Thursday, November 10, 2011

Choral music for women's voices

Amy Beach

When was the last time you heard a choral piece by Amy Beach? You'll have an opportunity to do just that when the Melodia Women's Choir of NYC performs Beach's "The Chambered Nautilus," a large-scale choral work set to a text by American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes. 

Melodia is a vibrant and vital force advocating music for women's voices through its commissions, residencies and performances. Since it was founded in 2003 by Jenny Clarke, the ensemble has performed a vast range of repertoire, from Medieval music of Hildegard of Bingen to world premieres by living women composers. When Melodia performs on November 13th (at West End Collegiate Church) and November 19th (at Church of the Holy Apostles) they will be performing music by Beach, Cecilia McDowell and the world premiere of Catherine Aks's "The Journey." Oh yes, Melodia also performs music for wormen's voices written by men, so works by Eric Whitacre, Gabriel Fauré, Giuseppe Verdi and Gustav Holst will also be on the bill.

Catherine Aks
Aks's "The Journey" is set to a text by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and like the Beach setting of the Holmes poem, the works share a common theme. "The power of growth and change is our journey's connecting thread," says Melodia's Artistic Director, Cynthia Powell, of the program. Powell speaks of the settings of two poets, "who pay tribute to the indomitable human spirit and exhort us to think and act beyond limitations: 'To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,' in Tennyson's words.'

Melodia always serves up fascinating repertoire that's beautifully performed so this should be a very special concert. 

If you can't make it to New York for the Melodia concert, here are some recordings of music for women's voices that I'm sure you will enjoy.

No group has performed the music that Hildegard of Bingen wrote for the nuns at the abbeys of Rupertsberg and Disibodenberg than Anonymous 4.

Candace Smith and her ensemble Cappella Artemisia are pioneers reviving interest in the music of cloistered Italian composer-nuns of the 17th Century. 

Francis Poulenc's gorgeous Litanies a la Vierge noire may be one of the most beautiful works in the choral repertoire.  

I heard Melodia perform Olivier Messiaen's spectacular, but very difficult, Trois petites liturgies de la Présence Divine in concert a few years ago. Melodia hasn't recorded it, but there is this excellent recording by Kent Nagano.

--Craig Zeichner

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