NH Master Chorale’s 20th Anniversary celebrates ‘What (Only) Music Can Do’

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NH Master Chorale 2022 scaled
NH Master Chorale 2022

By Richard Knox

The New Hampshire Master Chorale this month celebrates 20 years of music-making with two concerts on Saturday, June 17, in Concord and Sunday, June 18 in Plymouth.

The 30-voice chamber choir, one of New Hampshire’s finest choral ensembles, will offer a program that showcases the wide variety of themes, styles and periods – often with timely social relevance – that is the Master Chorale’s hallmark.

The theme of these anniversary concerts is “What (Only) Music Can Do.” They will explore the power of music to express deep feelings and bind humans together.

When he founded the group in 2003, Music Director Dan Perkins says he “couldn’t have imagined the broad scope of repertoire we would perform, the dozens of pieces we would commission, and the more than 150 singers and board members who would breathe life into this wonderful enterprise.”

Master Chorale concerts have featured music of great masters, leading 20th-century composers in diverse genres, established contemporary composers, and emerging talents.

The performances will be at South Congregational Church in Concord at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 17, and at the Congregational Church in Plymouth at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 18. Tickets are available at the door or at can be purchased online here.

Prices are $30 ($25 for seniors), free for students from K-undergrads, or on a pay-what-you-can basis. A post-concert celebration follows the Sunday performance at The Common Man in Plymouth.

The concerts open with a masterpiece of choral art, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Jesu, meine Freude – a profoundly joyous 11-part motet that is Bach’s longest and most musically complex.

To complete the first half of the program, Perkins chose If I Say Yes, a contrasting, secular take on what music can express. It’s an intimate love poem by Dale Trumbore, a 36-year-old rising star among American choral composers. With a contemporary sensibility, Trumbore’s piece captures the ambiguity, uncertainties, and everyday imperfections of a long-term relationship; underneath it all is a bedrock commitment.

The concerts’ second half is a pinwheel of favorites from the last 23 seasons, nominated by Master Chorale singers themselves. The chosen pieces range far and wide in a demonstration of the many ways music (and choral music in particular) can inspire, move and elevate listeners.

I Know I’ve Been Changed, from the Master Chorale’s premiere concert in 2003, is a rousing spiritual for chorus and soprano solo that begins with a quiet declaration of belief, set in a rocking beat that builds to an ecstatic finish.

Morton Lauridsen’s Sure on This Shining Night, from the fall of 2005, has become one of choral music’s favorite contemporary pieces. It sets a nocturnal reverie by the poet James Agee that expresses gratitude for the fleeting nature of this life.

Blackberry Winter, performed in 2003 and 2009, refers to a sudden springtime cold snap when blackberry canes are in bloom. The blasting of that season’s blossoms invokes poignant thoughts of thwarted love.

The 19th-century a cappella spiritual Unclouded Day, performed in the spring of 2015, mixes a bright bluegrass style with complex counterpoint and fugue that builds to a roof-raising finale.

Dan Forrest’s Entreat Me Not to Leave You is a setting of the familiar passage from the Book of Ruth, often recited at weddings, that’s a paeon to love and commitment. It was included in the fall 2016 concert.

All of Us is the culminating movement of the extraordinary oratorio Considering Matthew Shepard that commemorates the shocking murder of a young gay man that drew international attention in 1998. The Master Chorale performed the piece in the fall of 2018. All of Us combines the throbbing beat of a gathering-up gospel tune with a stately, aspirational hymn. It expresses the redemption of “the Love that lifts us up” that comes only from “all of us.”

The New Colossus, performed in 2019, is Saunder Choi’s edgy, playful reconstruction of the familiar poem engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty that begins “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The 1883 poem, and Choi’s setting of it, carry new meaning in the context of the nation’s current political debate on immigration.

Marjorie Moorhead is an AIDS survivor who lives in Lebanon, NH. Her poem, “Me,” provides the text for a movement in a suite of songs called Voices of the Silenced commissioned by the Master Chorale from Norwegian composer Kim Andre Arnesen. Its premiere was in the autumn of 2019.

Abendlied is a gem of a piece written by Josef Rheinberger in 1855 that sets a passage from the Gospel of Luke. It describes an encounter of two downcast disciplines and the newly risen Christ on the road to Emmaus.

These anniversary concerts are supported in part by grants from the NH State Council on the Arts, the NH Charitable Foundation’s Corbit Family Fund, and the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation.

Richard Knox is the NH Master Chorale’s program annotator who sings in the group and is on its board of directors. He lives in Sandwich, NH.

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