Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Celebrate St. Cecilia Day with CONCORA

.This weekend, I’ll be singing with the remarkable all-professional choral ensemble CONCORA in a concert to mark the group’s 35th anniversary. It is entirely fitting that this concert, the culmination of CONCORA’s 35th anniversary year, takes place on November 22, the feast day of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music.

Past and current members of CONCORA will spend the weekend rehearsing and reminiscing before presenting a concert on Sunday, November 22, at 4:00 p.m. at South Church in New Britain. CONCORA’s founder and Artistic Director Rick Coffey will conduct, and our founding accompanist, Larry Allen, will be in town to accompany the program and to offer some dazzling solo organ music, as well. There are still some tickets available; visit http://www.concora.org/ or call 860-224-7500 to reserve your seats.

It’s my privilege to have been invited to prepare the program notes for this concert, a “job” which I love, for several reasons. Oh, let me qualify that – I love preparing notes for CONCORA concerts more than for any other group, as I’ll explain.

First, I enjoy the processes of research and writing, so the “work” itself is pleasant. Second, since I love learning, I relish the opportunity to dig deeply into information about the music, composers, and texts, especially if any of these are new to me. Associated with the searching out of information is the discovery of new and useful sources of information. (You should see my huge list of online "favorites,” organized in folders and subfolders and subfolders…) Third, it’s a remarkable process to prepare notes for a concert in which I am also singing; my musical, vocal, historical, and textual understandings develop simultaneously, enriching my experience from every perspective. I never feel more ready for a performance as I do when I have prepared notes for the program.

Finally (and here’s why I love preparing CONCORA notes most of all), it’s always, always a delight, as I progress through the research process, to find the common threads among the selections and to begin to comprehend the subtle thematic connections between the texts, musical selections, moods, and colors that Rick Coffey has chosen for each program. Some programs are easy to conceptualize, such as works by a single composer (as in CONCORA’s annual all-Bach bash), or programs that have an overtly stated theme (such as CONCORA’s upcoming “Christmas in the Americas” program. (That concert takes place on Sunday, December 13, 2009 at 4:00 p.m. at Asylum Hill Congregational Church, Hartford, with a snow date of Monday, December 14, 7:30 p.m. Visit http://www.concora.org/ or call 860-224-7500 to reserve your seats.)

For Sunday’s anniversary program, Rick has selected a lovely variety of works from CONCORA’s 35-year history. The program includes an excerpt of music that the ensemble sang on its first concert in 1974 (also at South Church), the Kyrie from Schubert’s Mass in E-flat, as well as newer works performed by the group for the first time within the past year or two. The program ranges from England's Chichester Cathedral (Albright’s Chichester Mass) to New York's Harlem (Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday), and from the Renaissance masters (Cantantibus Organis by Peter Philips) to the stunning and fresh choral music of Eric Whitacre and James Macmillan. Music of J.S. Bach forms a fitting tribute to CONCORA members who have passed away, and we will celebrate CONCORA’s outreach to young listeners with a lively set performed by CONCORA-to-GO, a quartet of singers who travel to Connecticut’s schools to demonstrate the joy of choral singing. The intimate sacred music of Ned Rorem will stand in exquisite contrast to lush excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, and we’ll even sing a favorite spiritual, Brazeal Dennard’s lively setting of Fare Ye Well. Organist Larry Allen will thrill you with a rendition of Marcel Dupré’s Prelude et fugue in B majeur (Op. 7, No. 1), music so notoriously difficult that Dupré doubted it would ever be published or even enter the repertoire. (The Gress-Miles organ at South Church is a magnificent instrument; I can’t wait to hear this.) There is more music on the program than I’ve listed here – each selection is lovely and beautifully showcases CONCORA’s signature sound.

In preparing program notes for this concert, the challenge was not to try to thread these selections together musically, textually, or even spiritually. Rather, I simply prepared a small musico-historical note for each piece, noting its place in CONCORA’s history, and occasionally commenting on its particular vocal or musical challenges, thus highlighting CONCORA’s collective artistry.

It’s going to be a fabulous weekend: On Friday evening, a reception followed by a three-hour rehearsal; on Saturday, an all-day rehearsal with a luncheon break (I’m baking focaccia for this meal – enough to serve 65!), followed by an evening reception on Saturday for artists, board, and guests (must break away early to get to K’s play!); and finally on Sunday, a brief rehearsal before our much-anticipated performance at 4:00 p.m.

Do come to hear CONCORA on Sunday – it promises to be a memorable event. St. Cecilia would be proud. Visit http://www.concora.org/ or call 1-860-224-7500 today to reserve your seats. Ask about becoming an "Anniversary Angel" -- this special ticket includes preferred seating and an invitation to a private reception with the artists on the evening of Saturday, November 21.

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