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Sound surrounds at Five College Choral Festival

The Five College Choral Festival, held every two to three years at Smith College, fell this year on Saturday, Feb. 20. A popular event in the Pioneer Valley, the festival featured twelve groups and nearly 500 individual singers from the Five College Consortium.

The Hampshire College Chorus premiered with “Cantique de Jean Racine, op. 11” by Gabriel Faure, conducted by Elizabeth Hart and accompanied by Gretchen Saathoff. Beautiful and hymnlike, the piece was sung with nice attention to dynamics and diction. Sung in French, the English translation was displayed on the balcony walls on either side of the stage. Several of the festival’s other pieces also required translation.

With four groups performing, Amherst College followed with a diverse array of pieces. The Amherst College Concert Choir, conducted by Mallorie Chernin, performed “Si ch’io vorrei morire,” an Italian madrigal by Claudio Monteverdi. The Concert Choir started strong, with great attention to dynamics and a floating harmony. The Amherst College Madrigal Singers, conducted by Zohar Perla (Class of 2012), serenaded the audience with “Et La La La” by Ninot Le Petit. With less than a dozen members, the group kept good tempo and gave a strong performance. “Mary Wore Three Links of Chain,” a spiritual arranged by G. Roberts Kolb, was performed by The Amherst College Women’s Chorus, with James Laff conducting. Vocals were shallow at times, but the alto part was strong, almost eerie. Finishing off for Amherst was The Amherst College Glee Club, conducted by Mallorie Chernin. With Philip Dupont (‘12) and Roger Creel (‘13) on piano, the Glee Club performed “Old Dan Tucker,” an American folksong arranged by Douglas L. Ipson. The vocals were strong, complimented by lively acting, clapping, and stomping.

The Five College Collegium of The Five College Early Music Program, directed by Robert Eisenstein, sang “Tu solus qui facis mirabilia,” a Renaissance piece by Josquin des Pres.

Sleek and uniform, The Mount Holyoke Glee Club and The Mount Holyoke Chorale, both conducted by Miguel Felipe, took the stage next. The Glee Club performed selections “El Grito” and “Malaguena” from “Suite’ de Lorca” by Einojuhani Rautavaara, a composer of contemporary classical music. The Chorale sang “Pounding on an Open Door” and “Captain of My Heart” from “The All-Night Vigil or Rabi’a al-Adawiyya” by Forrest Pierce in its premiere performance. With Kivie Cahn-Lipman on amplified cello, the instrumentals emphasized the pieces, especially “Captain of My Heart,” which was one of the most beautiful, memorable pieces with its soft dynamics and chants.

Conducted by Tony Thornton, The University of Massachusetts ensembles, looking aesthetically pleasing in uniforms, performed a diverse range of pieces. The Chamber Choir sang “Sure on This Shining Night (Nocturnes)” by Morten Lauridsen, poem by James Agee, which was a peaceful, pleasing, lullaby-like piece. The Chorale performed “Turn the World Around” by Harry Belafonte and Robert Freedman and arranged by Larry Farrow. A bit repetitive and relying heavily on the piano in the beginning, the piece was inspiring by the end. The ensembles combined for “Va pensiero (Nabucco)” by Giuseppe Verdi, accompanied by pianist Nicholas Shaneyfelt. With a long piano intro, the piece was emotional, powerful, and inspirational, with a strong attention to dynamics.

The Smith College Chorus, conducted by Greg Brown and accompanied by Catherine M. Kay, performed “O Sonne, O Sonne” from “Zwold Gesange” by Cornelius Uwe Gustav Jenner, text by Ferdinand Gregorovius. The piece was light and airy, with a unison sound and rich harmony. The Smith College Glee Club, conducted by Jonathan Hirsh, performed “Tidings of Great Joy” by Clifton J. Noble Jr., who also accompanied the piece. The composition was upbeat, with strong vocals and great intonation.

For the finale, the choirs from all five colleges combined for a rendition of “Plorate, filii Israel” from “Jephte” by Giacomo Carissimi, chosen by guest conductor Kristina Boerger. With the conductor on stage and the choirs in the balcony, the arrangement had the effect of surround sound. Strong and rich, each vocal part had its moment to shine in this beautiful, culminating piece.

Lindsay Pierce can be reached at lcpierce@student.umass.edu.

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