Island Community Chorus weekend performances feature Vivaldi

The chorus will perform with orchestra.


After our cold and stormy winter and early April snow, there’s no better way to welcome spring than with a jubilant burst of music. Right on seasonal cue, conductor Peter Boak and his 90-voice Island Community Chorus will offer a colorful bouquet of pieces from a Baroque classic to contemporary takes on traditional tunes in imaginative arrangements this Saturday and Sunday at the regional high school’s Performing Arts Center. Adding even more vitality to this varied musical celebration, a 14-piece orchestra, including several talented local musicians, will join the singers.

Topping the program is Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) “Beatus Vir,” a barely 30-minute gem featuring double choir, double orchestra, and highlighted by solo, duet, and trio vocals. Based on the text of Psalm 112 (“Blessed is the man who fears the Lord …”), the piece is sung in Latin, its universal message apropos for both Christian and Jewish religions, Boak noted.

Allowing never a dull moment, the exuberant Vivaldi composition dances ever forward like an elegant music box, spinning from chorus to orchestra, solo to duet to trio and around again.

“The Vivaldi has an effervescence, it’s bubbly music,” said Boak, an avowed fan of this Italian Baroque composer. “It’s got energy and movement; something is moving at all times.”

With both chorus and orchestra divided in two sections each, the arrangement calls for them to sometimes echo one another in a dialogue, a Baroque call-and-response pattern, then join together in blossoming sonority.

“They talk across the aisle to each other,” said Boak. “It’s all balanced, very symmetrical.”

Soloists include Molly Conole, soprano; Jenny Friedman, contralto; Dorian Lopes, bass, and David Behnke, bass/tenor.

Thanks to local violinist Rebecca Laird, who teaches in the Island schools strings program, the orchestra will include several off-Island musicians. Boak said when she learned he was seeking orchestra members, Laird promptly contacted musical friends and colleagues from her years off-Island, and many agreed to take part. A Boston friend of Boak fortuitously referred a double bass student from the New England Conservatory.

“These are world-class musicians!” said Boak with delight. “I just thank my lucky stars for the quality of musicians joining the chorus.”

Along with guest artists, the orchestra includes Island musicians Laird; Julie Schilling, clarinet; Molly Conole, French horn; Brian Weiland, percussion; Stephen McGhee, cello; Michael Tinus, double bass.

Longtime chorus accompanist Garrett Brown doubles as both pianist and organist for this concert. In the Vivaldi, Brown will play a portable pipe organ created by instrument maker Jeremy Adams from Gloucester.

Stalwart chorus members have rehearsed every Monday evening since frigid January, trekking to Trinity Methodist Church in Oak Bluffs, miraculously dodging every storm. “We were really lucky,” said Boak.

“I’ve been singing in this chorus since its inception, and can truthfully say I can’t remember any program that was not challenging, interesting, and fun,” confided veteran chorus devotee Mary-Jean Miner. “The shorter works on this one are nearly all very familiar songs, but the arrangements are intricate and interesting, and particularly emotional.”

Although extremely knowledgeable about musical compositions thanks to decades in community and church music — aside from conducting the chorus, Boak is minister of music at the Federated Church — Boak turned to the Internet when planning this concert.

He was seeking a moderate-size choral work accompanied by a small orchestral ensemble. The Vivaldi piece appeared; he listened and was convinced. He searched out shorter choral pieces that use various instruments. The selections he found fit together beautifully, and coincidentally most had a water theme.

“I was amazed as I started hearing them how the arrangers have captured the personality of each piece by adding instrumental parts,” Boak said.

Always on the lookout for compelling prose and poetry in the lyrics, Boak said this group of songs more than measured up. He was also struck by the fact that all five arrangers are contemporary artists, successful and productive in today’s music world.

“Seal Lullaby” by renowned composer Eric Whitacre, with evocative text by Rudyard Kipling, tops Boak’s list of favorites. Its lush and lilting melody with piano accompaniment is soothing and serene, as the seal mother sings to her tired pup.

“You can just feel the movement of the water,” he said, adding that the poetic “Jungle Book” lyrics are as captivating as the music.

Rene Clausen’s arrangement of the sweetly melancholy “The Water Is Wide” again evokes that feeling of ebb and flow, the ensemble of cello, French horn, clarinet, and piano a meandering musical brook, creating a lyrical impressionistic setting for the traditional folk tune.

Only one song is set on dry land, a blossom-filled garden where the Scottish Robert Burns poetically proclaims, “Oh, My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose,” set to music again by Clausen. The setting, like the poetic 1700s imagery, is elegant and graceful, combining piano, cello, and violin with the voices.

In noteworthy multicultural collaboration, Canadian composer Donald Patriquin is arranger for the venerable African-American spiritual, “Deep River.” Patriquin adds new dimensions to the familiar song with vocal harmonies and accompaniment by piano, cello, and French horn.

Rounding out the quintet of short tunes is the familiar traditional toe-tapper “Down to the River to Pray” popularized by the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Sheldon Curry’s revival-flavored arrangement joins the chorus with piano, electric guitar, bass, and strings.

Though the weekend may bring more chill, this concert promises a breath of spring to raise spirits and warm listeners’ hearts until the real thing comes along. And for more encouragement, remember the chorus will next raise joyful voices at the Tabernacle to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Island Community Chorus Spring Concert. Saturday, April 7, 7:30 pm, and Sunday, April 8, 3 pm. Tickets $15. Children, students admitted free.