MYS Oregon to Iberia

Heard and unheard: Oregon choirs reclaiming and rediscovering new and old music

A transcription of Dvořák’s mass, a setting of Anne Frank’s diary, a tribute to William Byrd, a history of Rachmaninoff, a Resonance CD release, and a bit of rediscovered Brumel.

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Angelus Studio photographs, 1880s-1940s, University of Oregon. (04 Oct 2023). Pipe Organ Rock, John Day Valley, OR. (recto) Retrieved from https://www.oregondigital.org/concern/images/j3860p23v
Pipe Organ Rock, John Day Valley, Oregon. Angelus Studio photographs, 1880s-1940s, University of Oregon.

Words once silenced, now being sung. Voices suppressed, now loud and clear. Finding a way, overcoming barriers to present the known and the next. Oregon’s October choral concerts are a demonstration of the strength of voices raised in song. 

The challenge to Portland audiences in this October line-up? Six choral groups packed into two weekends. Heavens to Betsy! How can we get to all that wonderful singin’? Just do your best, you loyal choral-music lovers; there is some marvelous music out there for you.

Next week OAW will highlight the season opening concerts of our wonderful choirs along the north-south corridor below Portland. From Salem to Ashland, they deserve special attention. For now, we start with some singing East of the Cascades.

Authentic intentions

In planning for Central Oregon Mastersingers’ October 8 season opener, conductor Christian Clark thought Antonin Dvořák’s Mass in D would be ideal. The 40-minute work was originally written for a very good SATB civic choir, four soloists, and the pipe organ in a small private chapel in the Czech municipality of Lužany, near Plzeň. The Mastersingers, however, faced one production challenge. As Clark noted in recent email to OAW: “Central Oregon is not known for its pipe organs.” At least not musical ones. (See connections below).

But with determination and a bit of research, Clark found Joachim Linckelmann’s wind quintet transcription (one of the Carus Verlag “great choral works in small scorings” series) with original choral and solo scoring. But how about good local wind players (flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, bassoon)? Yup, got ‘em. They are, said Clark, “highly talented local musicians” from the Central Oregon Symphony. 

But will it be an authentic representation of the original performance? Is it true to Dvořák’s intent? Here’s how Dvořák himself dealt with intent and “original” performance.

Dvořák had to accept the production curtailments of the 1887 commission offered by local Plzeň philanthropist Josef Hlávka. Specific performance date, venue, choir and soloists – including the wife of Hlávka and Dvořák’s wife Anna – and a pipe organ. Without compromising his artistry – soaring melodic lines, lush but non-indulgent harmonies – Dvořák carefully crafted the voice parts for the local artists. With repetitive declarative statements, flowing unison passages and forays into fugal sections it was complex but easy going on singer and listener. Tailor-made.

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One year later the Mass received a civic premiere in a Plzeň venue which had no pipe organ. Dvořák revised the instrumentation for two harmoniums (those little portable keyboard jewels), cello and two string basses. Finished? Not yet. Dvořák’s publisher, wanted to promote the work to a larger public, but would only accept an orchestral version. So in 1892, the same year he traveled to the United States, Dvořák finished his revision for chamber orchestra with a strong complement of winds.The modern Linckelmann transcription gives the upper strings roles to the flute and clarinet. Voila! Central Oregon audiences hear the Dvořák Mass in D.

And so, what was Dvořák’s intention? To use available talent and resources to bring the music to singers, audiences and to worshipers. Dvořák was a devout Catholic and wrote several Masses; only this one still exists. Revisions have enabled it to be heard, in public or liturgy, with pipe organ or winds; the work is a precious and valuable work in the choral repertoire. Listen here to the “Kyrie”: 

And what better way to fill out the program than further showcasing the talents of the COS wind quintet, who will perform a romantically rich (think Brahms) Bavarian work – Heinrich Kaspar Schmid’s Wind Quintet, Op. 28

Attend! Experience this music tailor made in Central Oregon.

Central Oregon Mastersingers sing the Dvořák Mass in D at Bend’s Nativity Lutheran Church on October 8, at 3pm. The concert is free but reserve your seat here. https://www.centraloregonmastersingers.org/fall-2023. Donations are appreciated.

Voice in hiding

When words known worldwide become the libretto for a choral work, we anticipate that the music will move us toward further understanding, deeper appreciation. The way Randall Thompson’s Frostiana embraced the poetry of Robert Frost, or the words of Matthew Shepard and of George Floyd were driven into our hearts in settings by Craig Hella Johnson and Joel Thompson. 

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On October 14 and 15 Choral Arts Ensemble sets before us Annelies: The Voice of Anne Frank. Composer James Whitbourn has woven the words and music that reintroduce us to Anne. In recent email with OAW, conductor David De Lyser remarked that Annelies “is an amazingly powerful work that should be done more than it is”. The concert is co-sponsored by the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education with support from Congregation Beth Israel.

Whitbourn’s piece seems to pluck the words of Annelies Marie Frank’s diary, compiled and translated by Melanie Challenger, with a surgical precision. According to Susan Wladaver-Morgan, who beautifully crafts CAE’s program notes, Challenger was working on a compilation of diaries by children in wartime while selecting Anne’s texts–the ones that Whitbourn would use. Oh, that such documents even exist. She chose not just words, but a voice.

In recent interview with OAW, two CAE singers shared their personal thoughts about the work. Perhaps it was the selection of certain words and phrases and key moments – “capture,” “life in hiding,” “courage” – that sent singer Tania Hyatt-Evenson back to the source document, the diary, to reconnect with the complete story. She is reading her mother’s copy. Singer Joshua Gietzen marvels at Anne’s mature insights, but as the parent of a young child is particularly moved by the realization that Anne Frank was but a child, and he mourns for her life cut so short.

Choral Arts Ensemble in rehearsal. Photo by Daryl Browne.
Choral Arts Ensemble in rehearsal. Photo by Daryl Browne.

We know that Anne’s life ended when she was 15 after two years of hiding and five months in Bergen-Belsen camp. Whitbourn’s cantata begins toward the end. The second of the 14 movements, in fact, is titled “The capture foretold” in which words and music illuminate the Frank family’s greatest fear. Then movements 3-12 bear witness to how, for two years, this young girl strove to live in hope and joy.

In music and words you will hear the playful Anne and the thoughtful Anne. The soprano soloist, Aline Bahamondez, will sing and occasionally speak: it’s a multifaceted role. But Whitbourn has written roles – almost like conversation – for the instruments as well, especially for the clarinet and piano. Listen here to the delicacy and purity of the chamber instruments – violin, clarinet, cello and piano. You will notice how they never stomp on the words, but uplift them. 

CAE chamber ensemble performers are Jennifer Creek Hughes, piano; Haeun Jung, violin; Hannah Hillebrand, cello; and David Hattner (yes, our Portland Youth Philharmonic conductor and music director) on clarinet.

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When CAE singer Jenny Stadler embraced this musical journey by digging further into the diary, the timings and the locales, she was surprised to find that her own family story intersected with Anne’s at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In recent conversation with OAW, where she identified as one of the few Jewish choir members, Stadler shared that her husband’s grandparents, Helen and Harry, were at times reluctant to speak of their lives during the Holocaust. But their daughter discovered at an Anne Frank Exhibit that her mother’s dates of internment at Bergen-Belsen overlapped those of the Frank family. After the liberation, Helen met her future husband, Harry, at Bergen-Belsen’s displaced persons camp, where Stadler’s future mother-in-law was also born. “It is important that we tell these stories”, said Stadler. This choral work, this choral concert, tells Anne’s story.

CAE presents Annelies: The Voice of Anne Frank at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton on Sat., October 14th, 7:30 and Sun., October 15th, at 3:00. Tickets can be purchased here.

Choirs share the stage

For William Byrd, the sung word was the narrative of religious devotion. Concerts and tributes to the Renaissance composer have been rolling out all this year, the 400th anniversary of his death. Portland’s own William Byrd Festival went bananas over Byrd in August. And now, thanks to In Medio choir, Byrd lovers have the opportunity to hear a Seattle-based choir dedicated to keeping the Renaissance master’s voice alive. The Byrd Ensemble, a 10-12 member ensemble singing since 2004 (with occasional concerts in Portland) does great Elizabethan but is willing and able to take on a whole lot more–like the piece they commissioned from contemporary composer Nico Muhly. The new work, Falling, is based on a Byrd motet and will be premiered in Seattle on October 21, with Muhly on the podium, then brought to Portland on October 22 and conducted by Byrd Ensemble leader Markdavin Obenza. In Medio will join The Byrd Ensemble to sing the 40-part Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis and the Byrd Quomodo Cantabimus. In Medio conductor John Eisemann is delighted–he gets to sing.

He will also sing, as will his wife Jen Milius, at the Seattle Muhly premiere concert. The couple recently attended the Byrd Ensemble International Renaissance Course in the UK, a weeklong intensive singing course where they rehearsed music by Byrd and Tallis for a week while living together in an idyllic 13th century castle and shared the singing with four members of the Tallis Scholars. Lifelong learners get the best scores–and singing companions! When we attend a concert like this we, too, are learning–and enjoying every lovely choral moment.

In Medio presents The Byrd Ensemble on Sun., October 22, 3pm at The Madeleine Parish. Tickets are here.

Revisiting Rachmaninoff

Portland area audiences have nurtured and appreciated the choral offerings of Oregon Repertory Singers for 50 years. This longevity is a testament to excellence in musicality, breadth of repertoire and a dedicated organizational foundation.

ORS under former director Gilbert Seeley established their reputation for placing the great “unknown and unheard” before Portland audiences. And though it might be hard to fathom, the beloved Sergei Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil (Opus 37) was once unheard. When a series of circumstances in the late 80s and 90s thrust the Vigil from obscurity Oregon Repertory Singers was a dedicated participant in the work’s rise to its iconic status. This is the point at which some of you might jump to your feet to proclaim “and I was there!”

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Oregon Repertory Singers, 1997. From the ORS "Vespers" CD.
Oregon Repertory Singers, 1997. From the ORS “Vespers” CD.

Yes. You were. Thousands of you in the 1990s experienced the ORS performances of the great choral work as it emerged from Soviet-orchestrated obscurity. A good number of current members performed in those concerts. So, of course, ORS and current conductor Ethan Sperry would choose All-Night Vigil as their 50th-Anniversary Season opener on October 21 and 22. 

The All-Night Vigil premiered in Moscow in 1915. But too soon afterward this foundational masterwork of Russian Orthodox liturgy was deemed inappropriate for public consumption. Fifty years later the State Academic Russian Choir of the USSR cut a recording – all hail the Russian basso-profundo sound – but even that was more available beyond the borders of the Soviet Union than within. 

Then, in 1981, a performance (and subsequent recording in 1987) with Washington National Symphony Music director Mstislav Rostropovich directing the Choral Arts Society of Washington ignited a spark in the US. Choirs like the 1986 Pacific Choral in Los Angeles performed the “new” Rachmaninoff work.

And then the 1990 release of Robert Shaw’s 1989 Festival Chorus “Vespers” (affectionate misnomer) fueled an inferno. Russian music scholar Vladimir Morosan stated in recent email to OAW that Shaw probably used “a copy of the original Russian edition of 1915 in which the text had been whited out manually and phonetics (for the Church Slavonic) written in by hand.” The recording of these 60-ish select choral scholars and conductors from all over the US after only 20 days together is stunning. Of course, said Morosan in phone conversation with OAW, Shaw prepared for about a decade.

In 1986, Morosan’s book Choral Performance in Pre-Revolutionary Russia was published; it is still considered the definitive book on the subject. One year later, Morosan founded Musica Russica, whose mission from then to today is “to acquaint the world-wide community with the vast and rich heritage of Russian choral music by means of recordings, sheet music, and research publications.” Morosan had already spent significant time with the work, and other works, during his research in Russia and was in attendance at the aforementioned Rostropovich D.C. All-Night Vigil concert. In recent phone conversation with OAW Morosan relayed that his friend and colleague, the late Alex Ruggieri, produced an English-language recording of the Vigil in the mid 70s. And so it followed that the work edited by Morosan and Ruggieri, with performance notes and Church Slavonic pronunciation guide, and published by Musica Russica in 1992 was – you’ve already guessed – Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil. It changed the choral world.

Now with access to the Musica Russica Vigil score the task ahead of ORS was to grasp the essence of Russian liturgical music – the modality, the emotion and the lay of the Church Slavanic in the mouth to form the beautiful rich sound. Seeley added one more significant “M” to the mix: conductor of the Moscow State Academic Chamber Choir, Vladimir Minin. 

The first ORS concert Minin conducted was in March of 1993. Soloists came from the choir. Alto Melody Boyce, who retired from ORS in 2019, sang in all of the Minin performances and performed the alto solo role in 1993. She recalls Minin as a demanding leader, but the result of those demands were worth the effort. “He worked us so hard, but worked hard himself,” recalled Boyce in recent phone conversation with OAW. Minin returned to ORS in to conduct the Vigil in 1995, bringing with him a couple members of the Moscow Chamber Choir. As reported in the Oregonian on February 24, 1995, Minin told Seeley: “For me to be satisfied, I need to have each of the singers live a whole life singing this great piece. At each moment, they need to be aware of what is required.” Apparently they were. Again, ORS audiences were at full capacity.

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In the 1990s the All-Night Vigil recording craze took off. In our region, conductor Richard Sparks and the Pacific Lutheran Choir of the West recorded the work in 1996 and one year later ORS brought Minin and Russian soloists back to Portland for their own wonderful Vespers recording in St. Mary’s Cathedral. Portland fell in love with the Russian sound. It must be noted that Cappella Romana, which has gifted us with a steady stream of exquisite Eastern Orthodox and Russian choral literature, was founded by Alexander Lingas in 1991 (read Bob Hicks’ review of Cappella Romana’s centennial performance of the Vigil here). Good decade for Russian choral music, that.

Today, Sperry and the choir also focus a great deal on the language as they prepare, using in-person guest coaches and the Musica Russica on-line Russian language guide. Sperry sang the Vigil in graduate school and was coached by Alex Ruggieri. He names the Shaw recording as one of his favorite models for perfect intonation and vowel unification. In recent email to OAW Sperry said Rachmaninoff’s approach to “writing for choir like an orchestra with many different sections instead of just one block truly changed everything. Without Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil many of the wonderful choral works we know and love from the last three decades would not exist.” 

The 15-movement, 75-ish minute work–which ORS will sing without intermission–remains a topic of interest and is recorded at regular intervals by choirs world-wide. A recording of two combined choirs under the direction of Charles Bruffy, the Kansas City and Phoenix Chorales, was the 2016 Choral Performance Grammy winner. Upcoming in the Nov/Dec issue of The Choral Journal is Morosan’s article “Performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil: An Interview with Conductors and Singers.” A performance earlier this year by Clarion Choir, Steven Fox conductor, is the most recently heralded. Listen here as we are called to the Vigil by Clarion singers. The soloists are basso Glenn Miller, well known to Portland audiences, and Portland State alumnus, tenor Oliver Mercer. 

Side note: On October 14 in Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Concert Hall a retrospective concert is being held to honor Vladimir Minin for his contributions to Russian choral music on the occasion of his 95th birth anniversary. Choir, soloists and orchestra will perform Bach’s Mass in B Minor

Oregon Repertory Singers will once again honor Rachmaninoff and his beloved choral masterpiece. We are grateful for their role in bringing the “unheard” to Portland thirty years ago. Celebrate their 50th year of singing. Celebrate the All-Night Vigil again and anew.

Oregon Repertory Singers performers Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil in the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts on Sat., October 21 at 4pm and Sun., October 22 at 4pm. Tickets may be purchased here. https://www.orsingers.org/ors/concerts-events

Retrospective Resonance

Another Portland choir is inviting you to join in the celebration of their journey. For 15 years Resonance Ensemble, founded and conducted by Katherine FitzGibbon, has nurtured an intimate relationship with Portland from the inside out. Their eyes-wide-open programming and championing of works and artists that address the issues of our world deserves a year of retrospection.

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The season opener on October 14 and 15 looks back at how they looked forward to forge a new narrative. The concert programming will highlight the numerous commissions and Portland premieres of works, like Vin Shambry’s “Brother Man,” first heard in 2017. You can also take many of these works home with you by purchasing their very first album, LISTEN–that title taken from Melissa Dunphy’s work of the same name performed by Resonance in February 2019. You can pre-order your copy at this link. Dominick DiOrio’s beautiful You Do Not Walk Alone is on the concert program and included in the album. It is available right now as an amuse-l’oreille on Resonance home page. And while you are on that page, enjoy an interview with Portland composer Stacey Philipps, whose Witch Trials is featured on the concert and the CD. Here’s Resonance singing it in 2019:

Resonance does not perform from the periphery; they stand center mass. Their concert themes for this season – Amendments: Righting Our Wrongs and Black Art Song – suggest the music you will hear, culminating in the season’s final concert next June which proudly proclaims they have been “championing mission-based art for 15 years.” 

Participate in the Resonance retrospection, including post-concert panel discussion, on Sat., October 14, 7:30pm and Sun., October 15, 3pm at Lincoln Hall on the Portland State Campus. Tickets and more information here

Also on October 14 in downtown Portland, you can join with two congregations, three choirs, youth singers and adults, in another event of mission-based art. The adult singers of Congregation Beth Israel’s Kol Echad (With One Voice) Choir and Trinity Episcopal’s Cathedral Choir join with the youth singers of the Pacific Youth Choir to present The Road Home: Songs of Belonging, Safety and Hope.

This event will include the music of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Paulus and Susan LaBarr, poetry readings by Kenyan-born Portlander Brandt Maina and reflections from people and organizations for whom the right to belong, be housed and have safe physical and mental safety is a daily pursuit. They perform in solidarity for all members of the human family.

Join PYC director Chris Mauna, Cantor Ida Rae Cahana and Canon Katie Webb and their musicians for this free collaborative concert at Congregation Beth Israel on Sat., October 14th at 7pm. More specific information on repertoire and participants can be found here.

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Do you love you some of that good old barbershop sound? Excellent close harmony, a cappella music is what a couple hundred of our friends and neighbors enjoy singing. No, there isn’t a local concert coming up, but the Pacific Northwest is represented by two fine choirs in the 75th Annual Sweet Adelines International Contest taking place in Louisville, Kentucky at the end of October: Voices Northwest from Washington and Alaska Sound Celebration. Also this month, on October 20-21 in Federal Way, Wash., two local close harmony choirs–PDX Voices (mixed voice) and the quartet ARGONAUTS, in which Pride of Portland (treble voice) director Drew Osterhout sings–will compete in the Evergreen District Contest. We are such a thriving choral region – every genre, every choir, every voice. Sing on.

Newly discovered

Another group we love is In Mulieribus. They too are primarily an a cappella ensemble, and can we boast about their excellent in close harmony singing? We can. Do we claim a little Portland pride when it comes to this luminous ensemble? We sure do. 

Conductor Anna Song and the seven-member ensemble sing this season’s Under the Same Sky, with works that cross cultures, ideologies, genders and time and space. “We all share needs and dreams under the same sky” (from website).

They will begin their season with “Songs of Loss and Lamentation,” works that promise to resolve in healing and peace, from a wide range of musical eras (Tomas Luis de Victoria to selections from William Brooks’ Six Mediaeval Lyrics) and styles (Sungji Hong to Orlando di Lassus). And here’s a phrase that always piques interest–“newly discovered”–especially when the newly discovered music is from Renaissance Franco-Flemish composer Antoine Brumel. How, who, where? In Mulieribus might be able to answer those three, but the ‘what’ is portions of Brumel’s Lamentations of Jeremiah. Hearing something brand new that is that old. Way cool. 

This is one of IM’s trademarks – the newly discovered, the previously unheard. And then there’s their beautiful sound.

Bonus preview: In Mulieribus will be featured on All Classical Radio’s (89.9 FM, KQAC) Fall Into the Arts program on Thursday, October 12 at 7pm. In Mulieribus’ season opening concerts are Fri., October 20, at 8pm, St. Philip Neri Church and Sat., October 21, 7:30pm at The Madeleine. Tickets are here

Connections

Yes, Central Oregon has a pipe organ. But it’s more about scaling the rocks than scaling the keyboard. Pipe Organ Rock is in Crook County–the image at the top of this column is a photograph from the Angelus Studios collection at University of Oregon.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Daryl Browne is a music educator, alto, flutist and writer who lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

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