Dear Portland metro (and SW Washington) choirs–please don’t take this the wrong way. You are wonderful and we love you, but, well…this isn’t about you. No, really, this choral profile and preview is not about you at all. It is, however, still about really fine singing. Creatively programmed, beautifully performed music presented by your choral colleagues from Salem to Ashland. Here’s our High Five to the I-5 choirs.
Nowhere in this piece will you read that these are excellent choirs “for the size of their community” or any other such qualifiers. Pshaw! These are just excellent choirs. They have all been performing for us for decades – their median age is 36 years – and just take a look at the wealth of repertoire they offer in their 2023-24 fall season openers alone. Let’s get to know them better, beginning with the youngest choir.
Corvallis Repertory Singers
They are “only” 24 years old. But Corvallis Repertory Singers’ founding director Steven M. Zielke, Director of Choral Studies at Oregon State University, has been leading this 50-voice, auditioned, semi-professional choir for that whole time. In recent phone interview with OAW, soprano Terri Homer (President of CRS’s Board of Directors) estimated that 80% of the singing members are or have been professional musicians – school music teachers, voice and instrumental studio teachers, church choir directors, etc. Thus their high quality performances.
Homer also remarked on how pleased the choir is to be performing Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass on their October 22nd concert. “Gjeilo is one of our favorites,” said Homer. His music appears in CRS programming about once a year. The 35-ish minute, four movement Sunrise Mass, is Gjeilo’s longest SATB/orchestra work to date.
Listen here to the “The Spheres,” Movement 1 of the Mass. It opens in a relatively simple chord progression (c-Ab-Bb-g-Ab) but Gjeilo bleeds the chords into one another like an O’Keeffe watercolor. The rising sun is often taken for granted—yawn. But watching it, or listening to it, moment by exquisite moment—heart awakening.
Upon rising, you will be beamed back to the Baroque era in France and in Germany. Homer admires how Dr. Zielke thinks about pieces and combinations. Fitting this concert theme, “Pathways, Songs of Redemption”, Zielke (who recently received an OSU Beaver Champion award) has programmed works by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Johann Sebastian Bach.
Hmm. Charpentier? He’s the composer of the European Broadcasting Union theme-song. (Trivia that gets correctly answered as often as “whose music is used for the theme to Masterpiece Theater.” ANSWER: Charpentier contemporary Jean-Joseph Mouret; file that away). The prolific Charpentier was heralded in his own time as the master of sacred vocal music during the reign of Louis the XIV.
Charpentier motet Laudate Pueri Dominum, H. 149, (Praise the Lord, children) to be sung in Flemish Latin – such is this choir’s attention to detail – is but one of his hundreds of sacred works for choir and chamber ensemble. Some of the soaring lines can be performed tutti or by soloists. The short work is like a mini cantata and with its delightful ornamentation and vitality you might lament that the “amen” has come so soon.
Bach Cantata BWV 47, Wer sich selbst erhöhet, der soll erniedriget werden (Whoever exalts himself, will be abased) is a twenty-ish minute jewel, also showcasing vocal soloists. Listen here to the bass aria, with solo work also on violin and oboe.
According to Homer, the solo opportunities are perhaps one of the overriding reasons that Zielke chose these works. Joining the choir are soprano Elise Gidley Groves and bass Daniel Fridley, Oregon State grads who have since built careers as vocal soloists and choristers. Groves, who went on to graduate work at Bard College, early this month performed Handel’s Israel in Egypt with the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston (see Connections below). Fridley has done doctoral work at Case Western. Welcome these Oregon grads back to their academic home.
During the pandemic closures, CRS maintained contact with the local and greater choral community by producing a series of Maestro Moments in which Zielke interviewed choral composers. You can still watch these; scroll to “join us” at this CRS home link.
Future insider info: in the Spring, CRS will perform in a new Corvallis venue, PRAx. Lots more news to come on that exciting event. Get the skinny when you attend Corvallis Repertory Singers “Pathway” season opener on October 22, 3 pm, First United Methodist Church, Corvallis. Ticket purchases can be made here.
Southern Oregon Repertory Singers
In Ashland, Oregon we have a choir whose 34 years of performing have gifted us the best works in choral music, some of which they have commissioned themselves. Join Southern Oregon Repertory Singers and conductor Paul French for “Water Night” on October 28 and 29.
Some of those commissioned works are premiered on the SORS “First Light” spring concert. In 2018 SORS initiated this new-music event thanks to the generous support of Southern Oregon arts philanthropist James Collier who died this past August. SORS 2023-24 season is dedicated to Collier. To honor the longtime patron and lover of the arts in this concert the choir will sing “In Paradisum” from the Fauré Requiem and a work by SORS Resident Composer and accompanist, Jodi French, A long time I have loved. Harpist Laurie Anne Hunter and cellist Michal Palzewicz are featured on those and several other works.
The program begins with a plea–Ne irascaris Domine (Be not angry, Lord) by William Byrd–and then moves right into soothing us with Johannes Brahms’ Die Mainacht (May Night), a familiar melody beloved in solo and choral format.
The choir then offers this concert’s theme piece (Water Night by Eric Whitacre), A Drop in the Ocean by Ēriks Ešenvalds, and Sarah Quartel’s Swept Away, a close harmony, vocal jazzy delight. Listen to it here.
You will hear three Irish tunes for choir in the second half when The Maid of Culmore (arr. Kevin Whyms) and My Gallant Lad (Mo Ghile Mear, arr. Earley), hook up in Carrickfergus (arr. Pacey). But the penultimate piece is from Scotland: Rebecca Dale’s choral/cello arrangement of Soay (Sòthaigh in Gaelic). This wordless tune connotes the ‘island of sheep’, one of the westernmost Hebrides, St. Kilda, islands. The ensemble singing Dale’s arrangement here is Voces 8:
And speaking of Voces 8, the Southern Oregon community is so very fortunate to have Chamber Music Concerts, whose administrative home is the Southern Oregon University Department of Continuing Education. CMC have brought some stellar vocal ensembles to Oregon and this year they bring another: Voces 8. Woohoo! Put this March 8 concert on your calendar but go grab your tickets today. Hey, PDX: Voces 8 is on Portland’s Friends of Chamber Music series on March 6. Don’t wait. Tickets here. Now!
SORS performs on the campus of Southern Oregon University where Professor Emeritus Paul French was Director of Choral/Vocal studies for 34 years.
Go out for a “Water Night” of choral music with Southern Oregon Repertory Singers on Sat., October 28, 7:30 pm and Sun., October 29, 3:00 pm. Both concerts are performed at the Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon Campus. Tickets are available here.
Rogue Valley Chorale
Another favorite choir in Southern Oregon is the Rogue Valley Chorale. This is their 51st season and second under conductor Jerron Jorgensen. We will catch up with RVC when they announce their new season which usually begins with their holiday concert. You can watch for that season announcement as well at this site.
Festival Chorale Oregon
Festival Chorale Oregon founding conductor Solveig Holmquist has an intimate relationship with Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius. She lived in Elgar’s birthplace Malvern, England (Worchestershire), during the 1970s and sang the Dream each year with the Three Choirs Festival, the world longest running oldest choir Festival (see Connections below). “I sobbed my way through every time,” she confessed in recent email to OAW. That’s lot of tears; the work is about 90 minutes long. Holmquist now offers the right to blub to Festival Chorale Oregon’s 80-ish singers in their in their November 18th concert.
The Dream has been performed once before in FCO’s 45-year history, in the same venue. The greater Salem community has heard some of the great choral/orchestra works from this choir over the years. And the FCO’s Festival Carolers, those Victorian-clothed bringers of holiday joy, are back in force. A schedule of their upcoming appearances will be available soon, but you can contact them today to book Victorian singing at your holiday event.
The Dream of Gerontius is an oratorio (think Haydn’s Creation or Handel’s Messiah) based on the poem printed by John Henry Newman in 1865. (Fun Portlandian venue connection: Newman founded the community of St. Philip Neri in England in 1848). It tells the story of one devout soul’s journey into death – fearful and hopeful. It requires a large orchestra – 42 players, says Holmquist – organ, three soloists and choir.
Singing the yummy solo roles with FCO are Les Green (Gerontius/Soul); Zachary Lenox (Priest/Angel of Agony) and Hannah Penn (Angel). Listen to one portion “I went to sleep” here sung by Peter Pears and Yvonne Minton with Benjamin Britten conducting, 1972. (Blubbering may occur).
For the entire poem and extensive scholarly details on Newman and the poem visit this link at Project Gutenberg.
For the essence of the epic poem and the privilege of hearing one of Elgar’s great choral works, attend this Festival Chorale Oregon concert on Sat., November 18th, 7:30 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Mt. Angel (not the Abbey). Tickets can be purchased here.
Willamette Master Chorus
There can be comfort and stability in a yearly event – a festival, a retreat or a concert. Willamette Master Chorus’s first Veteran’s Concert was given 19 years ago to uplift our men and women in the armed forces; it has never let them down. And while it remains a Veteran’s Day calendar constant (this year right on November 11 and 12), it is always new, always creative.
For this season opener, conductor Paul Klemme and the choir are focusing on three decades of music about or popularized during the Vietnam War. Were you around during the late 60s, 70s and 80s? Do you remember the “statement” songs by single artists and bands – Creedence Clearwater Revival; Stevie Wonder; Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul and Mary singing Seeger? Do you recall the words to the folk songs, swamp rock and soul telling of leaving, of fear, of wondering where flowers had gone? You might have had some favorites that hit you hard. “One Tin Soldier,” first recorded in 1969 by The Original Caste, is offered here.
Music was something that service members across the world and their families back home could share. It was something that could give comfort or get you revved up. Just check out the extensively researched song track from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 2017 PBS documentary, The Vietnam War. It isn’t just a film soundtrack. It’s a lifetrack.
WMC, in their 39th year, is offering an extra special treat with the appearance of guest artist Marilyn Keller. This Portland jazz, blues and gospel vocalist is in such high demand; the opportunity to hear her in Salem with WMC choral backup–awesome. Included in the choral forces on this concert will be the annual Salem Area Honor Choir.
For song lyrics alone – poetry really – this concert program is so very compelling. But the great tunes are bound to take us back. And Willamette Master Chorus sings so wonderfully and passionately, whether John Rutter (later this season) or Fleetwood Mac.
We should not take for granted that in our democracy – protected by the people honored in this concert – we can freely sing; music is not only “allowed” but cherished as part of who we are. This Willamette Master Chorus concert is so popular, so appreciated and so doggone fun. Attend, sit alongside some of the folks for whom the concert is given. Shake a hand, pat a back, sing along. Oh, you will sing along.
Willamette Master Chorus presents their 19th Veteran’s Concert on Sat., November 11, 3 pm and Sun., November 12, 3 pm at Smith Auditorium on the Willamette University campus, 270 Winter St SE, Salem, OR. Admission is free to veterans. Tickets here.
Eugene Vocal Arts
The featured work on the Eugene Vocal Arts and Eugene Concert Orchestra’s November 12th concert is the Charles Gounod St. Cecilia Mass. It’s big – a major choral/orchestral work, about 45 minutes long with large orchestra (although available in chamber-orchestra transcription), organ and three soloists. Even its full name is extra large – Messe solennelle en l’honneur de Sainte-Cécile. It’s Gounod, French romantic composer of 12 operas, including Faust. It’s opera-ishly big.
But conductor Diane Retallack and the Eugene Concert Choir organization do big very well. They have honed their musicianship and vocal ability over 49 years of excellent choral performance. This is toward the end of Retallack’s third decade with the choir that began as a resident artist of the newly-built Hult Center in the early 80s. They have performed Masses of Beethoven and Britten, oratorios by Handel and Haydn. And Gounod.
Listen to the “Agnus Dei” of the St. Cecelia Mass. See if you detect a bit o’ opera coming through.
But this concert isn’t just Gounod–it’s a whole French party featuring Eugene Vocal Arts, ECC’s 30-voice ensemble, founded one year after Retallack became conductor. Yes, at this concert, “La Fête Française”, you will also get a taste of Lili Boulanger and of Debussy – his luscious French mouthful, the Trois Chanson. They will even throw in Georges Bizet’s most famous operatic chorus song. You know the one, don’t you? Bien sûr – “Toreador.” There’s even a bit of instrumental Charpentier. No! Could it be the EBU theme song mentioned above? Yup, the very one.
Ah, but when Eugene Vocal Arts give us the Camille Saint-Saëns “Calme des Nuits” and “Le fleurs et les abres,” two choruses, Op. 68? Parfait.
Listen here to the swaying of flowers and trees in “Le fleurs”:
Vocal soloists in this concert are soprano Brooklyn Snow; tenor Matthew Greenblatt; and baritone Zachary Lenox.
So, dear Oregon and SW Washington choral music lovers from Waterfront to Lithia Park–folks who love to sing, who love choral music, are taking the stage. Good for the art, good for us all.
For those of you who get all giddy about choral trivia, take a look at the histories of two organizations mentioned above, the Handel and Haydn Society and the Three Choirs Festival. The TCF started in England in 1715. Golly; King George I. And the H+H Society? They staged the American premiere of The Messiah in 1818, counted Julia Ward Howe among their members and sang at Abraham Lincoln’s memorial. Choirs making history. Fascinating stuff.