All Classical Radio James Depreist

Waiting with their light: Oregon choirs sing on into summer

Peaceable Kingdoms, Beethoven’s Ninth (again), 15th and 30th anniversaries, and so much more.

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Edward Hicks (1780-1849), "Peaceable Kingdom" (1833).
Edward Hicks (1780-1849), “Peaceable Kingdom” (1833).

We are heading toward June and choirs are at the end of their choral seasons. Golly, Tom Hard’s PDX Choral Calendar has some Portland area choral concerts already plugged in for 2024-25 – cheers for advanced planning, y’all! But we’re not done yet. Take a look at the choral concerts still coming our way. You won’t want to miss some spectacular season finales. 

30 somethings

The number thirty has special meaning to two Portland choirs: Satori Men’s Chorus and Aurora Women’s Chorus, who have a connection tracing back to their roots. Satori Men’s Choir is celebrating the conclusion to Season 30 by welcome founding director David York back to the podium for a performance on June 8. York returns to Portland from his current home in Houston, Texas where he is conductor of Pride Chorus Houston. Many of you are aware of the contributions of York to the choral landscape of Portland. In his years in Oregon he received his Master’s Degree at Portland State, took his DMA in Composition at University of Oregon, conducted the Gay Men’s Chorus, started his own David York Ensemble – and founded Satori.

Susan Dorn, Satori conductor since 2004, shares the podium with York for this “Summer Shenanigans” concert. You will hear pieces from Satori’s past seasons performed by the full chorus and by small groups and individual choristers. It will be a memorable end to a great season of singing for peace.

Satori invites you to “Summer Shenanigans” on Saturday, June 8 at 7:30 pm at Unity of Portland. Tickets are at the door; more information is available here

So, you wonder; what is the connection between Satori Men’s Chorus and Aurora Women’s Chorus? David York also founded Aurora. In a June 2022 interview with OAW, Susan Dorn stated “Satori Men’s Chorus was created one year after Aurora so the husbands of Aurora Chorus singers would have their own place to sing on rehearsal nights.” Brings a wry chuckle these three decades later. The good news, both groups sing on. 

Back to the number 30–it was three decades ago that conductor/composer Joan Szymko succeeded York as Aurora conductor. Szymko returns to the podium to conduct her composition, an Aurora favorite, The Peace of Wild Things, based on the poem by Wendall Barry. 

One line, about finding light, stands out for some singers:

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And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.

The light in the poem “is not the light found in the skies,” says singer Michele Stemler. “It is an internal light that brings deep peace and comfort in the darkest of hours.” For Tina Izen (an Aurora singer since 2011) and Meredith Peake (Auroran since 2013), it is the final line of the poem that brings solace:

For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Listen here to Elektra Women’s Choir singing The Peace of Wild Things.

The choir, under the direction of current director Rebecca Parsons, sings other numbers in this “Kaleidoscope” concert, the theme of which is captured in a second Szymko piece on the program, Light in the Soul, Peace in the World. Other pieces include works by Eric Whitaker, Scott AuCoin, Reginald Unterseher and Elaine Hagenberg.

Kirsten Hays, Aurora Board member and singer for 21 years, reports that Aurora Chorus’ membership is now at 72 singers and continues to hold to their beginning mission of uplifting and empowering women’s voices. “I consider Aurora to be one of the greatest blessings of my life,” says soprano Ann Wilson.

Join Aurora Women’s chorus on Saturday June 1, 7 pm at First United Methodist Church, Portland. Tickets and additional information here

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More Voices of Women

Indeed, the power of treble and women’s voices is strong in Portland. Here are three more treble and women’s choirs finishing their 2023-24 season, the first of which is where, for many, it all begins.

Portland Symphonic Girlchoir’s 35th Gala Concert on June 8 not only celebrates the conclusion of thirty-five years of encouraging and nurturing young women’s voices but is a kickoff to their upcoming appearance in Carnegie Hall (in which 19 members of Aurora Chorus will also appear) and their tour to Quebec, Canada. In New York, co-conductors Roberta Jackson and Debra D. Burgess will conduct a combined chorus that also includes singers from other parts of the US. 

It’s a “Gala Celebration” for your listening pleasure with the Portland Symphonic Girlchoir on Saturday, June 8, 2 pm at Trinity Episcopal Church, Portland. Tickets can be purchased here

Jessica Israels, founding conductor of Multnomah Women’s Chorus, invites you to share in their celebration of ten years of singing. They’ve come from a grass-roots “hey, let’s put together a choir for women” beginning–which welcomed 20 singers–to a choir of 35, six of whom are original singing members. On their June 17th concert you will hear works by contemporary women composers – songstress Jenny Mahler, Melissa Dunphy, Sarah Quartel and more – and enjoy the solo singing of baritone Erik Hundtoft. Kelly Bard on piano and percussionist Steven Skolnik also join in this celebration of a decade of service to singer and song.

Multnomah Women’s Chorus is performing at St. Gabriel Episcopal Church, North Beaverton, on Monday, June 17th at 7 pm. Admission is free; donation are accepted and will fund new choral risers for future performances. 

It is “The Nature of the Divine” that motivates Radix Vocal Ensemble’s June 8th concert. The concert repertoire circles the globe and spans the centuries “exploring the profound connection between nature and the sacred” said director Amy Stuart Hunn in recent email to OAW. Women composers are championed on this concert. One of the lovely pieces is – you guessed it – The Peace of Wild Things by Joan Szymko. Attend and hear Hildegard von Bingen’s O Nobilissima Viriditas, and decide for yourself whether the Medieval composer and philosopher accomplished her intent of bringing heaven and earth together in celestial harmony. It is a “purposefully eclectic and varied” choral experience, continued director Hunn, in which “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll run outside and hug a tree afterwards.” 

On Sunday, June 8, at 3 pm at All Saints Episcopal Church Radix Vocal Ensemble sings about “The Nature of the Divine”. Tickets and more information can be found here

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Spirit of the Ninth

Conductor Robert Shaw–an artist not unfamiliar with Beethoven’s Ninth “Choral” Symphony–is quoted as saying “I love the fact that when you put on a Beethoven Ninth Symphony, the hall is full of blue jeans. I think that spirit still speaks.” 

Well, this being the Vancouver/Portland area, where audience attire is delightfully “come as you wish,” we are thumbs up on that quote. In fact, since it’s the final B9 of 2023-24 – opps, wait, the Oregon Bach Festival will have that honor – and since the Vancouver Symphony and the Portland Symphonic Choir are two organizations who think their audiences and performers are perfect just the way they are, let’s make this June 1 and 2’s Beethoven 9th a sea of blue jeans. Okay, maybe not on stage, although….

How we honor the great music is not with our fashion, but our hearts and with our desire to participate in the beauty of a work, maybe even several times in one season. We understand why the 200th anniversary of the premiere of this iconic work warrants numerous performances in one year within a 60-mile radius. But you haven’t heard this one yet! And VSO’s energetic conductor Salvador Brotons is bound to make it exciting. Go for it, Maestro, this PSC choir can handle it. And go for it, Vancouver and Portland B9 lovers – in Levis or Lauren. The spirit of the Beethoven 9th speaks to all.

SATB soloists for this concert are Grace Skinner, Katherine Goforth, Megan Belov and Anton Belov. 

The Portland Symphonic Choir performs with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” on Saturday, June 1, 7:30 pm and Sunday, June 2, 3 pm at Skyview High Auditorium, Vancouver. Tickets may be purchased here

The University of Oregon Chamber choir is tuning up their 17th-century vocal technique for the Stabat Mater a 4 of Antonio Caldera on May 31. They partner with early music musicians of the Musicking Ensemble for this “Gems of the Central-European Baroque” event. Also included on the program is virtuosic Baroque bassoonist Nathan Helgeson. 

Enjoy Baroque vocal and instrumental music at the University of Oregon on Friday, May 31, 7:30 pm in Beall Hall, U of O. Further information is available here

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Portland State University Choirs wrap up the academic year with two choral concerts. First, the “From Dust To Dawn” choral series concludes with “Into The Light” featuring the Rose, Thorn and combined choirs under the direction of Coty Raven Morris, and special guests.

Join them on Friday, May 31, 7:30 pm at First United Methodist Church. Tickets and more information here

Then experience the vocal stylings of the Portland State Vocal Collective and the PSU Jazz Band who welcome Grammy Award guest artist Johnaye Kendrick. “Johnaye performs original compositions as well as fresh interpretations of beloved jazz and contemporary works.” (from website).

This special event takes place on Monday, June 3, 7:30 at PSU’s Lincoln Hall Auditorium. Find out more and get your tickets here

Responses to old friends

This is a season of responses. Oregon Repertory Singers recently premiered Matthew Lyon Hazzard’s Finding Light, a response or reflection on Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. Read an Oregon Arts Watch review of that concert here. On June 7, composer Judy Rose’s response to Randall Thompson’s Peaceable Kingdom will be premiered by the commissioning choir In Medio. Cool. But let’s start one week before that, when Oregon Chorale presents Caroline Shaw’s response to a Buxtehude work for their June 1 and 2 season finale, “In The Midst”.

In 1680, Danish composer Dieterich Buxtehude composed Membra Jesu Nostri, a cycle of seven cantatas, each addressing one part of Jesus’ crucified body – feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and face. The text settings were biblical passages. Each cantata has six movements for choir and soloists, accompanied by Baroque strings and organ. It is a tightly organized and carefully developed cycle in which the third cantata, Ad manus (To The Hands), begins with the words “What are the wounds in the midst of Your hands.” 

Enter Caroline Shaw, whose 2016 compositional response To The Hands was one of seven pieces written for the Seven Responses project. Instigated by Philadelphian choir The Crossing, Seven Responses began as a project to broaden Buxtehude’s topic of the suffering of Christ to the suffering of all. Shaw and fellow composers Hans Thomalia, Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, David T. Little, Santa Ratniece and Lewis Spratian each responded to one Buxtehude cantata on a specific “membra.”

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Shaw’s cantata mirrors the Buxtehude structure and forces: six movements for choir and strings, a modern string quintet (2, 1, 1, 1), quoting some of the Baroque master’s melodic lines and using select text from Buxtehude’s biblical sources. She also borrows from Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colossus”, uses her own original text and, in the first of the six short movements, employs only vowel sounds. The piece is a Caroline Shaw creation – innovative, with contemporary harmonies and elements that create a unique contemporary 20-ish minute landscape with a wonderful arc. Read Shaw’s own program notes about the piece here

Listen here to Resonance Ensemble performing the work in Portland in 2020. 

Bet you thought it might be Buxtehude as a companion to Shaw on this Oregon Chorale concert. But director Jason Sabino and the Chorale skip to the classical period to present Franz Joseph Haydn’s 1798 Missa in angustiis (Mass in a Time of Anxiety or Mass in Troubled Times), commonly referred to as the Lord Nelson Mass

This is Haydn at his Mass-iest best. Recuperating from the premiere of the mammoth Die Schöpfung (The Creation), Haydn spent his down time writing this 42-ish minute work for chorus, soloists and orchestra, including organ. Such a master! Only weeks to toss off a work that has virtuosic solo passages, perfectly executed canons and hints of Gregorian chant, without falling back on his past sounds and style; even in his mid 60s and in declining health he was innovative. SATB soloists in this concert are Arwen Myers, Laura Beckel Thoreson, Les Green, and Ian Schipper. 

Oregon Chorale presents “In The Midst” – Haydn and Shaw – on Saturday, June 1 and Sunday, June 2, 4 pm both days at Century High School, Hillsboro. Tickets and more info here

Several choirs are contemplating peace this spring and are programming songs about peace and coexistence with nature and with each other. In Medio Choir has chosen to finish their season with an a cappella work that presents the possibility that a place where peace exists might truly be possible, The Peaceable Kingdom by Randall Thompson.

In 1935 the League of Composers turned to American composer Randall Thompson and commissioned a work for the Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society. Thompson turned to a painting by Quaker artist Edward Hicks, “The Peaceable Kingdom,” which depicts a child interacting with animals and the interaction of another Quaker, William Penn, with members of the Lenape People. Thompson then turned to Biblical texts from the Book of Isaiah and composed a cycle of eight songs for SSAATTBB choir, The Peaceable Kingdom, which premiered in 1936.

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What a beautiful work this is. It’s Randall Thompson. The Frostiana and Alleluia composer we love so dearly. This work is just as precious but has passages filled with grandeur, a sense of awe. And in 1936 it was also gutsy, showing an early 20th-century American choral world that an extended, multi-movement a cappella choral piece was possible. It hasn’t been programmed in Portland, at least, for while. Have you heard it? Listen here to Movement 7 of Thompson’s The Peaceable Kingdom. 

In 2023 In Medio conductor John Eisemann decided that a response to The Peaceable Kingdom – the choral work and the idealwas due. Eisemann turned to a Portland composer, his former teaching colleague in Portland Public Schools, an artist whose voice he knew could speak the right choral language – his friend Judy A. Rose. 

“Judy’s music,” said Eisemann in recent email to OAW, “always seems to tackle important societal issues but in a way that gives the listener (and the choir!) a reason to feel hopeful rather than depressed and stuck.”

“I’m super thrilled,” said Rose in recent telephone interview with Oregon Arts Watch. “I think when we are asked by someone you know, love and respect and it’s a semi-professional choir, well–yeah! And John tends not to go for the average thing. He’s always thinking outside of the box.” 

Outside of the box or no boxes at all works for Rose. A choral response is a new kind of commission for her and she chose not to listen to the Thompson work, although she has sung it. Instead, she wrote down the titles of Thompson’s seven movements and began to work from there. Throughout her process she returned to three essential questions: 1) is it possible to live in a peaceable kingdom; 2) is peace possible; and 3) can we return to our original light. 

The title Rose has given her work, Walk in Beauty, Walk in Light – also the title of her eighth and final movement – suggests that the third question might have a hope-filled answer. Did she find a pathway to answers to questions one and two in Thompson’s text? Sort of. “I flipped the script,” said Rose. Her second movement, “Woe unto you: Karma (Cause and Effect are Flipping the Script)” hinting at the Golden Rule but pointing deliberately at cruel words and actions. Karma. Her third movement directly poses question number three: can we return to the light. 

To find peace, in movements 5-8 Rose turns to the sweet and gentle hummingbird and affirms joy. She implores us to recall our personal moments of peace and love in “Have You Not Known” – semi-quoting Thompson text. And then Rose tells us to sing and dance and sing again. 

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In her music you will hear clusters of tone, explained Rose in the same interview, “not because they are cool, but because they are complex beings.” A little gospel sound, a bit of canonic jazziness? Perhaps. She’s done it before and it is cool. Singable? Absolutely. Rose writes singable music, listenable, meaningful music. Ah! Not only a 2024 response to Thompson, but a salute. And hope for a world that doesn’t question whether peace is possible.

In Medio and Judy Rose will be featured on KOAP/All Classical Radio’s “Thursdays @ Three” program on May 30, 3 pm (or catch it later in On Demand, here).

In Medio presents Randall Thompson’s “The Peaceable Kingdom” and the premiere of Judy Rose’s “Walk In Beauty, Walk In Light” on Friday, June 7, 7:30 at Augustana Lutheran Church. Pay-what-you-will ticket reservations are available here.

Missions Accomplished

Judy Rose will have less than 24 hours before she will take another bow. On June 8, Resonance Ensemble wraps up their season of celebration with their “Mission 15 Anniversary Concert.” This program focuses primarily on the numerous choral works that Resonance has commissioned over their history and on the collaborators and partners – visual artists, poets, activists, dancers, singers, pianists and loyal supporters – who have made it all possible. Rose, Freddy Vilches, Kenji Bunch, Damien Geter, and S. Renee Mitchell are among the featured creative artists. And those in attendance will witness the unveiling of Season 16. 

Resonance will also be featured in the “Thursdays @ Three” broadcast mentioned above.

Resonance Ensemble completes “Mission 15” on Saturday, June 8, 7:30 at the Winningstad P5 Theater, Portland. Tickets and more information may be found here

Portland’s Cantores in Ecclesia is performing works in honor of the Blessed Sacrament (Eucharist). Entitled “O Sacrum Convivium”, the concert, featuring Josquin’s Missa Pange Lingua, will be performed at St. Patrick’s Church on Sunday, June 9, 4 pm. Tickets and more information are here. This Cantores concert is a benefit for St. Patrick’s. 

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On June 22, the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus is opening the door to all, proclaiming we all are welcome in “Our Corner of the Sky.” This is a celebration, PGMC style. Singing Broadway tunes with purposeful and inspirational lyrics. Laughter, of course. Tears, those, too. And dancing? Oh, yes there will be dancing. Come share the love with the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, delivered to you with excellent musicianship and an uplifted spirit.

PGMC invites you to their celebration, one night only, Saturday, June 22, 7 pm at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Tickets can be purchased here

And that’s the 2023-24 season of singing, folks. But, you know, we never stop. We’ll sing into July (the Oregon Bach Festival, Portland Symphonic Choir Summer Sings). We’ll sing in August (the William Byrd Festival). Our children will sing in camps and summer music programs. We’ll sing in worship. And we’ll sing folk songs and rounds and those silly old family favorites in backyard barbeques and on cars trips. First one voice, then another and another and soon the whole world will be together in song. Sing on.

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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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