Opening Oct. 28-29, the series at SOU Recital Hall promises a widely varied menu of choral music
By Jim Flint for Ashland.news
If variety is the spice of life, be prepared for a tasty menu of choral music from the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers during their 2023-24 season, opening Oct. 28-29 with “Water Night.”
All concerts will be at the Southern Oregon Music Recital Hall, 450 S. Mountain Ave., Ashland.
“I think variety within each concert and within the season is hugely important,” said Paul French, music director.
To that end, over the course of the season, the Rep Singers’ programming will range from early music to commissioned premieres. They will perform art music from around the world: folk, crossover, sacred, secular, serious, funny, dance-based, harmonic-based and melody-driven music, featuring well-known composers as well as new voices.
Rep Singers’ 39th season will include four concerts, each with two performances — at 7:30 p.m. Saturday nights, and at 3 p.m. on Sundays.
In addition to the season opener Oct. 28-29, concerts will include “In Times of Softest Snow,” Dec. 16-17; “There Is Another Sky,” March 2-3; and “Faces of Love,” May 11-12.
The season opener
Combining passionate poetry from the Renaissance and the music of today, works featured in the season opener will include William Byrd’s serene motet “Ne Irascaris,” a newly composed setting of Pablo Neruda poetry by Jodi French, song arrangements by Johannes Brahms, and Eriks Esenvalds’ “A Drop in the Ocean.”
“Esenvalds’ piece is one of the most stunning, profound choral works I have ever heard,” French said. “I have been longing to perform it.”
The program will showcase a tour de force setting of texts by St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa, as well as the sensuous “Water Night” by Eric Whitacre, based on poetry by Octavio Paz.
Providing a lighter mood will be crossover pieces by Canadian composer Sarah Quartel; Reena Esmail’s “TaReKiTa,” based on the sounds of the Indian table; and art music settings of Irish folk songs.
Ashland cellist Michal Palzewicz will be the featured guest artist, accompanying the singers on various pieces.
The holidays and beyond
The December program traditionally is a celebration of holiday music — old and new, sacred and secular, familiar and brand new. This season’s “In Time of Softest Snow” Dec. 16-17 is no exception.
Featured works include art music settings by familiar composers such as Norwegian sensation Ola Gjeilo and Baroque master Claudio Monteverdi.
“We’ll also have new works,” French said, “by rising stars Melissa Dumphy, Becky McGlade and Don MacDonald.”
The second half of the program will feature traditional and newly composed carols by audience favorites such as John Rutter, Z. Randall Stroope and Bob Chilcott. Guest instrumentalists will add to the festivity.
“The audience will love our blow-the-walls-out gospel version of ‘Children Go Where I Send Thee,’” French said. “You will not want to miss it.”
The concerts March 2-3 will showcase a cappella works by American and Estonian composers, with new works for chorus and instrumental accompaniment. Included will be “There Is Another Sky” by American composer Alvin Trotman, who also will be featured in May’s James M. Collier New Works Festival.
The New Works Festival, titled “Faces of Love,” will run May 11-12 and will include two commissioned world premieres for choir and orchestra.
“We are thrilled to be premiering ‘Tapestries’ by the talented young American composer, Alvin Trotman,” French said. “Tapestries will include diverse texts, including a New Testament text, the popular Hebrew text called ‘Hina Ma Tov,’ and a Japanese haiku.”
French said Trotman is establishing himself as one of the bright new voices in classical choral music.
Composer-in-residence Jodi French’s new work, “Faces of Love,” is a multi-movement major work for choir and orchestra.
“Jodi’s music has been a choir and audience favorite for many years,” her husband said. “We look forward to singing her lyrical, heartfelt music.”
Smaller works for choir and orchestra by Patrick Hawes and Dan Forrest round out the program. Both Trotman and Jodi French will participate in an audience Q&A following each performance.
A time-consuming task
Paul French, who recently retired from SOU, spends a lot of time preparing for each season. He owns about 10,000 pieces and from them creates a “to-do” pile.
“I also go through several online publishers’ sites, reviewing between 3,000 to 5,000 pieces,” he said. “It’s a job that takes several months and many hours of tinkering.”
French has high praise for his singers.
“They are a talented, highly motivated bunch,” he said. “I certainly play a part in keeping the choir engaged, but conductors don’t make the music, the singers do. They are inspired by the music and want to do it well. My job is to help them do their best.”
For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.repsingers.org or call the box office at 541-552-0900. Season subscriptions and individual concert tickets are available.
Reach writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.