“Choral Dances” concert sponsored by Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers
By Peter Alexander Feb. 27 at 3:30 p.m.
In 2005 brothers Paul and Barnaby Smith, who had both been choristers at Westminster Abbey, formed their own a capella vocal group. With eight members, they drew on their classical Latin learning and called the group Voces8 (Voices8).
Today the group tours internationally, commissions new works, has released more than a dozen recorded albums, has their own educational foundation, a composer-in-residence, and now has a Grammy nomination to their name. Comprising two sopranos, one alto, one countertenor, two tenors, a baritone and a bass, they perform a variety of styles from folk to pop, from music of the Renaissance to classic jazz, often in their own arrangements.
Thanks to sponsorship by Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers, Voces8 will appear in Colorado this week: at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Macky Auditorium in Boulder and Thursday at St. John/s Cathedral in Denver (March 1 and 2). The Denver performance is sold out, but tickets for Wednesday’s Macky Auditorium performance are still available HERE.
Under the title “Choral Dances,” the Macky program offers what the group calls “a rare mix of ethereal and angelic,” and will include performances by Ars Nova, under the direction of Tom Morgan. Both groups will present music that reflects their individual traditions of performing music from the Renaissance to the current day.
Voces8 will open with a celebratory sacred piece from the Renaissance, “Buccinate in Neomenia Tuba” (Blow the trumpet when the moon is new) by Giovanni Croce. Characteristic of their eclectic programming, that will be followed by an eight-part motet by Mendelssohn (“Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen”—For He shall give his angels charge), music by group co-founder Paul Smith (“Nunc Dimittis”—Now depart) and the great cellist Pablo Casals (“O vos omnes”—O all ye).
“Drop, drop, slow tears,” one of the best known songs of the English Renaissance composer Orland Gibbons, is paired with a setting of “The deer’s cry,” a sacred poem also known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Ars Nova closes the first half of the concert with three pieces from their repertoire, by English Renaissance composer John Shepherd, late Renaissance Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo, and contemporary American composer Caroline Shaw.
In the second half of the concert Voces8 will sing one of their most popular numbers, a setting of Elgar’s famous “Nimrod” variation from The Enigma Variations to the text “Lux Aeterna” (Eternal light). Other composers on their program are Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, and the great early Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi. The program closes with another piece by Orlando Gibbons, the joyful “O Clap Your Hands.”
The group’s Voces8 Foundation is a registered charity in the United Kingdom. It was set up by Paul and Barnaby Smith in 2006 to develop the ensemble’s music education and outreach programs.Located in London, the foundation works with choral and small vocal groups in both performance and education. It presents workshops and masterclasses, and awards choral scholarships to young singers. There is a separate Voces8 USA Foundation.
“Stardust” for Black History Month, and a renowned guest artist
By Peter Alexander Feb. 7 at 10:04 p.m.
The Denver-based string group Sphere Ensemble will be a guest of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers for a concert recognizing Black History Month. Titled “Stardust,” the program will be presented at 7:30 pm. Friday in Boulder and Saturday in Denver (Feb. 10 and 11; details below).
Under the direction of Ars Nova’s artistic director Tom Morgan, the program opens with the world premiere performances of Love Songs from Lonely Letters by Joel Thompson. Ars Nova is one of five American choirs that jointly commissioned the Love Letters, which are based on the writings of Ashon Crawley, who teaches at the University of Virginia.
An Atlanta resident and Emory College grad, Thompson is the composer of a widely acclaimed opera based on “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats, the most checked-out book in the history of the New York Public Library. Thompson’s opera was premiered in August 2021 by Houston Grand Opera, where he currently holds a residency. Thompson will speak at the Ars Nova performances about his Love Songs, a work that explores individual agency and transformative joy.
The Sphere Ensemble will play their own arrangements of works by the Black English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the remarkable Brazilian woman composer Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga, known as Chiquinha Gonzaga.
The program concludes with music by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Ars Nova will repeat his Berlin Mass, a 1990 composition that they performed with the Boulder Philharmonic in 1997. Originally written for voices and organ, the score was arranged by the composer for voices and strings and incorporates the composer’s tintinnabula technique (from the Latin word for “bell”)—a way of creating deep resonance in slow-moving passages by combining notes of the tonic chord with simple scale patterns.
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“Stardust” Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, conductor With Sphere Ensemble
Joel Thompson: Love Songs from Lonely Letters
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Three-fours, II: Andante (arr. Alex Vittal)
Chiquinha Gonzaga: “Corta-Jaca” (arr. Alex Vittal)
Arvo Pärt: “Es sang vor langen Jahren” (Long years ago the nightingale sang) —Virgencita (Little Virgin) —Solfeggio —Berlin Mass
7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10 First United Methodist Church, 14521 Spruce St., Boulder
The Ukrainian-born Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman and the Indonesian pianist Janice Carissa will present a joint recital as guests of the Boulder Bach Festival, at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, in the Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum.
The children of musicians, Gluzman was born in the former Soviet Union and grew up in Riga, Latvia. He began studying violin at seven and moved to Israel with his family at 17. Today he teaches at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore as distinguished artist in residence and plays a Stradivari violin that once belonged to the virtuoso Leopold Auer.
Carissa first studied piano with her mother in her native Indonesia. She came to the United States to study at the Curtis Institute in 2013 and made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of 16. She is currently a master’s student of Robert McDonald at the Juilliard School. She has appeared at Caramoor, Marlboro and Ravinia festivals, among others.
Their program features J.S. Bach’s Sonata in C minor for violin and keyboard, as well as the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin, with a piano accompaniment by Robert Schumann. Continuing a tour through music history, Gluzman will play the A minor sonata for violin solo by the late Romantic violinist/composer Eugène Ysaÿe and par.ti.ta for solo violin written for the Bachwoche (Bach week) in Ansbach, Germany, by Lera Auerbach.
Gluzman wrote, “par.ti.ta is an incredible work, projecting Lera’s lifelong fascination with Bach. . . . We hear traces and echoes of Brandenburg Concerti, Concerto for two violins, sonatas and partitas for violin solo. No particular work is being quoted, yet I can’t help the feeling of being drawn to an incredible world of shades, echoes—are these shades of ourselves?”
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Boulder Bach Festival Vadim Gluzman, violin, and Janice Carissa, piano
J.S. Bach: Sonata in C minor, S1017, for violin and clavier obbligato
Eugène Ysaÿe: Sonata in A minor, op. 27 no. 2, for violin solo
Lera Auerbach: par.ti.ta
J.S. Bach: Partita in D minor, Chaconne, with piano accompaniment by Robert Schumann
4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11 Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum
Ars Nova and Boulder Chorale start 2022–23 with unusual programming
By Peter Alexander Nov. 3 at 10:20 p.m.
Two of Boulder’s choral organizations open their 2022–23 seasons this weekend. The programs by the Ars Nova Singers and the Boulder Chorale could hardly be more different—bizarrely chromatic music from the late Renaissance and music from Middle Eastern cultures, respectively—but they are similar in being well outside the mainstream of choral repertoire.
If you search for stimulating and unusual musical experiences, as I do, you could have a busy weekend. Both programs look promising for the adventurous listener.
In a program titled “Wonder,” the Ars Nova Singers and conductor Tom Morgan will explore the music of Carlo Gesualdo de Venosa, Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza. Gesualdo has a secure place in music history because of the extraordinary chromaticism of the harmonic language in his madrigals, which is unlke any other music written at the time. Performances will be Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Boulder, Longmont and Denver (details below).
Gesualdo’s notoriety in music history also derives from the fact that he killed his fist wife and her lover when her found them together. Although he was not charged with a crime, due to the circumstances, he felt a burden of guilt for the rest of his life, which may have contributed to the intensity of expression in the music he wrote.
Ars Nova will perform seven of the madrigals from the last two collections Gesualdo wrote, Books 5 and 6, which were published in 1611. This was right at the transition from the Renaissance style of counterpoint to the more chord-based style of the early Baroque period.
“You just don’t hear some of these chords and changes [Gesualdo wrote] until the 20th century,” Morgan says. “It’s such fascinating music to me, and I think the singers enjoy it because you don’t have anything like it in the repertoire. And it’s a lot of fun to do.”
The chromaticism is most extreme in the slower sections of the madrigals, giving the singers the time to make the unexpected note and chord changes. The most extreme chord changes are associated with the most extreme emotions, whereas other parts of the madrigals are more straightforward, and may even move in a fairly brisk tempo.
“It’s challenging for the singers,” Morgan says, “because the character of the music changes word to word. It’s fascinating how quickly the affect changes in the pieces.”
In spite of the extreme use of chromatic notes and chords, Morgan points out that in some ways, Gesualdo was not really a revolutionary composer. “He’s really clinging to the old imitative counterpoint [of the Renaissance era], but stretches the harmonic language as far as it would go.”
The constant shifting of chords gives the music an uneasy, ungrounded quality that can be tiring to listen to. “How to present Gesualdo is always a bit of a challenge,” Morgan says. “A straight-through listening of Book V or Book VI would be really hard for a modern audience. Too many in a row, the singer gets tired, [and] the listeners get overwhelmed.”
In order to give listeners a break, Morgan invited two instrumentalists—Ann Marie Morgan on viola da gamba and Sandra Wong on violin and the Swedish folk instrument the nyckelharpa—to play interludes in between the madrigals. “We’re doing little pairs of madrigals, and interspersing them with completely instrumental things,” Morgan explains. “Some are from [Gesualdo’s] era, some from slightly later.”
“That allows the ear to refresh and allows the mind to process things differently, and then you come back to Gesualdo. Ann Marie (Morgan) and Sondra (Wong) are both wonderful to work with, and by breaking (the madrigals) up into smaller chunks it’s better for both the singers and the audience.”
While Morgan is exploring challenging music of the past, conductor Vicki Burrichter and the Boulder Chorale continue their explorations of world music. In a program titled “Origins: The Fertile Crescent,” they will present music from across the Middle East, from Sephardic Jewish folk songs from Spain to Israel to Egypt, Tunisia and Afghanistan.
Performances will be Saturday and Sunday in Boulder, and will also be available by live stream on Sunday (details below).
Burrichter came to the subject for this concert by listening to the Trio Joubran, three Palestinian brothers from Nazareth who all perform on the oud—a stringed instrument from the Middle East that is the predecessor of the lute.
“The sound of the oud is magnificent—mysterious and deep,” Burrichter says. “The three of them playing together was beautiful. I listened to them a lot, and then I thought I should listen to more Arabic music. I’m very excited about it, but it’s the most nerve-racking concert I’ve ever done, because it’s so outside what I know about.”
Aside from her lack of background in the style, Burrichter had to adapt the music to an American choir. For one thing, the music does not have much harmony, and for another, it uses languages that hardly anyone in the choir knew. She tackled these issues first by hiring a guest band assembled and led by David Hinojosa that includes percussion, violin, bass and an oud player, plus a singer, Catrene Payan, who is an Arabic-speaking Israeli. They will perform with the chorale and separately.
She also turned to Adam Waite, who has made arrangements for the Chorale in the past, to make versions of the songs for the chorale’s singers. And she asked Raouf Zaidan, who has sung with the group, to help coach the language. “He lives in two worlds,” Burrichter says. “He’s an Egyptian but also a Western opera singer. He was able to help the choir with the language.”
Many of the pieces on the program are well known in the Middle East, including some that have been sung by the most popular singers in their home countries. “When I showed Raouf what is in the concert, he said ‘These are songs everybody knows,’” she says.
For example, she mentioned Oum Kulthum, an Egyptian singer who was called the Star of the East. “She is like a goddess figure there” Burrichter says. “She’s done ‘Lammaa Badda,’ and [Lebanese singer] Fairouz has done it. In the Middle East, everybody knows that song. And ‘El-Heelwa Dii’ is also extremely popular.”
Burrichter says that the melodies are not hard to sing, but there are nuances that are not easy for an American chorus. “We were trying to make it so that they could sing it, because they don’t speak the language, they don’t have experience with this music which is so very different from American music.
“We hope Arabic people or people from Israel who come to the concert will say, this is a group that tried their very best to represent and respect our culture. What I’m trying to do is for people to enter a cultural experience—the audience, the singers, everyone.
“The most important thing in the end is not the language, it is the joy of it.”
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“Wonder” Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, artistic director With Sandra Wong, violin and nyckelharpa, and Ann Marie Morgan, viola da gamba
Carlo Gesualdo: Selections from Madrigals, Books 5 and 6
Instrumental music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque
7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4 St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5 Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum
4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6 St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
Ars Nova Singers, Boulder Chorale and Seicento lay out plans for 2022-23
By Peter Alexander Oct. 12 at 2:52 p.m.
The Ars Nova Singers, the Boulder Chorale and Seicento Baroque Ensemble—three of Boulder’s leading choral groups—have distinct qualities, in terms of repertoire and performance style. All three groups have now announced their concert schedules for the 2022–23 season:
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Under director Tom Morgan, Ars Nova generally avoids the historical middle of standard repertoire, preferring music either side of the 18th and 19th centuries—the Renaissance or the 20th and 21st centuries. Their concerts are challenging to the singers, and can be equally so to audiences, but they are always interesting as well.
On Nov. 4 they will be the first of the three to present a concert this season (see time and place below). Their opening program is devoted to one of the most fascinating figures of the late Renaissance. Carlo Gesualdo, the Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza, was the composer of harmonically advanced, highly chromatic madrigals unlike anything else of their time. He was also known for having murdered his first wife and her lover when he found them together in bed, a fact that has not gone unnoticed in appreciation of his extreme music.
Performances of Gesualdo’s music are rare, as is often the case with Ars Nova programming, so this performance is worth noting.
One major event of the Ars Nova season will be the presentation in March of the world-touring British a cappella group Voces 8. Their two performances under Ars Nova’s auspices will be Wednesday March 1, 2023 in Macky Auditorium (7:30 p.m., details below) and Thursday, March 2, at St. John’s Cathedral in Denver (7:30 p.m.; tickets on sale Oct. 15). Please note that these are two separate programs. (details below).
Here is a full listing of the Ars Nova 2022–23 season:
“Wonder” Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director With Sandra Wong, violin and nyckelharpa, and Ann Marie Morgan, viola da gamba Carlo Gesualdo: Madrigals from Books 5 and 6
7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4 St. John Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov5 Stewart Auditorium of the Longmont Museum
4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6 St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
“Solstice” Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director With John Gunther, woodwinds Music for the Winter Solstice and Christmas
CORRECTION: The two programs by Voices 8 March 1 and March 2 were originally listed incorrectly. The correct information is “Choral Dances” on March 1 and “Lux Aeterna” on March 2, as now shown above.
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The Boulder Chorale is actually three different groups, and serves a role in music education as well as performance—in the words of the Web page, “for singers aged 5 to 85.” The Concert Chorale, the Chamber Chorale and the Children’s Chorale—the last divided by age into four different ensembles—perform separately as well as together. Under director Vicki Burrichter, the repertoire of the adult groups is eclectic, notably including world music, traditional styles from both European and non-European sources, and new works. As in the current season, their repertoire has often included work for chorus and orchestra.
Boulder Chorale opens their season Nov. 5, one day later than Ars Nova. Their opening weekends overlap, but you can easily plan to attend both. The chorale’s program is an example of their pursuit of world music. Titled “Origins: The Fertile Crescent,” the program highlights music from the Middle East and North Africa, including the Chorale’s own arrangements by Adam Waite of music from Israel, Afghanistan, Spain, Morocco and Syria.
Later in the year, the Chorale partners with the Longmont Symphony for performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 17) and a Messiah singalong (Dec. 18; details below); and with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra for performances of Beethoven’s Mass in C.
Here is the full listing of the Boulder Chorale 2022–23 season through April 2023:
“Origins: The Fertile Crescent” Boulder Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, conductor, with Catrene Payan, vocalist, and Middle Eastern instrumental ensemble, David Hinojosa,leader
4 pm. Saturday, Nov. 5, and Sunday, Nov. 6 First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO
“A Celtic Winter” Boulder Chamber Chorale and Concert Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director, and Boulder Children’s Chorale, Nathan Wubbena, director
4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, and Sunday, Dec. 11 First United Methodist Church, Boulder 1421 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO
Handel’s Messiah Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor With the Boulder Chamber Chorale, Vicki Burrichter, director
CORRECTION: The concert “Story of My life,“ previously listed here, was included by error. That is a performance by the Boulder Children’s Chorales, and has been removed from this listing. Also, clarification has been added as to which of the three chorales is performing in each of the concerts.
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Seicento specializes in Baroque music of the 17th (“Seicento” in Italian) and 18th centuries performed with, to use the currently accepted language, “historically informed” performance practice, including period instruments. Today they are directed by the group’s founder, Evanne Browne.
Founded in 2011, Seicento launches its second decade in December with “Nöel: Christmas in the late Renaissance and Early Baroque” (December 2–4), a program that includes carols still familiar today as well as little known choral works. The major event of the season will take place in May, when Seicento will be joined by an orchestra of historical instrument performers to present Colorado’s first historically informed performance of J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion.
Here is the full listing of Seicento’s season:
“Nöel: Christmas in the late Renaissance and Early Baroque” Seicento Baroque Ensemble, Evanne Browne, conductor
7:30 p.m. Friday Dec. 2 St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3 First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder
3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4 First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1500 9th Ave., Longmont
J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion (BWV 245) Seicento Baroque Ensemble and historical instrument orchestra, Evanne Browne, conductor
7 p.m. Friday, May 5 Arvada United Methodist Church, 6750 Carr St., Arvada
7 p.m. Saturday, May 6 St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1600 Grant St., Denver
3 p.m. Sunday, May 7 Mountain View United Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder
Concerts June 3–5 feature new work by Theofanidis and Pizzetti’s 1922 Requiem
By Peter Alexander May 23 at 9:12 p.m.
Guitarist and CU music professor Nicolò Spera was shocked by things going on the U.S. after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He wanted to respond in the best way he knew—with music.
The musical work that came from that desire, Door Out of the Fire by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Christopher Theofanidis, will be the centerpiece of a concert by Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers, under the direction of Thomas Edward Morgan. The Ars Nova performance will be the Colorado premiere, following a performance by Spera in Michigan in October, 2021.
Also on the program is the Requiem of Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti. Performances will be June 3, 4 and 5, in Denver, Boulder and Longmont, respectively (see details below). In addition to the live performances, the concert will also be available by livestream. Information and tickets for the concerts, which close out Ars Nova’s 2021–22 season, are available here.
After Ginsburg’s death, “I wanted a composer to write some ‘postcards to the future,’ in music,” Spera wrote in a recent email. He turned to Theofanidis, who had recently written an orchestral work, On the Bridge of the Eternal, for the 2020 centennial of the CU Boulder College of Music.
Writing for and with Spera, Theofanidis composed four choral “messages in a bottle” based on poems by Melissa Studdard. Each of the four choral settings is preceded by a prelude for guitar.
The texts reflect some of the major issues of our time, including the threat posed by climate change. They are titled “Burning Cathedral,” “The Book of Rahul,” “Ruth’s Aria”—to be sung by CU music faculty member Abigail Nims, mezzo soprano—and “Migration Patterns.” The work is dedicated to “le nostre speranze”—our hopes—Spera’s children, Julia and Giacomo.
Pizzetti’s Requiem will be presented in observance of the 100th anniversary of its composition. The Requiem, Pizzetti’s only liturgical music, is written for a-capella choir. The musical setting includes Gregorian chant as well as movements that recall Renaissance madrigals. The texture varies from single-line chant to eight voices to multiple choirs in the manner of 17th-century Venetian polychoral music.
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Made Real Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, director With Nicolò Spera, guitar, and Abigail Nims, mezzo-soprano
Christopher Theofanidis: Door Out of the Fire
Ildebrando Pizzetti: Requiem
7:30 p.m. Friday, June 3 St. Paul Community of Faith, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 4 First United Methodist Church, Boulder
7 p.m. Sunday, June 5 Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum
“Made Fragile” welcomes a fragile spring season with consoling music
By Peter Alexander March 29 at 10:20 p.m.
It’s a common theme: Boulder conductors look to program music that recognizes the stress and trauma their audiences have been through in the past two years.
For Thomas Morgan and the Ars Nova Singers, that means turning to music that is more comfortably familiar than much of the Renaissance and contemporary music that they usually perform: the gentle, consoling Requiem by French composer Gabriel Fauré. On the same program will be Fauré’s popular Pavane, in a version for orchestra and chorus; Brahms’s choral song “Abendständchen” (Evening serenade); and four works by Indian/American composer Reena Esmail.
The program, titled “Made Fragile,” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Denver (April 1) and Saturday in Boulder (May 2; details below).
Featured performers with Ars Nova will be flutist Christina Jennings; violist Matt Dane, who will be concertmaster of the orchestra; Ars Nova assistant conductor Brian Dukeshier, who will lead the Brahms; and soprano Magdalena Kadula, a senior at Tara Performing Arts High School in Boulder who won a competition to sing a solo with Ars Nova.
The Fauré Requiem is probably the most familiar work Morgan and the Ars Nova Singers have performed. “We did it in our second season, 1987, and haven’t done it since,” Morgan says. “It is outside where our usual repertoire is. But one of the things we realized coming out of the pandemic is that there’s so much community grief that’s left unprocessed.
“We wanted to do something that would really appeal both to the audiences and to our singers. And Fauré’s really gentle that way.”
Ars Nova likes to include educational activities in their schedule, but during the pandemic they have been unable to go into schools. Instead, Morgan decided to reach out to students by offering the opportunity to sing “Pie Jesu,” the soprano solo movement of the Requiem. It is relatively short and not difficult, which made it ideal for young singers.
“We had a competition,” Morgan explains. “We sent it out to public music teachers and private voice teachers and offered a little scholarship (and) we had 13 entrants. It’s just a two-page piece and we had the first round where the kids recorded it on their phones. We evaluated those 13 entries and selected five to do in-person auditions.
“From that we selected Magdalena Kadula, who will be our soprano. She’s a senior at the Tara High School of the Arts here in Boulder. It was a good way for us to outreach to young people at a time that’s very challenging.”
The other major element of the program is a selection of four pieces by Reena Esmail. An Indian-American composer, she has studied at Juilliard and Yale in this country, and with Hindustani music teachers in India. She often incorporates elements of Hindustani music into her compositions, along with Western classical music.
Esmail’s music was added to the program through a suggestion by violist Matt Dane. The orchestra for Fauré’s Requiem only calls for violas and cellos, with no violins, so Dane serves as concertmaster. He suggested Esmail’s “When the Violin” for chorus and viola as a good companion piece to the Requiem.
That led to adding another piece by Esmail for viola and flute, which Dane will play with his wife, flutist Christina Jennings from the CU faculty. That in turn led to adding two other pieces by Esmail, “She Will Transform You” for flute and chorus, and “Tarekita” for a capella chorus, which will open the concert.
Esmail wrote “TaReKiTa” for a choir of homeless people in Los Angeles that she was working with. “It’s taken off in the choral world,” Morgan says. “A number of people have recorded it. It’s very accessible, kind of like Indian scat singing. It’s a short piece that sets the stage well for the rest of her music, (which is) infused with who she is as an Indian-American.”
With Jennings included on the program, Morgan then decided to add Fauré’s Pavane, which is popular in a version for small orchestra and featuring a prominent flute solo. Originally written for piano, it was adapted by Fauré for orchestra and chorus, including a text that Morgan says “is not high art in terms of poetry,” about men’s and women’s romantic helplessness. “The beautiful melody carries the whole thing,” he says.
Morgan chose the Brahms “Abendständchen” to complete the program, both for its musical qualities and the opening line, “‘Hark the flute laments again, and the cool springs murmur,” which fits the occasion perfectly. The performance is a farewell for Dukeshier, who has been Ars Nova’s assistant conductor for several years, and recently completed a doctorate at the University of Northern Colorado.
Morgan says that the COVID protocols for the two performances are always subject to change. “We’re watching week to week as to how we implement our COVID strategies,” he says. “At the moment we’re planning to go with the singers masks-optional, but we’re also watching what’s happening. It makes for an interesting time right now.”
In other words, be sure to check the Ars Nova Health and Safety page on the Web before attending the concert. Or as Morgan puts it, “As the name of the program says, everything’s very fragile.”
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“Made Fragile“ Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Morgan, director With Christina Jennings, flute, and Matt Dane, viola Magdalena Kadula, soprano Brian Dukeshier, asst. conductor
Reena Esmail: “TaReKiTa” for chorus —“When the Violin” for chorus and solo viola —“She Will Transform You” for chorus and solo flute —“Nadiya” for flute and viola
Brahms: “Abendständchen” (Evening serenade)
Gabriel Fauré: Pavane (arr. Thomas Morgan) —Requiem
7:30 p.m. Friday, April 1 Central Presbyterian Church, 1660 Sherman St., Denver
7:30 pm. Saturday, April 2, First United Methodist, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder Also available by livestream
“We wanted to bring the music from one of our finer performances,” Tom Morgan says.
The conductor of Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers wanted to offer a free online gift to the disaster-wearied local community at the start of 2022, before the choir starts having in-person rehearsals and performances later in the spring. But he faced one problem: the group has made a lot of sound recordings of their concerts, but not any videos.
What he wanted to share was a pre-COVID performance from October 2018, of Will Todd’s Mass in Blue, a jazz-inflected, modern setting of movements from the Latin Mass. Morgan decided that rather than showing a static image or series of still images, which he says are “not particularly interesting to look at,” he would create his own video with abstract and natural imagery to accompany the music.
Under the title “Made Cool,” the resulting video will be offered free to the public at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, through the Ars Nova Web page.
With imagery that responds to the music rather than any specifics of the liturgical texts, the video transcends specific religious or doctrinal interpretations. Morgan feels that style of video fits well with the score, which brings together a jazz trio of piano, bass and drums with a virtuosic soprano solo and the choir.
“Todd in his conception and setting is making a pretty clear attempt to universalize the mass,” Morgan says. “He’s trying to make it more both modern and universal by taking it into this musical language.
“I thought we should go even a step further with the visuals. It adds another layer of meaning to the music. To establish the intent of universalizing the mass and bringing it to a wider audience, I thought a video overlay that also universalizes the mass opened it up to more interpretation, (by) not being overly literal with the mass.”
The video is very much a COVID-era product. To build his skills in video editing, Morgan took online video-editing classes during the early months of pandemic. He first used his newly-developed abilities in his former job as music director at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder. With that experience, he then transferred those skills to his work with Ars Nova.
Morgan plans to make more use of his video editing experience in future work with Ars Nova. Now that he has retired from his church job, he has “more opportunities to think about how we do the art that we do, in ways that is not the usual concert,” he says. Since the pandemic, “we’re having to think in new ways and broaden what we do. It’s a good challenge, but a necessary one right now.”
In creating the “Made Cool” video, Morgan selected a different visual theme for each of the six movements of Todd’s Mass. These range from photos he himself took in a church in England to visuals of nature and natural phenomena. Other than the photos Morgan took in the Sanctus movement, they mostly came from online sources.
“There’s online libraries of all kind of video possibilities, used for advertising,” Morgan explains. “There’s also wonderful public libraries like from NASA, and those have been valuable and interesting to work with, too.”
In some cases Morgan was able to connect with specific photographers whose online material he responded to, and get more material from them. He could use the visuals in that way to create continuity within a movement, for example—“so that it’s not completely a mishmash,” he says.
“I thought about how a narrative might come through each particular movement, and also something that would connect across the piece. I tried to find little arcs within the movements and then find an overall one that would allow the music to expand into that space. That also ties into what an actual Mass is, in terms of a sequence that has a relationship to redemptive history.”
Many of the videos were available for a small fee, although Morgan and Ars Nova drew the line at paying one videographer in England £45 per second for his video. “That’s way out of our price range,” Morgan says. “We said, ‘Let’s find something else!’” Other material however they paid for the rights to use, the same as they did for the music and the performances of the musicians involved.
With the video, Morgan is taking part in the development of new forms of art—a kind of classical choral-music video. “It’s a different take on the traditional choral concert,” he says.
“I hope it will get out to a wider audience than our usual concert supporters.”
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“Made Cool” Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, director With Kathryn Radakovich, soprano; Scott Martin, piano; Mark Diamond, bass; and Russ Meissner, drums Video editing by Tom Morgan
Concert features music of Renaissance composer Palestrina
By Peter Alexander Oct. 14 at 5:35 p.m.
The music of Renaissance composer Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina was regarded as having been “made perfect” by the generations that followed him.
Boulder’s Are Nova Singers will present a concert devoted largely to Palestrina’s perfectly made music, along with a piece by the contemporary English composer John Tavener, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 at St. Pauls’ Community of Faith in Denver, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, in First United Methodist Church in Boulder. Tickets are available for both in-person attendance, and also for an online audience for the Oct. 15 performance, on the Ars Nova Web page.
Proof of vaccination must be shown for admission, and masks must be worn indoors throughout the concert.
The leading composer of sacred music in the 16th century, Palestrina spent his entire life in or near Rome, having been born just outside the city. He served for many years as director of the Capella Giulia, the papal choir at St. Peter’s Basilica. His reputation then and later was so great that he was long and falsely credited with having “saved” polyphonic (multi-voice) sacred choral music during the Council of Trent, which was tasked with purging and clarifying church doctrine as part of the 16th-century Counter-Reformation.
It was Palestrina’s mastery of counterpoint that was so widely admired by musicians and theorists. The teaching of counterpoint for several generations after was based on his works, which were characterized by the smooth movement of voices, with very few leaps between notes, and careful control of dissonance. In fact, his style is still taught today as “Renaissance polyphony.” It has been the verdict of history that he was the greatest composer of sacred music of his generation.
Palestrina wrote at least 104 polyphonic settings of the mass, more than 300 motets, 35 magnificats, and 140 madrigals, among other works. From this vast output, Are Nova will perform a Missa Brevis (short mass), a movement from another setting of the mass, and three motets.
Twentieth/twenty-first century composer John Tavener (1944-2013) was also known for his extensive output of sacred choral music. His “Song for Athene” became particularly well known when it was performed in 1997 at the funeral for Diana, Princess of Wales. The “Exhortation” is written for double chorus. It was commissioned for the 2003 Festival of Remembrance in London’s Royal Albert Hall and is based on the poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, which begins “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.”
Like much of Tavener’s music, “Exhortation” conveys both serenity and a mystical quality that seems related to his extensive spiritual exploration by means of Russian and Greek orthodox Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Tavener described himself as “essentially Orthodox,” which became an important aspect of his musical identity.
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Ars Nova Singers Thomas Morgan, director 2021–22 Season
Palestrina: Missa Brevis
—Surge amica mea
— Diffusa est gratis
—Accepit Jesus calicem
—Agnus Dei (Missa Benedicta es)
John Tavener: Exhortation
7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 St. Paul’s Community of Faith 1600 Grant St, Denver
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16 First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St, Boulder
“A Celebration of Colorado Artistry,” April 26 and 27
By Peter Alexander April 24, 2019 at 2:15 p.m.
Works of art can inspire other works of art. A poem may inspire a composer to write songs or choral music with the poem as the text. Operas and films are often based on literary works.
Ars Nova Singers
Paintings can also inspire music—think for example of Mussorgsky’s great piano piece, best known in various orchestral versions, Pictures at an Exhibition. Debussy’s La Mer was inspired in part by Hokusai’s painting “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” and there are other examples.
Thomas Edward Morgan, director of Ars Nova Singers, has decided to help the inspirational process along while adding another layer with a project titled “A Celebration of Colorado Artistry: Shared Visions 2,” which culminates this weekend in two concerts by Ars Nova (Friday in Cherry Hills Village, Saturday in Boulder; details below).
This is the second iteration of Shared Visions, which Morgan and Ars Nova first presented in 2016. The process of getting from one artwork to another was the same both times: Colorado visual artists were invited to submit artworks for consideration; Colorado poets were then asked to write a new poem inspired by one or more of the artworks; and Colorado composers were invited to choose one of the resulting poems to set for chorus to be premiered by Ars Nova.
“Synapse Tapestry” by John Bonath, one of the artworks included in Shared Visions 2, 2019
For the current project, Ars Nova assembled an online gallery of 24 artworks by eight visual artists in the summer of 2018. Eight poets viewed the gallery and used the images as a basis for poetry. The resulting 47 poems were gathered into an anthology of poems and images of the artworks, and Ars Nova then commissioned four composers—Paul Fowler, Leanna Kirchoff, Jeff Nytch, and Morgan—to select poems from the anthology to be set as new works for chorus.
“Healing Grace—Lungs” by Grace Gee, one of the artworks in Shared Visions 2
The poets whose work they selected to set are Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer (two works), Erin Robertson and Christine Weeber. The visual artists who inspired the poems are John Bonath. Elizabeth Woody, Grace Gee and Kimmerjae Macarus.
“It was so successful when we did it three years ago that we decided that we would do it again in about three years,” Morgan says. “It takes a couple of years to pull it together.”
The rules for the composer were to write a piece for mixed chorus, either a capella (unaccompanied), or with a single solo instrument other than piano. As it turned out, all the pieces this year are for voices alone.
Morgan says the four pieces are quite different. “They come from different aesthetic places,” he says. “All of our composers have done really interesting stuff with these texts.
“The last time we did this project it was just the energy of these people meeting. It really is unique to see the chain of inspiration, and see (the artists) connect on a human level because the painters and visual artists are having their works sung to them.”
Sometimes, Morgan says, the connections made through the project reach beyond the initial collaborations and performance. “It has opened up some connections for some of (the artists) already,” he says. “I know that Paul Fowler and Rosemary Trommer have done a couple of other projects together since the last one.
“We had one poet, Karen Robertson, who was so taken with the project (this year) that she wrote a poem for each visual art piece in the gallery, and another poet, Rosemary Trommer, wrote 14 poems.
“Getting that level of engagement out of our literary artists was really quite gratifying.”
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Ars Nova Singers
“A Celebration of Colorado Artistry: Shared Visions”
Ars Nova Singers, Thomas Edward Morgan, director
Paul Fowler: Synapse (poem by Rosemerrry Wahtola Trommer; visual art by John Bonath) Leanna Kirchoff: Holy Water (poem by Erin Robertson; visual art by Elizabeth Woody) Jefffrey Nytch: Thank You Letter to My Lungs (poem by Rosemerrry Wahtola Trommer; visual art by Grace Gee) Thomas Edward Morgan: Heart Vessels (poem by Christine Weeber; granite sculpture by Kimmerjae Macarus)
7:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, Bethany Lutheran Church, Cherry Hills Village
7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder
Conductor Thomas Edward Morgan and Boulder’s Ars Nova Singers must really like Renaissance music that has many more than the usual four or five separate voice parts.
About this time last year, they performed a 36-voice canon by Johannes Ockeghem. The year before that, it was a 19-voice motet by Robert Carver. And in 2016, it was two separate pieces for 40 voices, the largest number ever called for in the Renaissance, by Thomas Tallis and Alessandro Striggio.
The original manuscript of Brumel’s “Earthquake Mass” (1570)
This year’s offering is not quite on that scale, but it is unusual: a Mass by Antoine Brumel for 12 voices—the only Renaissance choral setting of the Mass for such large forces (performances Saturday in Boulder and Sunday in Denver). It is known as “The Earthquake Mass,” not because of the earth-shaking nature of the music, but because it is based on a tiny bit of sacred chant, originally sung to the words “Et ecce terra motus” (“And behold, the earth moved”).
It was customary in the Renaissance to build larger pieces on a short phrase of chant. This is not unlike jazz that is based on the bass line from a standard song, except that in the Renaissance the quoted phrase would be placed in an inner voice and might not be heard or recognized by the listener.
In this way, Brumel’s Mass was composed “just from that one little snippet of chant, which is the basis of the whole thing,” Morgan says. On the other hand, he adds, “there’s a section where he probably was thinking about the ground moving or something dramatic, because there’s a couple of vigorous and dramatic shaking moments in the piece.”
Such a large number of different voices creates a rich sound that Morgan and the choir relish. “For the ensemble it’s fun because there’s not many groups that can have 12 independent lines and really be confident that they’re going to all be there,” Morgan says.
“So it’s building on the capabilities of the group, but I just find that there’s nothing quite sonically like it again until the 20th century. I find (multi-part pieces) to be very interesting, because you’re listening for small changes in texture, and being able to hear it go from large sonic structures to much more intimate things, and to hear places where the voices come together and present something at the same time.”
At the same time there is a drawback to presenting music with so many parts intricately woven together. “It’s very dense, to the point where you just hear a lot of activity in the voices, and you hear little snippets of melody that go around the choir. Some (fragments of melody) are very clearly presented one after the other and some are layered in such a way that you can’t even perceive them any more because they’re right on top of each other.”
Morgan has structured the program so that the more dense music is not heard in a single, unbroken stretch. The five movements of the Mass will be performed in three sections at the beginning, the middle, and the end of the program, with other, more intimate pieces presented in between.
Ann Marie Morgan
Ann Marie Morgan, a member of Ars Nova and an internationally known instrumental performer, will play a variety of music on the viola da gamba, and at one point the singers will present a four-voice motet by Josquin Des Prez, conducted by Brian Dukeshier, Ars Nova’s new assistant conductor.
“I decided to give the singers a little break, and when you have a world-class viola da gamba player in your midst, it’s nice to use her occasionally,” Morgan says. “She’s put together a couple of little sets of (pieces). The intention is to create a context that draws the ear of the listener out of these large, dense textures and into a very intimate space.”
The viola da gamba pieces would not have been heard in services of the Mass in Brumel’s time, but it is not inauthentic to interrupt the larger musical portions of the program. In the church of the time, the various movements of the Mass would be heard at different times during the service, with chant and other events between, so that the listeners would not sit straight through 30 minutes of dense choral music.
Renaissance music is often performed that way in concerts, but listening that way “can be a bit of a challenge,” Morgan says, “because it’s just so much of the same kind of texture. Even within the mass we’re varying the texture in that we have sections that are being done by one voice on a part. So we have two little 12-tet groups that are presenting certain parts.”
Josquin’s motet introduces another kind of variety into the program. “It’s a four-part piece in the midst of all of this,” Morgan says. “It’s for choral variety, but it’s also a little bit for tessitura (voice range) variety, because it’s a considerably higher-pitched piece than the Mass. So we hear the sopranos go up in their register a little bit.”
Morgan has no hesitation recommending the Brumel Mass to new listeners of Renaissance music. “It’s so sonically lush that I think people will enjoy it,” he says. “You don’t perceive the underlying chant, but you hear the changes of harmony, and when it moves from one large tonal area into another, it has this kind of surge like a wave that arrives and then it recedes.
“It’s very gracious to listen to. I find it meditative in a way, because it does transport you into a place where you’re not trying to figure it out.”
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Music of the Renaissance: “The Earthquake Mass”
Ars Nova Singers, Tom Morgan, artistic director
With Ann Marie Morgan, viola da gamba
Antoine Brumel: Missa Et ecce terra motus (“The Earthquake Mass”)
Josquin Des Prez: Ave Maria…virgo serena Music and arrangements for viola da gamba by various composers
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, St. John’ Episcopal Church, 1419 Pine St., Boulder Tickets
4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, St. Paul Community of Faith, 1600 Grant St., Denver Tickets