Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Most Beautiful Music Ever Composed for Firefighters

The men of The Hartford Chorale have been invited to perform with CONCORA in Sonic Spectacular, a concert of resonant music for choirs and organs (yes, two organs!) to be held on Sunday, May 3 in Hartford. (Details on venue, tickets, etc., are at the end of this post.) The program includes one of the most popular choral works in the repertoire, Franz Biebl’s astonishingly beautiful Ave Maria for double male choir, which will be sung by the men of CONCORA and a contingent of men from The Hartford Chorale in its original scoring for two male choirs.

Last night following The Hartford Chorale’s regular rehearsal, the men rehearsed their portion of the Biebl for the first time, and I stayed to listen as I waited for Dennis. Though many of the Chorale men were familiar with the music and have performed it before, there was nonetheless a lengthy learning process as they familiarized themselves with Mr. Coffey’s interpretation and, in some cases, with different parts than they might have sung with other ensembles. Within a half hour, they sounded just wonderful. Mr. Coffey asked the Chorale’s four male section leaders (all of them members of CONCORA) to sing the first choir part as the Chorale men performed the second choir part they had just learned. Though the balance (four against thirty or so!) was not ideal, the blended sound, and the rise and fall of the arching lines, was quite moving. During the performance, there will be sixteen CONCORA men for the thirty Chorale men, which will be just wonderful in the spectacular acoustic of Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford.

Wondering what this all has to do with firefighters? Here’s my program note for Biebl’s Ave Maria, wherein the answer may be found:

Using a simple but moving harmonic language, German composer Franz Biebl (1906-2001) created one of the most-frequently performed works in the choral repertoire, his Ave Maria (Angelus Domini). Though Biebl was well-known in Germany as an influential choir director and teacher, his compositions were not widely performed until, impressed by the singing of the Cornell University Glee Club in Frankfurt in 1970, he gave some of his works (including Ave Maria) to the group for performance in this country. The professional choir Chanticleer was among the ensembles to embrace the Ave Maria, and that ensemble’s recordings and performances of the work (including one at Immanuel Congregational Church with CONCORA in 1992) ensured its fame. Biebl composed Ave Maria in 1964 for the firemen’s choir of the F├╝rstenfeldbruck parish near Munich. Though he later arranged it for mixed and treble choirs, we hear it today in his original setting for two male choirs. The text is the “Angelus” liturgy, traditionally chanted every morning, noon, and evening, preceded by the ringing of the Angelus bell.
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Please join CONCORA for what promises to be a memorable afternoon.

The complete program for CONCORA's Sonic Spectacular:
Louis Vierne: “Kyrie eleison” from Messe Solennelle (Opus 16) (for choir and two organs)
James MacMillan: A New Song (1998)
Herbert Howells: Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing (1964)
Franz Biebl: Ave Maria for double male choir
Jean Langlais: Messe Solennelle (for choir and two organs)
Petr Eben: Prager Te Deum 1989
Colin Mawby: Ave Verum Corpus
Charles Ives: Psalm 90
Howard Hanson: Psalm 8
Charles-Marie Widor: “Kyrie” from Messe Solennelle (Opus 36) (for mixed chorus, male chorus, and two organs)

Richard Coffey, Artistic Director
A Sonic Spectacular
Guest artists: The Men of The Hartford Chorale
David Westfall, organist • Jason Charneski, assisting organist
Sunday, May 3, 2009 at 4:00 p.m.
Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford (corner of Woodland and Farmington)
Plenty of free parking is available.
Call the CONCORA office at 860-224-7500, or purchase tickets at CONCORA’s website, http://www.concora.org/. Hope to see you there!

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