“Music for a magnificent space” inspires the first half of an exciting program that director Tom Peterson has designed for the Flagstaff Master Chorale’s season opener, tomorrow evening at 7:30 p.m. in the grand acoustic of San Francisco de Asis Church in Flagstaff.
Peterson has selected representative examples from a historic and extensive repertoire known as “cori spezzati,” or “separated choirs,” a choral style common in the Baroque period that flourished from the late 16th century to about the middle of the 18th. He describes this glorious genre as being designed to “use every corner of a space,” so as to “make architecture resonate, to amplify a building’s space and scale with sound.”
In what is described as “polychoral” style, divided choral and accompanying chamber orchestral forces offer a unique sonic experience in works written by four representative composers from the Baroque era. Though he is not one of the four composers featured on this program, the Italian Renaissance master Giovanni Gabrielli notably utilized the four interior balconies of the magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice for massive choral works resulting in a “surround-sound” aural experience. Gabrielli had a profound influence on German composer Heinrich Schütz, who is included in this concert’s repertoire. While not representative of the “polychoral” style, the second half of Monday evening’s program will feature selections from Georg Frederic Handel’s immortal “Messiah,” a long-time staple of the Master Chorale’s annual fall concert.
Liturgical works by a lesser known German musician, Jacob Handl Gallus, and by the more familiar Italian Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi are written for double choir of eight individual parts, resulting in what Peterson describes as “dueling choirs.” England is represented by Henry Purcell, whose “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” would likely have resounded in the spacious acoustics of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal, two “magnificent spaces” where Purcell devoted most of his career. J. S. Bach, who lived toward the end of the Baroque period, occasionally wrote for double choir, although this program features a soprano duet from his Christmas Oratorio with an “echo” effect depicting the image of a questioning conversation with the Almighty. Nine movements from Vivaldi’s extended liturgical work “Dixit Dominus” again feature double chorus and divided instrumental forces, with sonically contrasting echo effects throughout. The Arizona Mountain Chorale, a group of select voices from the Master Chorale, performs a motet by Schütz that combines echo effects with shouts of “cantate” (sing)!
A number of soloists join the chorale in the evening’s selections, including members of the Master Chorale (Jamie Hasapis, Lynne Nemeth, Jeanie Carroll, Doug Riddle) and Northern Arizona University vocalists Kim Loaiza and Ye Lynn Han. Guest soprano Kira Zeeman Rugen is also a composer and conductor and has been commissioned by the Master Chorale to write a new work that will be featured in the Chorale’s spring concert next year. A chamber orchestra made up of local instrumentalists supports the “polychoral” works on the first half of the program, as well as the selections from various portions of Handel’s Messiah.