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West Village Chorale offers Early Music Sing, first in 35 years
by John Herzfeld and Andrew McDonough for Vocal Area Network
Posted June 23, 2006

PalestrinaWhen the West Village Chorale began planning the season's offerings for its 35th annual Summer Sings series, it seemed like the time was right to find something new. But the answer turned out to be something old -- choral music composed before 1700 by the masters of the Early Baroque and the Renaissance.

For the first time since the Chorale launched the popular audience participation series in 1971, an evening's program will be devoted exclusively to early music: specifically, the works of Giacamo Carissimi (1605-1674), Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), Josquin Des Prez (1450-1521), Giovanni di Palestrina (1525-1594), Thomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), Thomas Tallis (1510-1585) and William Byrd (1540-1623).

"This repertoire is among the most glorious choral music ever written, but performances are less frequent and are often reserved for professional ensembles," said the West Village Chorale's Ana Beranek, one of the coordinators of the series. "So we are very excited to offer this Early Music Sing." To be held July 17, the Early Music Sing will be led by Associate Professor Andrew Megill of the conducting faculty of Westminster Choir College. Like the rest of the programs in the 10-week Monday evening series, the Sing will begin at 7:30 PM at the Chorale's base, the Church of St. Luke in the Fields, at 487 Hudson Street in the Village.

Dr. Megill, who leads the New Jersey-based Masterwork Chorus as well as Westminster choruses and ensembles, will have the beauties of the Baroque fresh in his ears from preparing a June 25 program of Bach cantatas for the Connecticut Early Music Festival. His group at the festival will be Fuma Sacra, the early music vocal ensemble in residence at Westminster that he has led since 1989. With Fuma Sacra, Dr. Megill has led American premieres of many forgotten masterpieces of the choral repertory, including Antonio Caldara's Maddalena ai Piedi di Cristo, Francisco Guerrero's Missa Puer Natus Est Nobis, and works by Heinrich Isaac, Johann Pachelbel, George Philipp Telemann and Jan Dismas Zelenka. At the venerated choir college, Dr. Megill also leads a second Early Music ensemble, the Westminster Kantorei, a newly-founded chamber choir specializing in the music of the Renaissance and Baroque.

Over the course of his career at Westminster and elsewhere, Dr. Megill has conducted all of the major Bach choral works and more than 50 Bach cantatas. He has prepared choruses for many of the world's leading orchestras and conductors, and as music director of the Masterwork Chorale, he presides over some of the metropolitan area's most popular annual performances of Handel's Messiah at Carnegie Hall. For the last eleven years, Dr. Megill has also been chorus master for operas and concerts produced by the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C. Among his early-music-for-dance credits is preparing the chorus of Handel's L'Allegro with the Mark Morris Dance Company, under Jane Glover.

By more than coincidence, Dr. Megill was also music director of the West Village Chorale from 1998 to 2000, helping to introduce new repertoire and inspire the group to higher music standards before turning over the baton to Michael Conley.

At the top of the July 17 Early Music Sing program is Carissimi's best-known work, the biblical oratorio Jephte. Carissimi was a master of the oratorio, a musical form that combined aria, recitative, and chorus in relating a dramatic text. Completing the first half of the program will be Lamento della Ninfa, a madrigal of Monteverdi, a key figure in the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque. Moving back through the centuries, the second half of the Early Music Sing offers music of the Renaissance, when the monody of medieval Gregorian chant gave way to multi-voiced style polyphony, and secular music rose in prominence while sacred music continued to flourish.

Through many smaller works, participants in the Early Music Sing will sample the diversity of Renaissance choral music from different places and time periods. From Josquin, considered to be the central figure of the Netherlands Style of polyphonic writing, the program will include the motet Tu solus qui facis mirabila.

Later in the Renaissance, after the Council of Trent found the reigning polyphonic style to be excessive, an austere, technically perfect style of sacred polyphony gained sway. From the masters of this later style, the program includes Palestrina's Sicut Cervus and Alma Redemptoris Mater and Victoria's Vere Languores and O Magnum Mysterium. From the tumultuous 16th-century England, the Early Music Sing will offer Byrd's sacred motet Ave Verum Corpus and two compositions by Tallis, the sacred O Nata Lux and the secular If You Love Me. England's composers adapted well to all the upheavals of that period, writing memorable music even as the multiple marriages of Henry the Eighth led to the founding of the Anglican Church, Roman Catholicism reasserted itself briefly during the reign of Mary Tudor, and, under Queen Elizabeth, the dominance of Protestantism was firmly established.

The Summer Sings series kicked off June 5, with the Verdi Requiem led by the West Village Chorale's music director, Michael Conley. It runs through August 14, when Patrick Gardner of the Riverside Choral Society and Rutgers University will lead a concluding program of the Mozart Requiem in honor of the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth. The Early Music Sing will follow the regular format of a Summer Sing, a challenging but informal and fun reading of beloved choral works by an audience consisting of experienced (or adventurous) singers. Scores and piano accompaniment are provided, as well as intermission refreshments.

Tickets for the Sings may be purchased at the door for $12 ($10 for students and seniors). Devoted SINGers can save 25% by purchasing a Season Ticket for $90, good for admission to all 10 Sings. For more information on the Sings, including a complete schedule, visit the West Village Chorale site at www.westvillagechorale.org.

John Herzfeld and Andrew McDonough are affiliated with the West Village Chorale.

Content Contact: John Herzfeld and Andrew McDonough.
Revision Date: June 23, 2006.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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