Thursday, October 2, 2008

CONCORA Explores "American Voices"

CONCORA’s 2008-2009 season opens with “American Voices,” an exciting collaboration with the University Singers of Central Connecticut State University and their Director, Dr. Pamela J. Perry. Each choir will perform individually and both will join forces for several selections. “American Voices” will be offered on Sunday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Church of Christ, New Britain, Connecticut.

CONCORA’s Artistic Director Richard Coffey has put together a program of rich and rare repertoire whose music or whose text was born of American creativity. In designing this program, Maestro Coffey aimed “to highlight the breadth and depth of music and words with American origins,” choosing meaningful texts and compelling musical settings from five centuries. “What ‘burns’ for me is the power of the words,” he explains further, “especially as they are conveyed in these exceptional musical settings. For example, this program offers a particular emphasis on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, not only in the music of two remarkable women composers, but, in the case of "Wild Nights!" in two very different, and equally persuasive, interpretations of the same poem. The settings of words by great American poets — Melville, Poe, Frost, and Dickinson — will, I hope, thrill the heart of anyone who loves literature.” Folk and ethnic elements are strong here, too, with extremes of emotion ranging from poignant ("Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye") to rollicking ("She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain").

Here are just some of the beautiful voices to be heard in this remarkable program:

Emily Dickinson: Her surprising love poems inspired New England composer Gwyneth Walker to pen A Heart in Hiding: The Passionate Love Poems of Emily Dickinson. Walker's musical voice is as sensual, reflective, and passionate as the six Dickinson poems she has chosen. These are remarkable, evocative settings; anyone with an interest in Dickinson should know this music. This evening marks the second Connecticut performance of A Heart in Hiding; the Connecticut premiere was given in July 2008 by the choir of the CONCORA 2008 Summer Festival, with Richard Coffey conducting and Dr. Walker in attendance. Dr. Walker is a long-time friend of CONCORA and an honorary member of CONCORA’s Board of Directors.

Nancy Galbraith: This award-winning composer has also set to music two poems of Emily Dickinson — "The Sea of Sunset" and "Wild Nights." The latter poem is also included in the Walker suite. This is a great opportunity to hear two different musical renderings of the same Dickinson poem. Nancy Galbraith’s Two Emily Dickinson Songs was commissioned by the Providence Singers for CONCORA, and was premiered by CONCORA at the NEA American Masterpieces Choral Festival in Providence, RI, on March 4, 2007.

Eric Whitacre has quickly become one of the most popular and frequently-performed composers of his generation. His compositions have been praised as “works of unearthly beauty and imagination, (with) electric, chilling harmonies.” CONCORA and the CCSU University Singers join forces for the new classic “With a Lily in Her Hand,” Whitacre’s setting of text by Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

The program also includes words and music by other much-loved American voices — Alice Parker, Langston Hughes, Edgar Allen Poe, William Billings, Emma Lou Diemer, Herman Melville — as represented in hymns, spirituals and folk songs.

I prepared the program notes for this concert, and I’ll share some of my discoveries and impressions in this space in the weeks leading up to the concert, so check back often.

“American Voices” will be offered on Sunday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Church of Christ, New Britain, Connecticut. Season subscriptions and individual tickets are available now at

Thanks to CONCORA artist and marketing director Stacey Grimaldi for providing material for this posting.

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