs heard today have Italian texts by Metastasio, and are written in the style of such contemporary Viennese opera composers as Hasse, Jommelli and Galuppi.  The music is perhaps less adventurous than Mozart’s, but is very much in keeping with the most refined taste and standards of the time.

*    *    *

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was born in 1805 to a Berlin Jewish family of highest cultural distinction and artistic background.  She shared with her younger brother Felix Mendelssohn, born in 1809, a precocious talent and a voracious appetite for all things musical.  Though Felix was to overshadow Fanny in his later public life, in private the two siblings kept always in close touch; Felix owed much of his success to the unending inspiration and mentorship of his older sister.  Fanny’s early death in 1847 dealt a hard blow to Felix, who died himself only six months later.

Fanny’s own life was largely domestic and private, as befit a lady of the times.  She enjoyed a happy marriage to the artist Wilhelm Hensel with whom she maintained a lively household and raised a son (named Sebastian Ludwig Hensel in honor of Bach and Beethoven).  Their home was a mecca for musicians, artists, writers and philosophers from all over Europe.  They were widely renowned for their weekly Sunday afternoon musicales, bringing together the finest players and singers from Berlin, and attracting the cream of society within the audience, including such international luminaries as Liszt, Goethe and Robert and Clara Schumann.  Often these concerts highlighted great music of the past – especially the music of Johann Sebastian Bach – as well as new works by Fanny, Felix and their contemporaries.

Fanny’s output encompasses some 466 works, including many volumes of songs, piano pieces and chamber works, as well as several weighty compositions for choral and orchestral forces.  In the cantata Hiob (Job) Fanny draws heavily upon the music of Bach, whose early cantatas – especially Aus der Tiefe (Out of the Depths, No. 131) – form a clear model.  Fanny’s mastery of Bach’s style of fugal writing, as shown in all three sections of Hiob, is second to none.  At the same time she embraces an adventurously modern harmonic idiom, modulating quickly to distant keys in the latest style of Schubert or Schumann.  Today’s musicians can learn much from Fanny – and we are just beginning to do so.

A Renaissance Tradition

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Every year, just after Thanksgiving, western society gives a nearly unison and enthusiastic, although somewhat unknowing, nod to the Renaissance. In addition to the scientific and artistic glories of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, there were cultural changes, not the least of which involved the celebration of Christmas. Holiday feasting got a big kick off from King Richard II of England during the 14th century with a Christmas dinner that included the eating of some 28 oxen and 300 sheep. A tradition still adding to the modern waistline! Caroling, a form of expression that included song and dance, became popular during this time. Carols, likely originated by St. Francis in the 13th century, evolved from Latin plainsong and spread quickly. Caroling in celebration of the birth of Christ earned the title of “lewd sport” from a certain “Lady Morely” in a 1459 letter. The heathens! Christmas tree decorating began when Martin Luther first placed candles on the tree to “show his children how the stars twinkled through the night”. By mid century bakers were making shaped gingerbreads and wax ornaments specifically for decorating holiday trees. A 1601 visitor to Strasbourg wrote of a tree decorated with “wafers and golden sugar twists and paper flowers of all colors”. Silver tinsel, invented in 1610 Germany, soon became a part of the decorating ritual. St. Nicholas, whose feast-day is celebrated on Dec. 6th, had become widely popular by the mid 16th century. It should be noted that the very generous monk is the patron saint of children and pawnbrokers. Seems rather appropriate somehow.
In the history of western music, the Renaissance was a high point. Hundreds of composers, many now lost to history, contributed to a rapid development of the musical art. Tomas Luis de Victoria, who probably studied with Palestrina, Gabrieli who became the first widely renown composer of the “Venetian School”, William Byrd, a student of Thomas Tallis, and Hans Leo Hassler who was the first German-born composer to study in Italy provide today’s performance with music of the late Renaissance. Scarlatti gives us an example of the Baroque take on the motet form while Britten, Wickham, Walton and Kodaly all admit to inspiration by the music of the Renaissance masters in the creation of their works on this concert. The Piae Cantiones, published in 1582 is a collection of late Medieval Latin songs and provides the tunes for “Good King Wenceslas”and “Up! Good Christian Folk and Listen”. Although the source of the tune is lost to history, the first written record of the words of “I saw three ships” comes from 1666. The “Ding Dong Merrily on High”tune comes from “Orchésographie” a study of late-renaissance dances by French cleric Jehan Tabourot.
We are pleased to present this snapshot of Renaissance and Renaissance inspired music. May this musical offering deepen your celebration of the season.

Soli deo Gloria.

And a very merry Christmas and the very best in the New Year!