Hudson Chorale celebrates American composers
by Angela Usobiaga for Vocal Area Network
Posted May 21, 2018

Ira SpauldingHudson Chorale will present an evening and matinee performance of its spring concert in central Westchester on Saturday, June 2, 8:00 PM, and Sunday, June 3, 3:00 PM, at the Pleasantville Presbyterian Church, 400 Bedford Road, Pleasantville, NY. The program, entitled "Celebrating American Composers," features four exemplary American composers and their works: Vincent Persichetti’s Celebrations, based on the poetry of Walt Whitman; the world premiere of two original commissioned works by composer Robert Convery, also based in part on American poetry; a choral arrangement by Leonard Bernstein of a popular Hebrew folk song; and, highlights from the first truly-American opera, George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The audience will experience texts, sounds and rhythms as unique and fascinating as American culture itself.

Music Director/Conductor Ira Spaulding promises a musical and emotional journey from rural farmlands to the urban south, bringing together the thoughts and feelings and ups-and-downs of ordinary people. Maestro Spaulding has a 40-year career of performing, conducting and teaching conducting master classes in more than 60 countries all over the world, and currently holds the position of Professor of Vocal and Choral Music at City College of New York. His latest adventures include instructing talented young singers for summer programs in Kurdistan and Lebanon, giving them their first experience with a foreign teacher. Hudson Chorale is pleased to be the beneficiary of his experience and artistic vision.

Born in Philadelphia, Vincent Persichetti was a teacher and pianist in addition to being a composer. He developed new ideas in composition which were distinctly his and which he readily passed on to his students at Juilliard, the most notable of which was Phillip Glass. Persichetti’s Celebrations for chorus and wind ensemble (1966) is a very moving, joyous, large-scale choral setting of nine of Walt Whitman’s poems, culminating in the poet’s "Song of Myself."

If you’ve never heard of Robert Convery, a student studying under Vincent Persichetti and now a composer in his own right, you will never forget him after the debut performance of two new works commissioned by Hudson Chorale. In addition to Hudson Chorale, he has received commissioning grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Opera America, the New York State Council on the Arts and the Reader’s Digest Fund. Born in Wichita and currently residing in New York, this student of Persichetti has composed in every genre: six one-act operas, thirty-four cantatas, twelve song cycles, more than two hundred songs for voice and piano, as well as numerous non-vocal orchestral and chamber works. Convery is known for his clean and unadorned style, which appeals to the very soul of the listener.

Convery chose to compose the two Hudson Chorale-commissioned works from a long list of “dream projects” that he has compiled. When asked to classify his two commissioned pieces, Convery replied: “I call Sappho, 620 B.C. a ‘mini-cantata’ because it is in one movement which divides into seven small sections. This mini-cantata acts as the olive before the martini, which is Two Cows. I call Two Cows a ‘short cantata’ because it is in two movements, with a two-note bridge on the word ‘moo’ between the two movements.” The inspiration for both works comes from poetry written centuries apart.

Sappho, 620 B.C. is full of passion and intense beauty, both musically and poetically. The text for the work is a combination of seven poetic fragments by Sappho, an ancient Greek woman devoted to Aphrodite (goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation) and Eros (god of love and physical attraction). “I added Sappho’s birthdate to the title to pull the passion into perspective,” says Convery. “It is so delicious that Sappho, the inventor of lyric poetry, expressed such intense, eternally vibrant beauty…so long ago.”

Two Cows, which will leave you yearning for childhood, is a gentle, emotionally moving two-part composition containing text from three simple yet delightful pastoral poems: the text of the first movement, "The Moo-Cow-Moo," is a poem by Edmund Vance Cooke (born 1866) that was very popular in the early 1900s; "Pretty Cow," the second movement, is a duet between poems by Robert Louis Stevenson (born 1850) and Ann Taylor (born 1782). Convery concludes from seeing them side by side that Stevenson used Taylor’s poem, "The Pretty Cow," as the model for his own cow-themed work, "The Friendly Cow," making them ideal duet mates. As an example of Convery’s sense of humor, he ascribes the text of the bridge between the two pieces (two notes on the word moo) to “…Flossy, Bessy or Mrs. O’Leary.”

As this year marks the hundredth anniversary of beloved American composer Leonard Bernstein’s birth, the program contains a selection that exemplifies his zest for life and attachment to his heritage. In response to an invitation from the Pacific Symphonietta and Chorus to submit an entry for a recording of horah dances, Bernstein put together a choral arrangement for the joyful Hebrew folk tune Simhu Na, with both music and lyrics by Matityahu Weiner. The listener’s first impulse upon hearing it will be to stand, clap and possibly even dance in the aisle with complete strangers as the text, beginning with the line (translated) "Let us celebrate and throw off our burden!" gets transformed into a vibrant Fiddler-on-the-Roof musical experience.

George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is probably the most famous and successful American opera of the 20th century. Highlights include playful, dramatic, touching and humorous pieces from this uniquely American masterpiece, each one a story unto itself. Gershwin perfectly captures the vitality, humanness and home-grown rhythmic excitement of Catfish Row. Soloists include Hudson Chorale Music Director Ira Spaulding, who has performed these works on several occasions around the world, and the multi-genre soprano Jennifer Marshall, whose repertoire spans opera, sacred music and even pop. Accompanist and Assistant Music Director David Baranowski will provide that intoxicating piano accompaniment that people around the globe have come to recognize. Think about the magical moment when you first heard and fell instantly in love with that brief piano introduction to "Summertime."

Following the concert, the audience is invited to an informal reception to meet and chat with the conductor, soloists, orchestra and chorus members while enjoying some delicious refreshments, a long-standing Hudson Chorale tradition. Ticket prices: advance sale $25; at the door $30; students $10. Advance sale tickets can be purchased on-line at www.HudsonChorale.org or by calling 800-838-3006. Handicap parking is available at the venue. For additional chorus or event information, visit the chorus website.

Angela Usobiaga handles publicity for Hudson Chorale.