Classic Choral Society and featured artists for Spring 2018 concerts

Hear Classic Choral Society's "Unheard Of" Program!

Reprinted with kind permission of Barry Plaxen, DH Canvas, April 2018

“Our focus is the modern-ness of the music, not the ages of the poetry.

“It’s those two Norwegian composers I want our audiences to hear (and love!).”
So spaketh Janiece Kohler, the formidable Artistic Director of Classic Choral Society (CCS), “since Walter Latzko passed the CCS baton to me, close to 30 years ago now.”

She is speaking about the words of...

“St. Augustine of Hippo (born in 354 AD in Algeria) set to music by a Norwegian guy who is younger than anybody in CCS, good ol’ William Shakespeare set to music by a famous contemporary jazz pianist, Rudyard Kipling set to music by Eric Whitacre, and the UK’s Euan Tait and St. Augustine set to music by Kim Andre Arnesen and Ola Gjeilo.

Euan Tait’s aim as a librettist is to write words that are a powerful catalyst for music, with strong choral architecture, and which speak in the widest possible way for the spiritual longings of a very diverse society. “I delight in writing for choral composers, and love to offer new words for composers to enjoy shaping into their own music.”

...and she’s speaking about the music of:

Kim André Arnesen (b.1980) is a Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo was born in Norway in 1978 and moved to the U.S. in 2001 to begin his composition studies at the Juilliard School. His setting of the Gloria from the Latin Mass will also be performed for the women’s chorus and 4-hand piano. “Bill Powers is the tenor saxophone soloist on Gjeilo’s Evening Prayer (and it calls for improvisation on his part, too).”

Eric Whitacre writes, “The White Seal is a beautiful story, classic Kipling, dark and rich and not at all condescending to kids. Best of all, Kipling begins his tale with the mother seal singing softly to her young pup. I was struck so deeply by those first beautiful words, and a simple, sweet Disney-esque song just came gushing out of me.”

“Piano is a BIG part throughout our program,” continued Kohler. “Hudson Valley favorite Ruthanne Schempf is the featured pianist. She’s not merely serving as an accompanist - that’s for sure. I’m especially anxious to hear her interpretation of Gjeilo’s Ubi Caritas that the composer transcribed from his own piano improvisation.”

Ubi Caritas was originally an a cappella piece, a hymn of the Western Church, long used as one of the antiphons for the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday. The original a capella Gregorian melody was composed sometime between the 4th and 10th centuries, though some scholars believe the text dates from early Christian gatherings before the formalization of the Mass.

Joining Ruthanne to make four piano hands for Gjeilo’s Gloria is Jonathan B. Hall, new Minister of Music at Goshen’s First Presbyterian Church, sure to become another favorite,” Kohler concluded. And that’s not all! “There’s the Bard’s Songs and Sonnets by the blind Jazz piano legend Sir George Shearing for chorus, piano and string bass, with Analise Reed on bass,” Kohler added.

The CCS Spring Concerts are at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 58 W. Main Street, Middletown, April 28 at 7:00 pm and Blooming Grove United Church of Christ, 2 Old Dominion Road, Blooming Grove, May 6 at 4:00 pm. Admission is free, good will donations are welcomed. Call 845-713-4543 for information.

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Local singers are featured soloists in Classic Choral Society’s May 6th concert

 “Our name implies that we focus on “classical” choral music, but folks might not consider that genre is always expanding,” said Classic Choral Society’s artistic director and conductor, Janiece Kohler.  “This season we will showcase a small number of contemporary choral composers in a modest sampling of their works – all 21th century compositions – all exhibiting diversity of style and respecting especially beautiful lyrics.”

Norwegian Ola Gjeilo’s beautiful Ubi caritas et amor draws inspiration from Maurice Duruflé’s version of the traditionally chanted text but, Kohler noted, “Gjeilo has created an exquisite piano improvisation around the choir (realized by pianist Dr. Ruthanne Schempf, working directly from the composer’s transcription), moving the music into another realm altogether.”  Two shorter works from Gjeilo feature unique instrumental accompaniment as well: Evening Prayer (a setting of words by St. Augustine of Hippo) will feature saxophonist Bill Powers; while Gjelio’s setting for the Gloria from the Ordinary of the mass is for women’s voices and one-piano-four-hands (Schempf is joined by Dr. Jonathan B. Hall).  Eric Whitacre has become a fixture in choral music over the past two decades, bringing the world its first “virtual choir” online.  “The Seal Lullaby is the first of his works Classic Choral Society has performed,” said Kohler, “and I believe it is one of his most beautiful.  He’s set Rudyard Kipling’s touching poem to a dreamy, rocking melody that is charming and intimate.”

Another young Norwegian composer will have four of his works featured: Kim André Arnesen is currently the most popular choral composer in his native country, even as he is gaining recognition around the world for his distinctive works.  In There We Shall Rest, the early fifth century words of St. Augustine about the gift of peace are presented in a richly dramatic setting.  “Arnesen has collaborated with noted Welsh poet and librettist Euan Tait, and the result is some of the most extraordinary choral music produced today,” said Kohler, “We will share four Arnesen/Tait works with our audience this spring, with plans for a large-scale work in the future.”  The selection includes The Gift I’ll Leave You, Searching Love (featuring Classic Choral Society mezzo-soprano Mariella Collinsworth, who is a West Point resident), and, The Singer’s Dance (featuring Cornwall resident and Choral Society soprano Aileen Mahoney)The last of the Arnesen/Tait pieces, Flight Song features text describing the interaction between choral singers and their conductor – who knows how to draw music out of them.  “The poem and the music are a wonderful expression of the effort the singers and I make to bring music to life – it’s been one of our favorite selections to sing this season,” said Kohler.

An extended work presented on this spring’s program is Songs and Sonnets, in which the words of William Shakespeare are set to music by the late jazz pianist George Shearing – the chorus supported by piano (Schempf) and double bass (Analise Reed). “This composition is magical,” said Kohler, “the words are playful, and arranged to be lively and fun – a very modern take on very old words, and we think it will have our guests tapping their toes!”  

The performance will take place on Sunday, May 6 at 4:00 p.m. at United Church of Christ (2 Old Dominion Rd., Blooming Grove).  No tickets are required; free-will donations are appreciated at intermission.  “From its very beginning in 1959, Classic Choral Society was created to give everyone easy access concerts that highlight great choral music,” said Janiece Kohler, “That’s why we don’t sell tickets or charge admission at the door.  We want to fill the seats with our families and with friends - old and new.  It is our gift to the community.”


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