Friends with (choral) benefits
Portland favorite Chanticleer returns to cock-a-doodle-doo it again! The ever-popular San Francisco-based low-voice choir unites with one of the most cordial organizations in our region, Friends of Chamber Music, to bring us “all the twists and turns of a labyrinth“ (FOCM website). The singers kick off their 2023 tour season right here in Portland on February 24.
Smack dab in the center of Chanticleer’s meandering tour is their premiere of a new, extended commission by 2022-23 composer-in-residence Ayanna Woods. Woods, graduate of Yale, writes for acoustic or electric, for percussion or voice, traditional or “don’t have a genre for that yet.” In this Chanticleer concert you might enter through the Renaissance, wind through the blues, take a turn at jazz and arrive centerpoint at the bold new sound of Ayanna Woods. Or the other way around. Either way, great choral music.
“Labyrinths” concert by Chanticleer appears on the Friends of Chamber Music Series, Fri., February 24, 7:30 at Kaul Auditorium. Tickets and information here.
They’re gonna need a bigger stage
Two large-scale choral/orchestral works, one sacred and one profane, will pack the choral risers in Vancouver and Portland on February 25 and 26.
For one of those works, you’d probably score in the high 90s on a “drop the needle” quiz. Or try this: “Oh, Fortuna”; the roasting swan tenor solo; the tavern drinking song; the climactic high D in the soprano melisma; the angelic children. See, you know it already. It’s Carmina Burana, Carl Orff’s wildly popular cantata, presented by the Oregon Symphony in partnership with Portland State University and Pacific Youth Choirs.
Conductor Leo Hussain will guide the mega forces through the approximately one hour work, with 24 movements that traverse 13th-century texts about merrymaking, drinking, love and lust. Colorful text, technicolor music. From those texts you can understand why Orff originally envisioned Carmina as a theatrical work – he called it a scenic cantata. While the vocal range for choir is rather confined, and the “melodies” often repeat, the rhythms must be razor sharp and there sure are a mouthful of words. “The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue.”
The Orff is paired on this program with Paul Hindemith’s Symphony: Mathis der Maler. Each of the three movements in this work depicts a scene of a tableau painted by Matthias Grünewald for the Isenheim Altarpiece. The 30-ish minute work offers an interesting comparison to the Carmina: both pieces were written around 1934-36, both composers were German, and whereas the Carmina is tonal and travels back to Medieval chant at times, the Hindemith is often dissonant and absent a tonal center. Both works–and their composers–came under scrutiny of the Nazi Regime. Hindemith and his family came to America in 1938. Orff carried on composing and teaching in Germany, but Carmina Burana remains his most well-known concert work.
So if Orff is the profane, where’s the sacred? You’ll find it with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, which has partnered with the Portland Symphonic Choir to perform Giacomo Puccini’s Missa di Gloria.
Sacred? Mass? Puccini? Sounds off kilter but it’s true. One of the great masters of Italian opera (Tosca, La bohème, Turandot) wrote a sacred Mass setting in 1880. The work was Puccini’s music-institute graduation exercise, but more importantly signaled the end of his career in the family “business”–church music. Three years later, he had followed in Verdi’s rather than his ancestor’s footsteps and premiered his first opera, Le Villi.
First performed under its original name–Missa a quatro voci–the full Mass was a success, but Puccini tucked it out of sight and it was not performed until seventy-two years later, having a Chicago premiere in 1952 with its new name Missa di Gloria. It is suggested that the new title stems from the extended first section, the “Gloria,” which occupies one half of the entire work.
Puccini did dig out the Missa to take at least one movement, the “Agnus Dei,” into his opera Manon Lescaut. His compositional career spanned 44 years (ending with the unfinished Turandot in 1924), but the Missa di Gloria is a first glimpse into the soaring melodies and lush textures that impress opera-goers to this day. But opera it is not. Compared to what he did for the next four decades, it’s more like Puccini confined by the liturgy, just waiting to be set free. Solo voice movements in the work are written for tenor and baritone and will be performed in this concert by Katherine Goforth and Anton Belov. Listen to the “Agnus Dei” here:
This is an exciting “first” for the Portland Symphonic Choir, which has never performed this Puccini Missa in its 77-year history. The choir is prepared by PSC Conductor Alissa Deeter, with performances conducted by VSO Music Director and Conductor Salvador Brotons. The two once worked together in an opera production in Miami. Small musical world.
The Vancouver Symphony will fill out the program with the Amica: Intermezzo of Pietro Mascagni, a contemporary of Puccini who composed the opera favorite Cavalleria rusticana. Though his opera Amica wasn’t a great hit, the orchestral intermezzo survives. Also on the concert is pianist Orli Shaman–known most recently for her well-received recordings of Mozart’s piano sonatas–performing Robert Schumann’s only completed piano concerto, written for his wife, Clara, who premiered the piece in 1845.
Another mass “Down the Road”
When you’ve got a good thing going stay with it. Willamette Master Chorus and the Severin Sisters seem to be just a winning partnership in Salem. You can usually catch the Severin Sisters at a Willamette Valley winery or an outdoor festival. But the pairing of their bluegrass styling with the voices of WMC is always a favorite.
This year the partners will present a full-scale work by Carol Barnett, The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass (2006). The 30-minute work sets choir and instrumentalists in a collaboration of twelve movements, an intertwining of choral ballads plus one instrumental-only piece, with traditional mass settings. In 2016 Barnett premiered a companion piece, Mortals & Angels, once again in partnership with the Bluegrass Mass librettist, playwright and poet Marisha Chamberlain. Listen to the “Kyrie” movement from Barnett’s Bluegrass Mass here:
WMC will perform their own set of pieces, sing a few more tunes with the Sisters, and then let the bluegrass artists pick, fiddle and bring their high lonesome to light up your afternoon.
February has nearly five hundred choristers, your family and friends and some special guests just passing through, singing their hearts out for you, with another couple hundred instrumentalists as artistic partners. It’s February; gotta love it.
The Pacific Youth Choir, performing in the abovementioned Orff concert with the Oregon Symphony, has announced the appointment of their new Artistic Director, Chris Maunu. Maunu will take the podium July 1, although the announcement says he will be involved with the organization in the months prior. Welcome! Read more about Maunu here, and look forward to more great music from PYC.
Call out to Choral Composers
Portland Symphonic Choir has just announced a “Call for Scores,” particularly those of “historically underrepresented composers whose works are socially or culturally aware.” The choir is encouraging the creation of new large choir choral works, with no other stylistic restrictions. Three chosen pieces will be promoted in the PSC Summer Sing New Works Reading Session on July 12 in Portland. Composers will receive a stipend. The submission deadline is May 1, 2023. Complete details can be found here.