Multi-century Spanish repertoire enlivens Chamber Choir concert

Saturday night, the Williams Chamber Choir and Williams Concert Choir presented “La musica de España,” a show dedicated to music about Spain and by Spanish composers. Led by Visiting Director and Visiting Artist in Residence in Choral Activities Katie Gardiner, the singers performed songs spanning 400 years of Spanish musical history, from the songs of the Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries to folk music from the 21st century, ranging in style from solemn Latin religious odes to lively songs about the Spanish countryside. They performed in Thompson Memorial Chapel, and the beauty of the setting only served to amplify the audience members’ experience of the music.

The Chamber Choir, consisting of 14 students, performed first, singing the Romancero Gitano (which roughly translates to “Gypsy Ballads”), a series of seven songs arranged for chamber choir and guitar by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968), an Italian composer who used poetry from the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca, who died during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, was famous for his poetry and his career as a playwright; his songs deal with themes and imagery of the Spanish countryside. Having seen and been blown away by the choir’s performance during their last concert in the spring, I had extremely high expectations for their first performance of the year: It’s safe to say that they delivered. Though Chamber music might not be for everybody, the sheer serenity in the voices as they sang in harmony was truly spectacular and awe-inspiring.

Accompanying the Chamber Choir during the Romancero Gitano was guitarist Robert Phelps, artist associate in guitar, who raised by a father who played and adored classical Spanish guitar. In this context, listening to the distinctive strumming pattern used by Spanish guitarists brought back memories from home and added much to the Chamber Choir’s harmonizing. Phelps’ playing beautifully complemented the tone of the songs, the voices of the singers and the Spanish folk-and country-inspired lyrics of Lorca’s poems.

After the Chamber Choir, the Concert Choir, which is made up of 23 students including several members of the Chamber Choir, performed nine songs, including the processional chant “O Sacrum Convivium” and the last of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Lorca-inspired songs, “Crotolo.” The Concert Choir was joined by Meg O’Connor ’14, Chaplain to the College Rick Spalding and Professor of Statistics Richard De Veaux. The “Sacrum Convivium,” written by Javier Busto and performed in Latin, provided a beautiful and almost mystic quality to the choir’s entrance into the chapel. The next song, “Lauda Jersusalem,” took the audience back to the Spanish Renaissance. Also sung in Latin, the song, written by Tomas Luis de Victoria, was based on sacred Latin texts and introduced a quicker pace to the songs sung by the choirs. The singers were accompanied by David Kealhofer ‘13 on the cello. This string accompaniment again lent itself to the singers’ voices and to the distinct Spanish style of the songs; the notes strummed subtly among the voices in an almost dance-like melody. Another of de Victoria’s well-known songs, “O Magnum Mysterium,” a description of the Christian Nativity, was another highlight of the night.

The rest of the songs included a chuckle-inducing piece from the 16th century warning men about the dangers of being cuckolded, devastating and romantic 20th-century ballads and upbeat Mexican folk-inspired songs. “Amor de mi alma” was performed by the Concert Choir tenors and basses, while “Las Amarillas” was performed by the Concert Choir sopranos and altos, adding a great mix to the arrangements at the concert and bringing out the strengths of each group of singers. The final song, “Crotalo,” was performed by the entire choir. Utilizing all the voices in the choir for a memorable and dramatic, “Crotalo,” which translates as “Castanet,” and consists of three short stanzas of text, was again accompanied by Phelps on the guitar.

Gardiner, who is visiting for the fall, has obviously done an amazing job of directing the students this semester, much to the enjoyment of the students and dozens of community members alike who were in attendance.

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