Arts & Culture

Chorus, Chamber Choir sings across centuries of music

University Chorus, Chamber Choir perform with string quartet at Central Congregational Church

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Saturday concert featured music ranging from a 16th-century choral piece to a poetic song cycle composed by a Pembroke College alum.

The elaborate domed ceiling of Central Congregational Church lent the University Chorus and Chamber Choir an air of both visual and acoustic grandiosity during their performance Saturday evening.

The effect was heightened by the student string quartet that accompanied the voices of the choir, a pairing that enabled the musicians to take on an assortment of pieces ranging from 16th-century Spanish motets to a song cycle by a 1968 graduate of Pembroke College.

Director of Choral Activities Frederick Jodry runs the Chorus and conducted both the singers and the string quartet during the concert Saturday. Jodry described the combined task of conducting both the chorus and the string quartet as “twice as fun,” adding that with the quartet there “it’s fancier, it’s more elaborate, it’s more interesting — there’s more color and more texture.”

The smaller Chamber Choir within the 50-singer Chorus is set to embark on a performance tour of Ireland over spring break, but before leaving the continent it will deliver a free final concert at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, March 20 in Grant Recital Hall. The tour is the latest in a decades-long legacy of trips by the University Chorus, a group primarily made up of University undergraduate students, as well as a few graduate students and local alums.

The string quartet will tour Ireland alongside the Chamber Choir, in part to perform “The Golden Harp,” a cycle of Nobel Prize-winner Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry set to music by composer Gwyneth Walker ’68. Walker was one of six composers whose work was featured in the Saturday concert; the performance also included pieces by Ola Gjeilo, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Charles Ives, Ildebrando Pizzetti and Gustav Holst.

Jodry said that he likes to program pieces from different eras for the sake of “variety and contrast,” as was seen in the concert’s arc from Victoria’s nearly 450-year-old “Two Motets” to the works of living composers like Walker and Gjeilo. “I think of it like balancing a meal,” Jodry said of arranging a program. “You want something sweet and something savory.”

The tastes of the chorus members themselves had a range about as broad as the program. Zachary Schapire ’21 most enjoys performing contemporary works with “rich chords that sound good in a space like this, with a lot of reverberation,” he said, gesturing to the vaulted ceilings of the Congregational Church.

Others appreciated the older pieces. “I just really like singing classical music,” said Davis Tantillo ’19, adding that he also generally enjoys singing with the chorus. “It’s really methodical. It’s work, but it’s directed by someone else,” Tantillo said.

John Rush ’20 agreed, pointing to a similar virtue in his own involvement. “It’s not relaxing, but it’s kind of a reset,” he said. “I see it as a nice break in my day. Even if I have a really busy day, (I) carve out two hours for chorus.”

The Chorus members often engage in academic pursuits far removed from music. Schapire studies chemistry, but said he finds the chorus to be educational in itself. “I’ve gotten way better at being able to read music,” Schapire said, “because the pace is much faster than any sort of music learning I’ve ever had before.”

Jodry noted that talented singers seem to appear with every new class, and he appreciates his students’ diligence in their musical pursuits. “Even though Brown is not a school which aspires to be a conservatory, the level of music-making is often extremely high,” he said. “And that’s what makes it really fun to be here.”