It seemed fitting that the spring concert would land on the first balmy summer night – summer in North Carolina that is. Presented by Sonam (Singers of New and Ancient Music) and directed by Allan Friedman (also director of Women’s Voices Chorus), this well attended concert will benefit SEEDS of Durham. It took place in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church.

The event was casual. Friedman spoke about the composers and the pieces. He thanked the members of the church and recognized graduates and musicians who would move on to new locations of the globe. He warmly introduced his “right hand woman,” Jane Lynch, a fine musician who assists the singers with intonation and balance. But when the twenty members of Sonam put down their much needed water bottles, they made a quick switch to the formality of creating very fine music.

Their program consisted of music from the Renaissance and contemporary works, two of which were compositions penned by living composers. And in keeping with the mission of SEEDS (“… teaching respect for life, for the earth and for each other”), the concert was held loosely together by a thematic thread.

Amy Scurria is an established composer and Ph.D. candidate at Duke University. Penned for the 2011 Canticles for Life AIDS Benefit Concert, “Listen Friends” (with poetry by Jim Haba) is a lovely piece. Scurria captures Haba’s imagery of the sea, the ebb and flow of the tides. She reflects the rippling flow of language and shades of meaning with shifting rhythms. The chorus rose to the occasion with utmost control and perfectly in tune. The composer looked immensely pleased.

Sonam gave an exceptional performance of Eric Whitacre‘s gorgeous 2012 “Water Night” (poetry by Octavio Paz). The lush, velvety textures, suspended feeling of motion, and soaring soprano lines remind me of the music of Arvo Pärt, but with the optimism and lilt of American jazz. Whitacre’s music has captured the attention of music listeners world-wide. Sonam just made that world a little bigger.

The chorus closed the concert with Henryk Górecki‘s Szeroka Woda, Op. 39 (1979), a set of Polish folksongs. The last, “Szeroka Woda” (Broad Waters) made for a bright send-off.

The chorus also performed works by Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611), Palestrina (c.1525-94) and others. Undaunted by language or difficulty, the ensemble’s repertoire is impressive. And in two short years, Sonam has established itself as a refined, talented ensemble. This concert put them right on top.