Musica Viva honors composer
Posted: March 14, 2013
The Winchester Star
Winchester — For its annual spring concert, the Winchester Musica Viva chamber choir will celebrate the birth and life of a key 20th century British composer.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth, the 22-member group will offer a night (and an afternoon) of music created by Benjamin Britten, whose contributions included chamber and church music, film scores, and operas, said Ken Nafziger, artistic director.
The group will perform his music at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday in Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church at 26 W. Boscawen St. Tickets cost $15 per person; students with identification and children under 10 will be admitted free.
“Among 20th century composers, Britten sets English text more sensitively and insightfully than anyone else,” said Nafziger, a Harrisonburg resident. “He is really a genius of the 20th century with writing music in the English language.”
Britten was born Nov. 22, 1913, in Suffolk, England, but with composers, the entire year of their birth is treated as an anniversary, Nafziger said. The composer died Dec. 4, 1976, of congestive heart failure.
The concert is different from the group’s usual offerings because it will feature the group singing two main pieces and the rest of the performances as solos and duets, said Melody Harmon, a singer and member of the board of directors.
The two large group pieces are “Hymn to St. Cecilia,” with text by W.H. Auden, and “Rejoice in the Lamb,” with text by Christopher Smart, she said. The others are various songs Britten composed during his lengthy career.
“I think people will enjoy it. I think they will see it as an interesting twist,” said Harmon, a Stephenson resident. “Of the 22 singers, 11 will do some kind of solo work in this concert.”
“Hymn to St. Cecilia” and “Rejoice in the Lamb” are often performed together because they were written around the same time and are a “demonstration of Britten’s superb skills in writing for choir,” Nafziger said.
“Hymn to St. Cecilia,” which the choir will sing a cappella, was set to a poem of the same name written in the 1940s by Auden, a friend of Britten, Nafziger said. The poem held appeal for the composer because St. Cecilia’s Day fell on his birthday and she was the patron saint of music.
“Rejoice in the Lamb,” on the other hand, was based on “Jubilate Agno,” a “very quirky poem” 18th-century poet Smart wrote while in an insane asylum, Nafziger said. Dan Miller is the guest organist for the piece.
“He wrote a lot of poetry. Some of it is religiously ecstatic and others are just plain crazy,” he said.
Among the folk songs featured in the performance are “I Wonder as I Wander,” a Christmas carol written by folklorist John Jacob Niles, and “Oliver Cromwell,” a setting of a traditional Suffolk nursery rhyme, Harmon said.
“Oliver Cromwell” involves call and response, so the choir will ask the audience to participate, she said.
Andrew P. White, associate professor of English at Eastern Mennonite University, will also participate in the concert with narration and program notes, Harmon said.
The music for the concert has proven challenging for choir members — which they appreciated, Nafziger said.
Harmon enjoyed the challenge because it has helped her through a difficult time since her husband Jim, a longtime performer with the group, died Feb. 4. His last performance with the group took place at its Christmas show, although it was physically difficult for him, she said.
Jim Harmon sang with the group from the mid-1990s, and his wife joined a few years later. Their son Matt Harmon, 31, of Stephens City also performs with the group, which allowed all of them to share their passion for music, she said.
Matt Harmon is one of the soloists in “Rejoice in the Lamb.”
The Winchester Musica Viva concerts will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday in Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church at 26 W. Boscawen St. in Winchester. Tickets cost $15 per person; students with identification and children under 10 will be admitted free. Visit winchestermusicaviva.org.
— Contact Laura McFarland firstname.lastname@example.org