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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Singers Charm With Chichester Psalms

Author: Laura Rockefeller

Cheers and enthusiastic applause filled Mead Memorial Chapel as the two conductors walked onto the stage where their choirs already stood, ready to open their notebooks and begin the concert.

For this performance, the Dartmouth Chamber Singers joined the Middlebury College Chamber Singers to create an evening of beautiful music that was a welcome break in these hectic last few weeks of the semester.

Although a relatively new group on campus, only having been established in 1999, the Middlebury Chamber Singers have already performed extensively and with great success on campus and beyond. The group has toured in England and France and performed as a part of the College's Bicentennial opera gala.

Their sound was well complimented in this concert by the longer established group from Dartmouth College, which has been performing for nearly 20 years. They have a reputation for the performance and composition of sumptuous madrigal presentations.

The first half of the program contained pieces on which the two groups collaborated and also showcased pieces performed by the individual ensembles. For the second act the two groups came together to perform Leonard Bernstein's powerful "Chichester Psalms," which he composed in 1965 for England's Southern Cathedral's Festival (SCF).

A highlight of the evening was the performance by the Middlebury Singers of an original composition by Hitoshi Yamaguchi '02, a member of the Chamber Singers. His piece, "De Profundis," was a hauntingly beautiful a cappella setting of Psalm 130.

Yamaguchi wrote in his program notes, "the piece quickly moves through a twelve-tone fugue to set the idea of sinking in deep mire and flood sweeping over. I then sought to create a sense of space and a labored pace of fatigue in the homophonic 'I am weary with my crying.'" As the piece grew and became more discordant it conveyed marvelously the desperation in the words of the Psalm and then become soft and returned to a comforting sound for the stunning alto solo sung by Dorothy Resig '04.

The reception of the piece was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The audience cheered with great energy as one of the ushers presented Yamaguchi with a bouquet of flowers at the end of the song.

The Dartmouth Chamber singers performed "Lux aurumque" and "O nata Lux" on their own after Middlebury's performance of "De Profundis." Although these pieces had a sweet and lilting sound, they were not as clean technically as those pieces that the group performed with Middlebury. The featured soprano had an excellent, clear voice, but the group entrances and cut-offs were a little sloppy.

The performance of the "Chichester Psalms" with guest artist Roger Grow singing the contra tenor solo and guests on harp and percussion was truly striking. The strong percussive opening of Psalm 108 was a complete change of pace from the overall legato feel of the pieces performed in the first act.

This feeling was continued as the men and percussion broke in on Grow's peculiarly haunting solo. The final segment of the Psalms was marked by a gorgeous solo quartet sung by Kim Guion '02, Sally Olson '03, Andrew Hattori '02 and Thorin Schriber '04.

The program of the concert was a great sample of some of the most brilliant choral music that was written in the 20th century. Yamaguchi's piece gave the audience a taste of what may be to come in the 21st century.