By Richard Knox
The New Hampshire Master Chorale, one of the state’s top-ranked choruses, will open its 21st season with “Light, Love and Longing,” a program that showcases music’s power to express the full range of human desires and emotions.
Performances will take place on Saturday, November 18 at 7:00 p.m. at Concord’s South Church and Sunday, November 19 at 4:00 p.m. in the Plymouth Congregational Church.
The 30-voice chamber choir is directed by Dan Perkins, who recently was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from Choral Arts New England, the region’s leading proponent of choral music. Master Chorale members are trained, experienced singers auditioned from throughout New England.
Perkins has designed a fall program featuring the exquisite Romantic music of Johannes Brahms alongside offerings from some of the most acclaimed contemporary composers of choral music, including Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, Jake Runestad and Ēriks Ešenvalds.
It opens with Lauridsen’s Lament for Pasiphaë, one of the composer’s five Mid-Winter Songs that set the poetry of Robert Graves, who draws on Greek mythology to express elemental human fears and longings. This song expresses a yearning to pause the passage of time and delay the fading of the sun’s light.
Next comes Brahms’ treatment of an age-old mystery from the Bible’s Book of Job: Why does God permit human suffering? The English translation of the German title is Why is the Light Given to Those Who Suffer? The piece poses an agonizing question relevant to today’s news.
Intercession in Late October is another Lauridsen setting of a Graves poem that alludes to the well-known myth of King Midas, who wishes that everything he touches will turn to gold. When his wish is granted, the embrace of his daughter turns her into a cold statue – a cautionary tale about greed.
In startling contrast are Lauridsen’s four contemporary madrigals on Renaissance love poems that are alternately lusty, mournful, passionate and demanding.
The concert’s second half continues this concert’s eclectic musical tour. A Brahms song, O That I Knew the Way Back Home, distills the nostalgia for the joys and freedom of childhood in an arrangement by James McCullough.
Present-day composer Eric Whitacre extends the nostalgic mood with a setting of the beloved Goodnight Moon bedtime story by Margaret Wise Brown, with its “great green room,” red balloon, picture of a cow jumping over the moon and an old lady whispering “hush.”
The chorus next sings the Kentucky poet Wendell Berry’s meditation, The Peace of Wild Things, as set by the contemporary composer Jake Runestad. Berry’s poem contrasts a parent’s worry about “what my life and my children’s lives may be” with “the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”
Another Wendell Berry poem, What Stood Will Stand, is a hymn-like setting by Paul Halley promising that the good and wholesome things “will stand, though all be fallen” – reassuring, perhaps, for those who worry about the fate of our planet. Halley punctuates that hopeful prophesy with ecstatic Alleluias and a musical vision of “the life of the world to come.”
A New Zealand composer of hymns, Shirley Erena Murray, conveys longing of a different sort with her rewrite of the familiar old carol Away in a Manger. In Murray’s hands it becomes Away and in Danger, a commentary on refugee children that concludes with the wish that they find refuge and a warm, embracing home.
The concert concludes with two contrasting versions of the much-loved hymn Amazing Grace. New England composer Gwyneth Walker’s Through Many Dangers turns the hymn inside out, beginning with a middle verse “Through many dangers, toils and snares” and proceeding through several less-familiar stanzas before concluding that sweet Grace will bring us home.
Finally, the chorus offers a warm, stately version of Amazing Grace by the contemporary Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, who weaves the familiar lyrics into continually modulating keys before an uplifting finale on “I was blind but now I see!”
The New Hampshire Master Chorale’s performances and educational projects are supported in part by grants from the NH State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment on the Arts, the NH Charitable Foundation’s Corbit Family Fund and the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation.
Concert tickets are available at the door or through nhmc.ticketleap.com. General admission is $30, with discounts for elders and free admission to students and a pay-what-you-are-able option.
New Hampshire Master Chorale
"Creating our own culture in the woods of New Hampshire"