Skylark Vocal Ensemble, considered Greater Boston’s premier professional vocal ensemble, presents four Boston-area performances of American Voices, featuring music by American composers Samuel Barber, Morten Lauridsen, Leonard Bernstein, and Gregory Brown, at Phillips-Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH on Tuesday, January 30 at 7 PM; at Falmouth Academy in Falmouth on Wednesday, January 31 at 7:30 PM; at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Chatham on Thursday, February 1 at 7:30 PM; and Old North Church in Marblehead on Friday, February 2 at 7:30 PM. There will be pre-concert talks in Falmouth, Chatham, and Marblehead at 6:30 PM
Tickets are $30 general admission, $10 for students and music educators. For more information, visit: www.skylarkensemble.org.
Matthew Guard, Skylark’s artistic director, designed the program around two new commissions from New Hampshire-based composer Gregory Brown. “It seemed that the right pairings with his music would be contemporary American composers,” said Guard. “Greg has a very unique compositional voice, based on a thorough understanding of compositional styles from different time periods and cultures. On the one hand, his music is very tied to early polyphonic music and its connection to individual lines, but he has a wonderfully unique harmonic language. I wanted to choose music by American composers, from the 20th century forward, whose compositions have a strong individual voice, but who also draw inspiration from other time periods or cultures.”
Skylark will open its program with a rousing set of pieces by Leonard Bernstein which he wrote as as incidental music to the play “The Lark,” about the life of Joan of Arc. Strongly evoking medieval themes, these pieces were written during the same time that Bernstein was working on the play “Candide.” This is followed with a beautiful Appalachian folk song, “Pretty Saro,” originally written for the Dale Warland Singers.
The program includes three songs by Morten Lauridsen, perhaps the most beloved of 20th and 21st century American choral composers. Skylark will perform three of his “Fire Songs,”
settings of fiery Italian renaissance poems about love. Samuel Barber’s “Reincarnations,” a set of pieces written in 1942 and based on Irish folk texts, continue the theme of love. While all center around love, they are diverse in their treatment of the subject–from an infectiously up-tempo song of infatuation to a dirge of lamentation.
“In speaking to Greg Brown about his pieces, I learned that the music of Samuel Barber has greatly influenced Greg, so it felt appropriate to present Barber’s pieces alongside,” said Guard.
Greg Brown’s “Te Deum” was inspired by a stained glass window at Phillips Church, where he grew up, and his companion piece, “Sepulchrum Mutum,” was written using a classical Latin poem by Catullus. Each piece is paired with another American composition. One is a psalm by Charles Ives, written for two choirs simultaneously singing in different keys, and the other is a neo-renaissance piece by 20th century Boston composer Randall Thompson.
The concert closes with an arrangement of “Angel Band” by San Francisco-based Shawn Kirchner.
In keeping with its strong focus on educational outreach, Skylark will work with students at three different high schools during its American Voices program tour. In rehearsals for this program, Skylark will be in residence at Phillips-Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH, and will offer a workshop for its students on Monday evening, January 29. Students at Falmouth Academy in Falmouth, MA, and at Marblehead High School in Marblehead, MA, will also have the opportunity to work with singers from Skylark.
Skylark Vocal Ensemble was founded in 2011 in Atlanta and Boston by Guard, initially as an experiment as he returned to the world of music after a career in the private sector. Under his direction, the ensemble seeks to “set the standard for innovative, engaging, well-researched, and dramatically presented programs that re-define the choral experience for audiences and singers alike.” The ensemble includes leading American vocal soloists, chamber musicians, and music educators.
Skylark’s music has been described as “sublimely beautiful” (Opera Obsession), “engrossing…reaches in through the ribs and grips the vitals” (Q2/WQXR NY), and enough to “leave a hardened critic near tears” (Boston Music Intelligencer). With “some of Boston’s best singers” (Boston Globe), the voices of Skylark “can sway you softly into calm and then all but throw you across the room with sheer harmonic force” (Thought Catalog).