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As the colors of spring deepen into summer and the sun shines ever brighter, Melodia Women's Choir sweeps into the final concert of its ninth season with a program featuring Many-Colored Brooms, Johannes Somary's set of seven movements based on the poetry by Emily Dickinson and written for women's voices, flute, viola and piano. The work is unpublished, says Melodia artistic director and conductor Cynthia Powell, "though it certainly should be." She praises Somary's ability to capture the spirit of Dickinson's poems. "It's just great music," she says. "[Many-Colored Brooms] has a very fresh sound. The pieces are fun, poignant but not sentimental, the melodic lines are exquisite, and the harmonies and progressions delight and surprise you."
In other words, a perfect accompaniment to summer, a season filled with both vibrant energy and long, lazy days. Dickinson's verses ring out again in composer Jonathan Dove's It sounded as if the Streets were running, which gets its New York premiere. As the poem describes a turbulent rainstorm and its aftermath, the voices of the choir swell in fast, repetitive iterations of the word "running" that are passed between sections as if carried by the wind. The rhythmic accuracy and close proximity of voices in the treble register create a complex lace of sound that showcases Melodia's technical gifts.
Another piece where Melodia's range of voices shines is Seattle-based conductor and composer Karen P. Thomas's O Virtus Sapientiae, a meditation with close harmonies and improvisatory sections that evoke tower bells. Powell anticipates that Sapientiae, written in the style of 12th-century mystic Hildegard von Bingen, will sound fabulous at Holy Apostles Church. "It's fun to play around with the melodies," she says, "and let the singers 'do their own thing' for a bit."
Accompanying the group are three gifted instrumentalists: Taisiya Pushkar, whom Powell calls one of the "most brilliant collaborative pianists in the country," and Stephanie Griffin (viola) and Nathalie Joachim (flute), who are among the "bright lights on the New York City new music scene." The three will perform a section of Maurice Duruflé's Prelude, Recitative and Variations as an instrumental interlude.
The concert also features Magnificat by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Rachmaninov's Six Songs for Female Chorus, and opens with the work of prolific Estonian composer Veljo Tormis. Lauliku Lapsepõli (The Songster's Childhood) provides the warm summer subtext of "Colors of the Sun." Powell notes that The Songster's Childhood comes from a folk tale about a baby who is taught words and melodies by a little duck and a bird on a summer day. "It's so sweet and simple," she says, "It takes me back to my childhood, listening to my mother sing, and discovering the wonder of music."
Melodia Women's Choir performs "Colors of the Sun" on Sunday, April 29, 4 PM and Saturday, May 5, 8 PM at Church of the Holy Apostles, 296 Ninth Avenue at West 28th Street, New York City. A reception follows both concerts. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and $15 for students and seniors. For more information, visit www.melodiawomenschoir.org.
Matthew Schlecht is a writer and editor in New York City.