Bag & Baggage Danny and the Deep Blue Sea The Vault Theatre Hillsboro Oregon

‘The World Stops and Listens’: Overview of a choral Autumn

Choirs around Oregon prepare their fall concerts, featuring single-composer premieres, newly-scored old movies, and more.

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Michael Hartstein's “When a Choir Sings, The World Stops and Listens.”
Michael Hartstein’s “When a Choir Sings, The World Stops and Listens.”

The fall “finals” and “firsts” are happening: final days of summer vacations and first days of school; final days of summer crops (except for the relentless zucchini) and first days of football; final gasp of green canopies and first colors floating to the ground; final music fests on the lawn and first days of choir rehearsals.

Oh, yes. Some choral singers have already dusted off their choir folders and tucked that freshly sharpened pencil into the inside pocket. Some have even attended their first rehearsals. And if you open your windows to the blessed cool air – finally – you might even hear some of your friends and neighbors warming up for what promises to be a jam-packed season of song. 

Have you been receiving the fliers? Last month, choirs began sending out their season announcements (electronic and paper); inboxes are now overflowing with possibilities of live singing. Note to self – read more carefully later. But two elements seemed to pop out. First, there are some very interesting contemporary concert-length choral works coming up – some Northwest or regional premieres. Second, the choirs are reminding us of who they really are – their missions, their voices and their artistic personalities. Each unique, each contributing to our choral community in their special way. So come along, let’s take a look.

Now you’re probably thinking we’ll begin our Fall choral road trip with Chor Anno (who almost always opens the choral season), make our way through witches and goblins and push on through pumpkin pie. No need. Here in Portland we already have the ideal chronological account of concerts occurring within in a one-hour radius of Portland. The PDX choral calendar, founded and maintained by Tom Hard, lays it all out for you. The calendar includes venue information and links to the choir websites. Community choirs, professional, touring, church-affiliated choral music series and collegiate choirs. This site is offered free to choirs, to you, to the choral community. 

So if not chronological, then how? Though unique in size, choir age, voicing and locale there are some interesting commonalities among our choirs and their programs this season. Primary among those are concerts featuring the choral work(s) of one composer, known or unknown, from the “way back” or the now. Here are those composers and the choirs giving them some respect.

Composers to the front

Of course, Bach is always front and center in Bach Cantata Choir concerts. So look forward to Reformation Sunday (Oct. 30, 2 pm, PDX) when choir, orchestra and soloists perform the beloved Cantatas #106 and #80. Then in Salem there’s an afternoon of Benjamin Britten. Ceremony of Carols and Saint Nicolas (Nov. 19, 4 pm, Salem, tentative) being prepared for you by Festival Chorale Oregon as an amuse bouche to Christmas. The 19th Century composer Joseph Rheinberger is better known to organists, but if you have sung or heard his sumptuous Abendlied you probably want to hear more of his choral works–which you can do when In Medio Choir sings Rheinberger’s a cappella Mass in Eb Major (Nov. 4, 7 pm, PDX). 

Cappella Romana is offering their long awaited world premiere of All Night Vigil by Oregon educator and composer Robert Kyr (Nov. 12, 8 pm and 13, 3 pm PDX; Nov. 11, Seattle). This 45-minute work is an English language setting inspired by Rachmaninoff’s own All Night Vigil (read Friderike Heuer’s ArtsWatch review of their 2018 performance here).

Choral Arts Ensemble is offering three one-composer concerts this year; their first, with Oregon based composer Sydney Guillaume at hand, showcases his music embracing his Haitian roots (Oct. 15, 7:30 pm and 16, 3 pm, PDX). Linn-Benton Community College Choir is joining CAE on these concerts. 

Sarah Mattox is the composer featured in Central Oregon Mastersingers’ presentation of Heart Mountain Suite (Oct. 9, 3 pm, Bend). This is the composer’s own concert setting of her 2015 three act opera about the family of Kara Matsushita Kondo, incarcerated in Wyoming during World War II.

Two Mozart gems, Requiem in D minor and Solemn Vespers, open the Corvallis Repertory Singers concert season (Oct. 9, 3 pm, Corvallis). A lovely pairing, this. If you are fond of the music of John Rutter you will be pleased to know that his Requiem for choir, soloists and chamber ensemble will be performed on the First Presbyterian Church Concert Series (Nov. 6, 2 pm, PDX).

Oregon Repertory Singers has two single-composer concerts in their season, and the first one is a Northwest Premiere of an hour-long work by British composer Joby Talbot. Path of Miracles was commissioned in 2005 by Tenebrae Choir, is the 16-part choral chronicle of Talbot’s journey on Camino de Santiago in Spain (Oct. 22, 7:30 pm and 23, 4 pm, Beaverton).

New venues

ORS’s choice to perform this concert double-header in the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts in Beaverton points to another commonality among a few Portland-area choirs – testing out new venues. 

Sponsor
Cascadia Composers Music Concert Portland State University Lincoln Hall Portland Oregon

Also performing at the Reser is the education-focused Choro in Schola in partnership with Portland State University Chamber Choir. The professional and university singers, plus quartets of singers from 18 Portland/Vancouver area schools, spend the afternoon in workshops before offering a free public concert (Oct 25, 7:30, Beaverton).

Portland Symphonic Choir is excited about their performance space and corporate collaboration for their Fall concert (October 23, 4 pm, PDX). They will fill the glass, metal and art deco atrium of the Bank of Expensify with their program of choral classics commemorating past conductors, including the late Oregon Symphony conductor James DePreist. And In Mulieribus heads west to perform the second day of their Fall concert, Sombras y Sueños (Shadows and Dreams), in Hillsboro at St. Matthew Church (Oct. 30, 3 pm, Hillsboro). The first-day venue is St. Philip Neri (Oct. 29, 7 pm, PDX).

These changes of venue are significant–a literal reaching out to audiences beyond the Portland center, acknowledging and honoring that our choral audiences exist wherever there are singers. Let’s fill those seats in solidarity with these efforts. Venue value added: parking, new pre-concert dining options, new acoustics, new faces.

Common themes

Many more single-composer offerings are coming up this season but, for now, back to Fall where there is a colorful array of choral works to come from another common choral presentation: theme-based concerts, like those of PSC and In Mulieribus above. 

Eugene Concert Choir invites you to their program of music from the Viennese Salon (Nov. 13, 2:30, Eugene) featuring the Dixit Dominus of Marianna Martines. Willamette Master Chorus wouldn’t let us down on Veteran’s Day. Enjoy and share their 18thannual concert offering appreciation and special choral homage to our Veterans (Nov. 12, 3 pm and 13, 3 pm, Salem).

Soweto Gospel Choir will be on tour and you can catch this Grammy®-winning South African group at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. They bring us music of the US Civil Rights movement in Hope: It’s Been a Long Time Coming (Nov. 10, 8 pm, PDX). 

The Medford/Ashland area has a strong choral music tradition and at the core of that is the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers. They feature individual composers later in the season but their first concert centers on the theme Light Out of Shadow (Oct. 29, 7:30 and 30, 3 pm, Ashland).

Cappella Romana‘s season premiere concert stands alone. The title piece, Heaven and Earth, was written by six composers, CR Associate Conductor John Michael Boyer among them – a unique collaborative effort premiered by Cappella Romana in 2018 (read Matthew Andrews’ ArtsWatch review here). It is paired with Sir John Taverner’s Ikon of Light (Oct. 15, 8 pm and 16, 3 pm, PDX; Oct 14, 7:30, Seattle).

The Ukrainian vocal ensemble DahkaBrahka is touring a concert of their transnational sounds and vocal pieces harkening to their native Ukraine. Read more about their program, September 30, 7:30 at the Reser, and buy tickets here. And days later you will experience the quartet performing their own movie score, with movie rolling: Earth, by Alexander Dovshenko. This highly acclaimed 1930 Ukrainian silent film was banned, but is now unearthed and renewed and made available to you with an innovative choral music score (Oct. 1, 7:30 pm, the Reser).

Ukrainian quartet DakhaBrakha.
Ukrainian quartet DakhaBrakha.

Now here’s a choral coincidence to beat the band. Vancouver Master Chorale is also presenting a choral movie event: an original choral score for the Lon Chaney 1925 silent film Phantom of the Opera composed by Canadian Andrew Downing (October 29/30, Battleground, WA). Yes, movie too. Good timing for a phantom, eh. 

Many choirs address global needs and social concerns in their programming. Satori Men’s Chorus is taking their mission-driven message of Men Singing Peace to heart. They will sing peace at the Peace Corps Museum 60thAnniversary Exhibit “Postings” on September 18 (Sept. 18, 3:30 at First Congregational Church UCC, PDX) and at the Vancouver Peace and Justice Fair (Sept. 10, Vancouver) in addition to their Fall season-opening concert (Nov. 19, PDX). 

And then, there’s Resonance Ensemble. This is a choir, an organization that clothes itself in their mission at all times–it’s not a costume for performance night. If – when – they have something to say, they collaborate in unison with other area artists; they sing it out and you won’t miss the message. They don’t walk out on stage, they rear up. In their season opener you will be witness to an event worthy of the art form and unmistakably at the core of Justice for All.

Resonance’s treble voices perform WE DISSENT on October 1 and 2 (Alberta House). They sing Wailin’ Jennys One Voice, calling “this is the sound of one voice.” In Mari Esabel Valverde’s When the Dust Settles they ask “Do you hear me?” Resonance artist Maria Karlin’s arrangement of Blood Makes Noise by Suzanne Vega will ring in your ears. 

In 2018 Resonance and Artistic Director Dr. Katherine FitzGibbon commissioned composer Dr. Melissa Dunphy to give a moment in time to the voices of Resonance singers. In two movements from that work, Listen, you will be reminded of the words of Anita F. Hill (1991) and Christine Blasey Ford (2018).

Portland composer Stacey Philipps’ Witch Trial recalls another time in history when women struggled for their lives. The singers present “As I am” (from As One by Laura Kaminsky) and implore you to “Join hands. Right here” (Jocelyn Hagen’s Starting Now). Also featured is the artistry of Resonance resident poet Dr. S. Renee Mitchell. Attend; hear the message.

Tickets for this Resonance season opener, Oct. 1, 7:30 pm and 2, 3 pm at Alberta House, can be purchased here.

The bridge onward

We end this flyby where the season will begin. Chor Anno and its 36 singers has been kicking off the Portland area choral season for years. Their “season” is this one concert, an acknowledgement that the majority of their artists are music educators and/or have their own choral programs. They hail from Salem, Portland, the Washington Tri-Cities, Vancouver, Spokane, Olympia and Tacoma. Their conductor, Dr. Nicole Lamartine, has just assumed the Director of Choral Activities position at Central Washington University. 

Associate conductor and founder of the ensemble, Howard Meharg, recently commented on Lamartine’s programing skills. “She’s amazing when it comes to making all the material flow together.” And the theme of this year’s flow of pieces is “The Bridge Onward.” A way to move on.

Lamartine said in a recent e-mail:

Through the program we experience the anxiousness of vain and raging thoughts (works by Haydn and Eric Whitacre) and finding one’s way through the guidance of the heavens (Williametta Spencer and Dan Forrest ), finally resting in acceptance and peace (Paul Aitken).

The Chor Anno program is a glorious array of color and texture, reviving pieces from the past, uplifting the newest choral works. How wonderful that they have published their program and notes on-line. Read here to find out more about this glorious 2022-2023 choral season opening concert. 

Chor Anno has chosen Tacoma for the first presentation of their 2022 concert (Pacific Lutheran University’s Lagerquist Hall, Sept. 17, 7 pm). Their second performance is in Longview, WA, Sept. 18 at 3 pm in Rose Center for the Arts (Lower Columbia College). Chor Anno is pleased to accept your donations as admission to their concerts, or attend for free. 

If all this talk of choral music makes you want to burst into song, attend Portland Symphonic Choir’s Vocalize and Socialize: open-air, register-in-advance (here), show up and grab your music and sing. The event is offered free and includes yummy treats! September 12, 7 pm, Multnomah Arts Center covered court.

Connections

Posting Peace – Celebrating 60 Years

The Peace Corp Exhibit mentioned earlier is a month-long event. On display are approximately 50 Peace Corp posters, lovely artwork in their own right, some you might remember seeing over the years. Also included in the exhibit schedule are lectures and special mementos of the Peace Corps 60-year history. Read more here.

Arts honoring each other

You might be particularly taken with the artwork used in the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers’ brochures; below is the artwork for their first concert, Light Out of Shadow. They honor and collaborate with Ashland artist Betty LaDuke. Read more about LaDuke here, and visit her gallery here.

Betty LaDuke's concert image for Southern Oregon University's fall concert "Light Out of Shadow.”
Betty LaDuke’s concert image for Southern Oregon University’s fall concert “Light Out of Shadow.”

“When a Choir Sings”

Artist Michael Hartstein has created a work of art that seems to embody the spirit of our 2022-23 choral season. His painting “When a Choir Sings, The World Stops and Listens” (featured at the top of this column) has depth, color, movement – there is a voice. Hartstein’s inspiration came when he attended a friend’s choir concert at Christmas: “It might have been the place it was in or the place I was in, but I felt the voices carry out into the world.” This 30” x 40” acrylic painting is reproduced here with his permission, and he invites you to visit his online gallery at michaelhartsteinart.com.

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

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One Response

  1. Nice and comprehensive survey of the choral scene which is much appreciated! Offerings are rich and varied with something for everyone..Thank you!

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