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Bluegrass, Choral Music Review



Cantari Pays Tribute to Gifted Women Composers – And Blue Grass


Event  Information

Chapel Hill -- ( Sat., Jun. 1, 2019 )

Cantari: Women of Note
Performed by Cantari, the Voices ensemble; Stephen Futrell, director, Bluegrass Band and Robert Buxton, piano
$17 - $10 -- Chapel of the Cross , 504-994-5167 , http://www.voiceschapelhill.org -- 7:30 PM

June 1, 2019 - Chapel Hill, NC:


Cantari's summer concert, entitled "Women of Note," featured selections by six eminent women composers, all American by birth and all still living, with the internationally renowned Alice Parker the senior one, at 93. The concert took place in the acoustically friendly Great Hall in Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC.

The first selection was Williametta Spencer's setting of "At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners," John Donne's richly symbolic description of the Last Judgment from his "Divine Sonnet VII." Spencer's music reflects the poetry in a variety of musical devices that were delivered effectively by the women and men of Cantari. Spencer has had a long and successful career with many works published and recorded.

Jenni Brandon has won a number of awards for her compositions, and her works are published by several different houses. "The Giver of Stars," a setting of a poem by Amy Lowell, is an exercise of sorts in ethereal harmony using arpeggio-like chord building from bottom up and from top down, with counterpoint of overlapping phrases and judicious use of dissonant chords. Lisa Misch, the soprano soloist, added a lilting touch. The effect of the a capella realization was spacious and floating which beautifully enhanced the quiet reflection of the poem.

Alice Parker, who was associated for many years with the Robert Shaw Chorale, is known for her fondness for the lyrical line in both words and songs and clear straightforward language. A perfect example of this is her Songstream, a setting of nine love poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay with piano four-hand accompaniment. Displaying a variety of musical styles from eloquent and meditative to jaunty and sparkling, they are all pleasant and singable and a joy to listen to. Cantari sang them like old friends. The last two were especially notable. Shoko Abe, Cantari's rehearsal pianist, and guest pianist Robert Buxton, from the piano faculty at UNC, performed the composer's meaningful piano accompaniment with style and musical savvy.

It was a poem by John Gould Fletcher, "Prayers for Wind," that caught the attention of composer Elizabeth Lim, with its evocative and invoking tone. With rich, tight harmony and a poignant melodic line, the composer underscores the sense of anticipation that the poet's words convey – "Let the winds come" – and that will in turn bring the "unquenchable answer" that the petitioner seeks.

Joan Szymko (b.1957) has over 100 choral works in print, many of which are popular in choral workshops and festivals across the land. A Burst of Song is a short, three movement choral cycle with piano accompaniment. The texts, primarily taken from the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, were chosen for their celebration of the healing aspect of song. The first movement, "A Shower of Mercy," begins with solo piano; it is an evocative bird-song inspired by the French composer, Oliver Messiaen. Solo tenor Dale Bailey gentle introduced the yearning for mercy, to be followed by the tenor section, then the basses and the full chorus. "A Kiss of Blessing," the second part, with beautiful solo work by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Canada and tenor Bailey, was a gorgeous expression of the comforting influence of song. "Thee and Me," more lively than the first two movements, proclaims the victory of relationship. A Burst of Song was an especially exquisite blending of chorus, soloists, and accompaniment.

In 2006, Mike and Kay McCarthy, fans of diverse musical genres, decided to commission a piece that combined the folk sounds of bluegrass with the majesty of classical choral music. Composer Carol Barnett and librettist Marisha Chamberlin combined efforts to create The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass.

The goal was to introduce Classical aficionados to lovers of the exuberance of Blue Grass – and vice-versa. In this, the composer and librettist have done well. A triumphant "Gloria," a powerful "Credo" set the tone. Not only the obvious banjo-plucking music but also the texts reflect the Blue Grass spirit. The sophisticated Classical choral sonorities, a gentle Blue Grass lullaby, and a hearty banjo riff seemed to fit in as though it were all meant to be.

The Blue Grass Band consisted of Wayne Reich, fiddle, Chip Newton, guitar, Carey Harwood, banjo, Tyson Morrow, mandolin, and Roger Kohrs, bass. The soloists, all from the choir, were Maria Torruelle-Suarez, Kevin Ramer, Jennifer Canada, David Kenner, and Lisa Misch.

The mass, a compelling statement of faith, ended on a sublime note of grace and peace. It reflects Peter Schickele's adage: "If it sounds good, it is good."

Cantari, now under the direction of Stephen Futrell will continue to build on its positive reputation.