About the Program

Old World, New Worlds

December 3 & 4, 2022

Old World, New Worlds

Welcome to our 41st season! I am very excited to come on board as Artistic Director of this first-rate ensemble, continuing Jane Ring Frank’s excellent work and endeavoring to ensure that Cantemus remains a vital force for choral music well into the future. The choral community made up of our singers and audience is more important now than ever, as we reaffirm our human need for connection in this age of the Zoom call. Vocal music can be a healing balm, and I believe our community needs such a balm as we continue to work through the pandemic and the fractured state of our national and international landscape.

Our program – “Old World, New Worlds” – has some familiar offerings and some pieces new to Cantemus. The Old World music of Western Europe meets New World repertoire of the Americas; ancient texts are set to modern music; and the heritages of Christmas and Chanukah are presented in traditional and contemporary modes.

The program opens with Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. Written in Britten’s inimitable style – an amalgam of texts from Medieval to 16th-century Britain, set to decidedly 20th-century music, with many nods to older musical practice (for instance, plainchant and the liberal use of church modes). The piece is the perfect poster child for our Old/New World theme.

Our second half opens with Felix Mendelssohn’s joyous Frohlocket, ihr Völker auf Erden. In addition to large-scale choral and orchestral works, Mendelssohn wrote a number of cantatas, secular part-songs and dozens of sacred motets. Frohlocket is the first in a set of six “maxims” for the church year set for 8-part chorus. The quick-silver Bogoroditse dyevo of contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is paired with the stunning Ave Maria by Nathaniel Dett – a preeminent African-American composer from the early 20th century whose music is finally becoming part of the standard repertory.

The Chanukah tradition is honored with both new and old settings: Haneirot Halalu explores the solemnity of the temple rededication with aptly reverent music. Mi Zeh Y’maleil is an exciting traditional Chanukah song in the Sephardic tradition of Tétouan, Morocco.

Steven Heitzeg is a composer of instrumental and choral music “written in celebration of the natural world, with . . . scores frequently including naturally-found instruments such as stones, driftwood . . . beluga whale bones and seashells.” Given his interest in a sort of musical ecology, Heitzeg’s work shares some interesting resonance with last season’s Missa Gaia. His little tree, a setting of a simple and tender poem of e.e. cummings, was commissioned and recorded by the Dale Warland Singers.

André Thomas is one of the most sought after conductors, pedagogues and composers of our time. Professor and Director of Choral Activities Emeritus at Florida State University, Dr. Thomas specializes in works written in the Gospel style and with connection to the African-American Spiritual. Go Where I Send Thee is a Christmas-themed spiritual that features a cumulative structure, each verse featuring a number, and each number connecting to a Biblical scripture. Thomas’s arrangement also includes a clever nod to the spiritual Somebody’s Knockin’ at the Do’.

I chose the repertoire and theme for today’s performance with an eye on transition. The inclusion of music of the “Old World” connects singer and audience to the Cantemus of the past – a storied 40-year history of excellence in performance and a recognition of the Western canon as the cornerstone of our repertoire. Our program features works by eight composers, and I am proud that three hail from historically underrepresented racial, ethnic, and cultural heritages. This not only reflects Cantemus’ stated commitment to diversity, but I hope it may serve to open our ears and hearts to “New Worlds” of sonic possibilities for our choral community.

—Jason Iannuzzi, Artistic Director