The Salt Lake Choral Artists open their season Saturday with a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' stirring "Dona Nobis Pacem."
Written in 1936 as Europe was edging ever closer to war, the work is a compelling commentary on the devastation of war and a moving plea for peace. For his text, Vaughan Williams combines poetry by Walt Whitman with texts from the liturgical Mass, as well as an anti-war speech by the British reformist John Bright and sections from the Book of Jeremiah in the Bible.
"I'm excited about doing it," said Brady Allred, artistic director and conductor of the Choral Artists. "I love Vaughan Williams, but I haven't been able to do his music with our group yet."
Allred told the Deseret Morning News that the "Dona Nobis Pacem" is a forceful work. "It really shows the power of music, and the effect music has on listeners."
Instead of doing the piece in its better-known form with orchestra, Allred will be conducting it in a version Vaughan Williams made for strings and piano. "It's not as well known, but it works very well."
The "Dona Nobis Pacem" will be coupled with Mack Wilberg's "Introit & Epilogue: Let Peace Then Still the Strife," a commission by the Carnegie Hall Corp. to accompany the Vaughan Williams piece for a performance in Carnegie Hall a few years back.
Also on the program is the English composer's hauntingly beautiful "Serenade to Music," performed in his arrangement for strings and harp (although for Saturday's concert a piano will be substituted for the harp).
Rounding out the program is Glenn Rudolph's "The Dream Isaiah Saw."
Soloists for the concert are baritone Darrell Babidge and soprano Carol Ann Allred. Joining them and the Choral Artists are special guests, the University of Utah A Capella Choir and the Copper Hills High School Madrigals.
Looking ahead, Allred and the Choral Artists will close out the season in May with Mendelssohn's powerful oratorio "Elijah," a work that has been popular in Utah lately. Recently, the Utah Symphony and Chorus performed it as well as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as part of the festivities surrounding the reopening of the Tabernacle.
"When I was programming the season, I didn't know that the Tabernacle Choir would be doing it," Allred said. But the work can stand being played frequently, he added.
The Choral Artists will be doing "Elijah" with some cuts, and in a version that Robert Shaw made but never published. "I sang it with him in Carnegie Hall," Allred said, "and I did it in Pittsburgh (when he was the director of the Pittsburgh Bach Choir). Shaw made it available to me, and I'm excited about being able to do it again."
Allred and Shaw have a few things in common, and not only from a collaborative angle. "Shaw loved to work with amateur singers, and I love to do that, too," Allred said. "He had techniques to help amateur singers, and I try to work with them to improve their technique, as well."
In between these two concerts, the Choral Artists will do a Christmas program in the Tabernacle in December. "We were asked to open the Temple Square holiday concert season," Allred said. "I'm anxious to try out the Tabernacle. It's a fun place to sing."
A second Christmas concert, this one taking place in Libby Gardner Concert Hall, includes J.S. Bach's "Magnificat" and continues the choir's collaboration with the Salt Lake Symphony.
In February, the choir will do a jazz program that will include pieces by George Shearing and John Rutter.Allred said that programming concerts for the choir can be difficult at best. "But the better the choir gets, the more challenging pieces I can give them."
If you go ...
What: Salt Lake Choral Artists, Brady Allred
Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $15.75, general; $10.75, students; $60, season pass