Davis Chorale moves to Brunelle for Saturday concert featuring classics, recent works

By From page A7 | April 03, 2013

That’s the ticket

What: Davis Chorale, performing Bach, Mozart and two recent compositions by Ola Gjeilo

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, April 13

Where: Brunelle Performance Hall at Davis High School, 315 W. 14th St.

Tickets: $15 general, $10 students, $20 for priority seating, available from Chorale members; at Watermelon Music, 207 E St.; or at the door

The Davis Chorale, directed by Alison Skinner, will sing several large choral compositions at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 13. For the first time, the group will perform in the Brunelle Performance Hall at Davis High School, 315 W. 14th St.

Skinner said the move to the Brunelle hall is partly motivated by a desire to present the choir on a more spacious stage. The hall also seats upwards of 500 people — roughly double the capacity of the local churches where the Davis Chorale has performed in recent years — so there will be one concert on Saturday, rather than two performances on consecutive days.

“We have been playing to capacity audiences in the churches, so we are hoping we can get that combined crowd for a single performance in a larger hall,” Skinner said. “We’ve been planning this for about a year.”

On the program will be two classics from the past — J. S. Bach’s Cantata 196 (“Der Herr denket an uns”) and Mozart’s Missa Brevis, K. 192 — plus two recent compositions by composer Ola Gjeilo (pronounced Ola Yaylo), who was born in Norway in 1978, and studied at the Juilliard School in New York.

Bach and Mozart need no introduction as composers.

“This Bach cantata has a beautiful soprano solo, and a nice duet for tenor and bass, and some fabulous choruses for the choir, including a double fugue, which makes it a fun work for the choir to do, because fugues are fun to sing,” Skinner said.

“The Mozart does what we might expect in a sacred piece of that era, but because it’s Mozart, it’s surprising as well. The Agnus Dei is particularly interesting, and then it ends in a lovely, lilting Dona Nobis Pacem.”

The two compositions by Gjeilo — “Dark Night of the Soul” (2010) and “Luminous Night of the Soul” (2011) — are especially demanding with their driving, ever-changing, often uneven rhythms and layered textures, which produce effects of sensuous, glowing beauty.

“Dark Night of the Soul” uses an English translation of a poem by the St. John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic and saint who lived in the 1500s.

“Gjeilo uses the choir and the piano rhythmically and energetically … the music has a pulsing feature, a neat sound,” Skinner said. “The text sounds almost like a love poem, very musical and sensual. It is all about desire, and divine love, and trying to get to this state of grace.”

She added that Gjeilo’s music is increasingly popular in choral music circles, but probably will be new to most Davis-area listeners. She thinks his music will appeal to general audiences as well as devotees of more traditional choral music.

According to the composer’s notes, ” ‘Dark Night’ and ‘Luminous Night’ are influenced by a wish to feature the piano more heavily in choral music, not just as generic, unassuming accompaniment, but as an equal partner to the choir, aided and supported by the string quartet. Though most of all, I just wanted to find ways to compose lush, warm, symphonic-sounding music, while still only scoring for five instruments, in addition to the choir.”

Joining in the performance will be a string quartet and organ or piano. The chorale’s longtime, versatile and much acclaimed accompanist, Ellen Schinnerer Deffner, will be at the keyboards, supported by Dagenais Smiley (violin 1), Kate LaRiviere Homer (violin 2), Gay Currier (viola) and Dan Barker (cello).

The four vocal soloists on the program are all active in the Bay Area with wide-ranging opera and choral engagements. Soprano Carol Kessler, the daughter of Chorale founder Rachel Kessler, had her career start here in Davis, performing in the Davis High Madrigals and Orchestra.

Mezzo-soprano Tania Mannion is music director at Winters High School. Tenor Matthew Curtis recently performed with the Grammy award-winning Chanticleer, where he held the position of assistant music director. Baritone Tom Serene sang for several seasons with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and is a current member of the Choir of Men & Boys of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

Tickets are $15 general, $10 for students, and $20 for priority seating. They may be purchased in advance from Chorale members and at Watermelon Music, 207 E St. in Davis, or at the door.

Jeff Hudson

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