The Northampton Arts Council is a city board and a non-profit organization whose goal is to support and promote the arts in Northampton. Originally created as a Local Arts Lottery Council, it began its work by administering a grants program in which proceeds from a state lottery are distributed to local artists, arts groups, and public schools.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Da Camera Singers’ presents “Fill the Earth with Glorious Sounds”

Da Camera Singers ploughs new ground with a world premiere and a Bluegrass Mass

“Fill the Earth with Glorious Sounds”, Da Camera Singers’ May 28 concert at the Helen Hills Hills Chapel at Smith College, will take the Amherst-based ensemble into new, unchartered territory with a world premiere work and a venture into a brave new world where the Latin Mass meets Bluegrass.

The Amherst-based 44 year-old choral ensemble has made its bread and butter singing classics of the Renaissance and Baroque era of great choral writing, but has a hoary tradition of embracing the new as well. Yearly for more than a half dozen years now, Da Camera has been commissioning new work from a range composers from western Massachusetts and/or western Massachusetts.

Where Does Magic Go?, the latest commission, is from Clifton J. “Jerry” Noble, a prolific composer, jazz pianist, and staff accompanist in the music department of Smith College, who has given seven spare, transcendent, late-in-life poems by Mary Elizabeth Betty Langlois rich harmonies and haunting melodies. The second half of the concert, The World Beloved, is a composition by Minnesota composer Carol Barnett with a libretto by Marisha Chamberlain, a reinterpretation of the Roman Catholic Mass in an exuberant vernacular interspersed with fragments of the original Latin text, and alternating with folk spiritual ballads from the native Bluegrass musical tradition. The first piece has an accompaniment of French horn and piano. A Blue Grass band will be rocking the house in the Barnett.

Noble first met Langlois, a teacher, journalist, and country philosopher, when his wife was helping Langlois to get her first book of poems self-published.

“When (Da Camera musical director) Sheila Heffernon commissioned me to write a new piece for the Da Camera Singers, Betty’s poetry struck me as the perfect text,” writes Noble. “ I chose seven poems from her second book of poetry, Echoes from the Woods. They deal with everything from grace to suffering, truth to magic, hummingbirds to the serenity of the afternoon sunlight. My music associates certain harmonies and gestures with certain characters and qualities across the span of the seven poems, not in a Wagnerian leitmotif manner, but in a vaguer, more general way, so that each time the character appears, the listener experiences a feeling of familiarity and connection to what has come before.”

The French horn is included, he says, because the fifth poem, Serenity, links “The afternoon sun, towards 4” to the “sound of French horns.” The versatile instrument plays several other roles in the piece’s unfolding drama.

Barnett, a native Minnesotan whose compositions include an award-winning chamber opera based on the first women’s convention at Seneca Falls, said that in writing her Bluegrass Mass she was partly channeling memories of music ”heard while visiting my grandparents, country music with a church flavor that told stories and came out of a scratchy old record player.”

There is nothing scratchy in Barnett’s lively variation of textures and in rhythms from slow rocking ballads to wild syncopations to the driving energy of a hoedown shout that brings to mind Aaron Copeland’s wide open writing in such works as his Rodeo. Her tonal palette is equally various.

Christine Mortensen is on French horn and Marianne Lockwood on piano for Where does the Magic Go? and the Bluegrass band is comprised of Michael Nix on banjo, Kenny Butler on fiddle, Lynn Lovett on bass, Charlie Moser on mandolin, and Joseph Ricker on guitar.

The concert is sponsored by a grant from Credit Data Service Inc. Fund of the Community Foundation of Western Mass and from the cultural councils of Amherst, Bernardston, Gill, Hadley, Northfield, Pelham, Shutesbury and the Northampton Arts Councils.

The Saturday, May 28 concert is at 7:30 P.M. and a donation is asked at the door.

For further information and contact information, call Judson Brown at 584-1948.

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