Guest conductor Ben Johns to lead University Chorus on June 6

By From page A13 | May 20, 2014

Check it out

Who: UC Davis University Chorus led by guest conductor Ben Johns

When: 7 p.m. Friday, June 6

Where: Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis

Tickets: $12-$17 general, $8 students; www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787

The UC Davis University Chorus closes out its 2013-14 season on Friday, June 6, at 7 p.m., in a concert that will be led by guest conductor Ben Johns.

Johns sang with Chanticleer, the male choral ensemble from San Francisco, from 2003 to 2006, and has continued with Chanticleer as the group’s education director since 2006. His duties as education director include holding workshops with groups like the Davis High School Madrigals, with whom he’s worked several times.

Johns grew up in Sacramento (both of his parents had been UC Davis students), and attended the old Sacramento High School, before it became a charter school. His chorus teacher at Sacramento High was Bill Zinn, who now teaches music in the Davis school district and leads the Davis High Jazz Choir.

Johns also recalls “singing in some Music Circus shows during summer vacation when I was in high school. And I was also in some Sacramento Opera productions.”

Johns  went on to attend UC Irvine, where he did an unusual multidisciplinary “triple major,” earning degrees in dance, vocal performance and chemistry. He led a student vocal ensemble at UC Irvine called Men in Blaque, and he gave a presentation at the American Association of Physics Teachers conference at Sacramento State in 2004 on the topic “Exploring the Neurobiological Basis for the Effect of Movement on the Voice.”

Johns subsequently earned a master’s degree in choral conducting from UC Irvine in 2009.

As a member of Chanticleer, Johns sang at the Mondavi Center on several occasions, and he performed as a member of the UCD University Chorus, led by Jeffrey Thomas, during a performance of Benjamin Britten’s “Saint Nicholas” last December.

Johns also sang with the American Bach Soloists, led by Thomas, at Davis Community Church for that group’s concerts in February and April.

Thomas is on sabbatical this quarter, and invited Johns to lead the University Chorus while he is away. Johns started leading rehearsals with the group in early April, “which is definitely a unique and exhilarating experience,” he said. And he’s looking forward to working in the Mondavi Center once again: “It is a great, lovely space. And from my experience, the larger the choral group, the better.”

For the June concert, which wraps up the spring quarter, Johns said that “Jeffrey Thomas recommended that I choose music that was on the lighter side. … I was also looking for songs that had spiritual themes, and others with themes relating to love. And I wanted to do a lot of shorter pieces, which is what Chanticleer usually does, rather than a single full-length piece.”

The program will open with two selections by the English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-56), “Spirit” and “My Spirit Sang All Day.” The English focus continues later in the program with selections by Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958), Gustav Holst (1874-1934) and Hubert Parry (1848-1918).

There is also a Spanish/Latin American current in the program, with a piece from the 1500s that was composed by Spanish composer Cristóbal de Morales, and a 20th-century piece by the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.

The concert will close with “Agnus Dei” by the American composer Samuel Barber, which is a 1938 choral setting of the piece that is probably better known for its 1936 orchestral string version, “Adagio for Strings” (which was itself based on the slow movement from Barber’s String Quartet, written in 1935-36).

Tickets are $12-$17 general, $8 for students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.



Jeff Hudson

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