IN: Reviews

Chorus Pro Musica Runs Out to Distler


Jamie Kirsch (Santa Mila photo)

The 80-odd singers of Chorus Pro Musica under Jamie Kirsch’s direction gave an hour-long concert in Distler Auditorium at Tufts University last night, enthusiastically received by an audience of about 200. Next year the ensemble will celebrate its 75th anniversary since its founding in 1949 by Alfred Nash Patterson, who himself had been the choir director at Christ Church (Episcopal) in Cambridge only a month or two before I signed up in January 1950 as a choirboy. I still remember the Chorus Pro Musica’s performance of Stravinsky’s Les noces on Boston Common, during the halcyon days of the Arts Festival. (Last night’s handout said that the group had performed the work recently — I wish I had known about it.) Jamie Kirsch has also directed the chorus at Tufts for several years, so his guest appearance with the Pro Musica contingent felt entirely appropriate.

Bavarian Josef Rheinberger (1839-190) is better known to organists than to general American audiences. One might imagine is well-crafted Mummelsee as a Brahms epigone, but its amiable C minor sound was refreshing and sometimes boisterous. Terry Halco played the vigorous piano accompaniment.

Havaa’s Lullaby by two composers, Jocelyn Hagen and Timothy C. Takach, who described it as a duet “in a mixed meter, which only increased the motion of the melodies.” Even in a choral form, SA versus TB, we experienced it as a lovely two-part counterpoint.

Yeke, Omo Mi, another lullaby, in the Yoruba language, set a charming folk melody from Nigeria, as part of a suite for SATB chorus, percussion, and piano arranged by Rebecca Sacks, a Tufts alumna. This premiere disclosed an effectively rhythmic, C minor sound. Leah Sagan-Dworsky played the clay drum.

Nearly Insane by Ysaÿe M. Barnwell, an agreeably concise essay like a four-part round, with a contrapuntally scrambled text by Mary Moore Easter; concluded with “Peace in pattern’s harmony / the chaos of the world contained / made shining in my hands / where peace has kept me sane.”

The evening’s magnum opus, Alex Berko’s new cantata, Sacred Place in six sections, described itself as an “ecological Jewish service” with secular English texts drawn from poems by Wendell Berry, William Stafford, and Rabindranath Tagore, and a letter from John Muir to Theodore Roosevelt, plus the traditional Mi-shebeirach prayer for healing. These short, peaceful choruses continued the evening’s commitment to calm meditation of natural spaces, sometimes triumphant (“The renewal of body / thee renewal of spirit”) in D major. The well-wrought, complex diatonic harmony well suited the smooth choral texture even when fairly thick, and more concerted than liturgical in sound. Chris Marques, Victoria Wu, Jason Frankel. Anne Levy, Maria Ivanova, Fernando Collina,  Allo Gilinsky, and Hannah Torp projected some warm solos; violinist Sarita Uranovsky, cellist Eugene Kim, and pianist Hisako Hiratsuka accompanied adroitly.

A dreamy, ultra-sweet arrangement of a traditional Irish folksong “Carrickfergus,” with rippling D-flat major in the piano, provided a nice candy-wrapper for Kirsch’s well-thought-out and artfully shaped concert of new and rediscovered choral works that deserve a hearing.

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert on the music of Alban Berg, Debussy, and other early 20th-century composers. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (Ph.D., 1967), he has published on many music subjects, and edited the revised fourth (1978) and fifth (1987) editions of Harmony by his teacher Walter Piston.


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