Epic Compositions Collide at the Spring Concert Series from the Capital City Chorus

by Molly Walsh

Mixed Choir performing with Vicki Jardine-Tobin at the piano. Photo copyright © 2023 Jim Tobin

Two differing compositions will come together in one concert on May 3-5 through the 2024 spring concert series from the Capital City Chorus. “Requiem” from Herbert Howells will be performed by the Mixed Choir and “It is Happiness” from Joan Szymko will be performed by the Chorale. Neither selection is often performed in front of local audiences. This lineup will capture different facets of life and grief, and these two main pieces are a welcome challenge for both choirs, according to Dan Colgan, director of the Mixed Choir, and Vicki Jardine-Tobin, director of the Chorale.

The Capital City Chorus includes more than 100 members across the Mixed Choir and Chorale, and each year the chorus performs an annual concert series in December and during the spring season. Colgan said it is during the spring concert series that the chorus has additional creative freedom in their song selection. And this year, Colgan and Jardine-Tobin gravitated toward pieces that diverge both sonically and thematically, yet fit well in the same concert.

“Spring is sort of that chance where we get to follow our dreams a little more, if that makes sense,” said Colgan. “We get to be a little more artistic, we get to do really cool things, we get to kind of hand select what we want the medium to be and what we want to do.”

Mixed choir performing, Christmas 2021, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. This was the choir’s first concert exiting COVID times when everyone was all masked and they were much fewer in number.

“Requiem” by Howells is a deeply touching piece, with portions that stem from a time of personal tragedy for Howells, in grieving the death of his son, according to Colgan, and that embedded emotion can be felt through the music. Colgan has long felt a pull toward “Requiem,” describing it as a “bucket list” performance piece, and recalling times as a college student, when he hoped to one day conduct a choir that could take on this piece. And despite the complexity of performance, “Requiem” carries a unique beauty and resonant quality that led Colgan to selecting this piece for the spring concert series.

“He just writes this music that’s so, almost ethereal, almost like other worldly,” said Colgan. “And it creates this sort of wash of sound, this tapestry that is very different.”

Chorale performing, Photo copyright © 2023 Jim Tobin

“Requiem” requires a high level of technical skill for a chorus to perform, and Colgan said this piece is by far the most difficult piece ever performed by the Mixed Choir. At the spring concert, “Requiem” will be performed acapella, which Colgan said will contribute to the overall emotion and atmosphere of the piece.

“It’s very bare and it’s just, I don’t know, it’s this heart-wrenchingly gorgeous music that I’m really excited to be able to share with the community,” said Colgan. “And … I’m just so excited that we are able to be a choir of that caliber that can do this piece and offer that here in Olympia.”

“It is Happiness” by Szymko, incorporates the poetry of Mary Oliver in a three-movement “suite”, composed when Szymko was asked to create a piece for the large women’s chorus that he was directing at the time, said Jardine-Tobin.

“This was a collaboration of two highly reputable women in their fields,” said Jardine-Tobin. “And because this music is composed for the women’s voice, it is just so much more spectacular for us to be able to do it.”

Jardine-Tobin described the discovery of “It is Happiness,” as “door opening,” and it quickly was added to the shortlist of pieces that may eventually be performed by the Chorale. Once Jardine-Tobin learned that “Requiem” was going to be a main performance for the Mixed Choir at the spring concert, she wanted to choose a piece for the Chorale that carried a similar weight but was not sonically repetitive and found a good fit with “It is Happiness.”

Mixed choir performing. Photo copyright © 2023 Jim Tobin

“I don’t think anyone’s ever programmed these two pieces together … and it’s, I think it’s going to be very, very fun to move from one to the other,” said Jardine-Tobin.

Jardine-Tobin is especially impressed by the depth of sound from this piece, the additional instrumental component from piano, violin, cello and flute, as well as the recurring themes of love and acceptance from Oliver’s poetry.

“To put these two pieces together, I think Dan and I both agree that they’re just so contrasting, but they’re really, really cool,” said Jardine-Tobin. “In their own right, they have such depth and power and beauty and, and contrast of sound and type.”

Mixed choir performing, Spring 2023, Dan Colgan conducting. Photo copyright © 2023 Jim Tobin

The concert will also include a number of shorter compositions, including “O schöne Nacht” Op. 92, No. 1” from Johannes Brahms, as well as “Measure Me, Sky!” by Elaine Hagenberg, which Colgan said further complements the two longer pieces from Howells and Szymko.

For the Mixed Choir and Chorale, the preparation for the spring concert series has been unique and challenging, with members of both choirs tackling complex pieces they didn’t expect to perform through this local chorus. Colgan said members have been hard at work, though, both in group rehearsals and at-home practice, and Jardine-Tobin said it has been fun to track the progress of the Mixed Choir and Chorale throughout the process.

“By mid season, everybody was on board,” said Jardine-Tobin. “They were very excited. They thought, I think, that it was something that they would never be able to achieve. And by midseason, I think they saw that they could.”

2024 Spring Concert from the Capital City Chorus

7:30 p.m. Friday, May 3,  2:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4 and  2:30 p.m Sunday, May 5

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 1515 Harrison Ave NW, Olympia

Free, donations accepted.


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