Madison Choral Project performs its “Old Lessons and New Carols” this weekend
It seems like no matter how I try, I can’t even begin to cover all the Madison music events I’d like to share. Last September I was contacted by a member of the Madison Choral Project, sharing information about the group’s programs. At once I had December 15 penciled in, to hear the 5-year old group at last at Christ Presbyterian Church (944 E. Gorham St.) at 7:30 pm. Sure enough, a conflict arose…and I was graciously invited to attend a rehearsal this week. While I planned to spend most or all of three hours with the group and their director, Albert Pinsonneault, it turned out to be closer to 90 minutes. It wasn’t meant as a review opportunity, but I did want to make contact and hear them in person. As it turns out, this was not a run-through, but a detailed working rehearsal—and in any case, it was mission accomplished: I heard more than enough to urge my readers to go and hear them Friday night (or Sunday afternoon at 3), and take someone with you.
Pinsonneault founded the group in 2012, thinking it was probably a “one-off,” but immediate success led to more concerts, two per season it appears (with one in 2015 being guest-conducted by the legendary Dale Warland). And why not? The 22-voice group I heard last night was thrilling from note one, and it was fascinating to hear “Bert” (that’s what everyone calls Dr. Pinsonneault) fine-tune vowel sounds, balances, and pitches.
The rehearsal was in a choir room at the church, and that was another unexpected bonus, to be in a small space with this large-sound group. There seemed to be something extra fitting about it all: The first singing was the almost desperate question set by Brahms in one of his motets, “Warum” (“Why?”). And perhaps the answer was hung on the wall across the room: “Music is the voice of the soul.”
I was also treated to a few snippets of harmonically arresting arrangements by Stephen Paulus of “Joy to the World” and “The First Nowell.” But the biggest treat was an extended dissection, and then complete reading of, “If I Were a Swan,” by Kevin Puts. He was in Madison a few years ago, when John DeMain conducted his “Inspiring Beethoven” with the Madison Symphony. At the time I made a promise to hear more of his music…and now I have. What a gorgeous and compelling work, and this is a good place to mention how clean the diction of the MCP singers is.
But if the mere allure of great choral singing isn’t enough to get to MCP this weekend, then Pinsonneault’s thoroughly creative Christmas program should. With poetry readings interspersed (“lessons”), the music takes on a journey from the darkness that can cover so much of the world (or even an individual), to the light and hope of the Christ child. In addition to the aforementioned works, there are pieces by Barnum, Rheinberger, Harris, Sweelink, Paart, Mozart and Christiansen, and poems by Whitman, Arnold, Du Bois, de la Cruz and Rumi.
Their February concerts are on the 10th and 11th (at 7:30 and 2 pm), and are titled “Drown’d in One Endless Day. I’ve already marked my calendar…but I suspect a serious New Year’s resolution is in order!