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The 2017-18 season of Voices, The Chapel Hill Chorus, concluded with a program presented by Cantari, the select ensemble of Voices. Called "Flights of Fancy," the event was special in several ways. First, this concert marked the final performance and season with beloved artistic director and conductor, Dr. Sue Klausmeyer, who has led both ensembles for eighteen seasons. Second, among other lovely program selections was the premiere of three pieces by former Cantari member Jeremy Jennings, written specifically for this program. These things, combined with Cantari's choral precision and expression, made for a wonderful concert.
The program's strong beginning occurred with the help of Eric Whitacre's "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine," an a cappella piece that blurs the lines of language and texture. With many tonal changes, this music can be difficult to keep in tune, but Cantari did a fine job in both legato and more percussive moments. The tonal and rhythmic precision necessary to keep dissonant passages in check was definitely present here. "Unicornis Captivatur" by Ola Gjeilo, also sung a cappella, was another early highlight. This piece contains a lilting, motet texture with a joyous refrain that was also repeated as a sort of "encore" at the very end of the concert.
Continuing with the storytelling theme of the program, "A Glimmering Girl" by David Evan Thomas featured Cantari's ease of expression to communicate plot and emotion, even during more complex polyphony. Dan Forrest's setting of the poem "Who Can Sail Without the Wind?" served as a programmatic transition between the concert's two main themes: creativity in the form of mystical storytelling, and friendship. A four-hand piano accompaniment by Shoko Abe and Robert Buxton helped set the scene with a gently rocking texture.
Jennings' three-part composition, titled Friends, begins with "Ripples of Silence," a free, meditative journey aptly featuring a harp (played by Samantha Horn). The next two movements, "Elevator Music" and "Can't Help Moving On" are a little more exuberant, with a style that actually somewhat resembles that of a spiritual (albeit with more unusual tonal changes). Though having moved to another state (the event that inspired this work's creation), the composer was present to briefly introduce his music and witness the premiere. He described the personal nature of the work, especially since he co-wrote two of the three sets of lyrics. Having this context made the whole performance more meaningful for the audience, along with Cantari's peaceful resolution of the set.
The concert concluded with Daniel Elder's "The Heart's Reflection," a prismatic musing on inner and outer peace. Cantari's excellent use of control and blending with minimal vibrato was really apparent here, with difficult clustered chords and lots of pedal tones occurring in all sections of the chorus.
Cantari's excellent concert would have been celebration enough, but there was also a reception following the concert to honor Klausmeyer and her dedication to the choirs. Despite Klausmeyer's retirement, Voices and Cantari have a fantastic foundation to move forward. Voices has also established the Sue T. Klausmeyer Choral Enrichment Fund, which will celebrate the artistic director as well as support the organization for new commissions, soloists, instrumentalists, and more for the future.