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“Essential Voices”


Ralph Vaughan Williams ca 1900

The Boston-based Back Bay Chorale, an auditioned chorus of approximately 120 voices led by Music Director Scott Allen Jarrett, draws experienced singers from the metropolitan area. Founded in 1973 by Larry Hill, a famously charismatic figure even 29 years after his death, the Chorale created a musical ministry to bring artistic enrichment and education to both choral singers and their audiences. Since 1989, the group has maintained its niche while exploring additional ventures under Hill’s successors, music directors Beverly Taylor, Julian Wachner, James Olesen, and Scott Jarrett. It’s season finale, comprising favorite works of Vaughan Williams, takes place at Sanders on Mothers’ Day.

Even in a city with a large number and variety of singing ensembles, BBC has an enviable reputation among nonprofessional choruses for its high-quality performances, imaginative programming, regular commissioning of new works, and vision for the future. Its Artist in Residence program has helped a number of young solo singers launch their careers, and it currently employs its second Conducting Fellow, Jonathan Mott. For four years, the chorus has maintained an outreach program known as BRIDGES, dedicated to bringing its singing to those who are unable to attend live musical performances because of disability, income, institutional isolation, etc. This project has focused on two specific groups of people: those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and veterans—particularly those recovering from injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Smaller ensembles from the main chorus travel to long-term care facilities, such as Standish Village in Dorchester and the Chelsea Soldiers Home, with musical programs that prompt memory and participation for residents. Additionally, BRIDGES regularly sings patriotic pieces for naturalization ceremonies at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Faneuil Hall. BRIDGES has partnered as well with the Tremble Clefs, a chorus of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service for those suffering the effects of Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers.

The Chorale’s ongoing commitment to these outreach ventures led to some years of considerable thought and energy being poured into the creation of a strategic plan and the June 2016 hiring of its first Executive Director, Garrett Murphy, to help guide the chorus into the next phase of its history. Jarrett, Murphy, and BBC’s board of directors, staff, and volunteers work closely to grow the organization and enhance the aforementioned initiatives. The Chorale is also in various stages of creating partnerships with area organizations and schools as part of its vision for the future.

Over its 45-year history, the ensemble has explored an exceptionally broad swath of the vast choral canon, from the Renaissance to contemporary music of many countries and languages, mixing cherished standards of the repertoire (e.g., Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Mozart’s Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Orff’s Carmina Burana) with lesser lesser-known works deserving of wider recognition, such as Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht, Rachmaninoff’s Vespers, John Corigliano’s Fern Hill, Morten Lauridsen’s Mid-Winter Songs, and Mohammed Fairouz’s Anything Can Happen. BBC’s recordings include collaborations with other distinguished conductors and ensembles, e.g., Gunther Schuller’s performance of John Knowles Paine’s St. Peter Oratorio, and Gil Rose conducting Lukas Foss’s Griffelkin with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Additionally, the Chorale has recorded Robert Kyr’s Unseen Rain and Passion, led by Beverly Taylor, and Benjamin Britten’s Company of Heaven, under Julian Wachner.

Back Bay Chorale’s “Essential Voices,” conducted by Scott Jarrett, features the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams: Toward the Unknown Region (1907), Dona Nobis Pacem (1936), with soloists Christina Pier, soprano, and Sumner Thompson, baritone, and the instrumental work Five Variants of “Dives and Lazarus” (1939). The first piece’s text is Walt Whitman’s poem “Darest thou now, O soul” from Leaves of Grass. Though the work shows the influence of Wagner and Debussy, it is nonetheless distinctive and made a strong impression on the public and critics alike at its premiere, helping to establish Vaughan Williams as the preeminent English composer of the period. Dona Nobis Pacem employs the Agnus Dei and its titular text from the Latin mass as well as selected Biblical passages, but the majority of its text is also Whitman’s poetry. The American poet’s humanistic philosophy strongly appealed to Vaughan Williams. Dona Nobis Pacem, a fervent anti-war cantata, is by turns pleading, angry, beautiful, mournful, laudatory, and peaceful.

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