BENNINGTON -- The Bennington County Choral Society (BCCS) proudly presents a spring concert featuring Gabriel Fauré's much-loved "Requiem," and other works, on Saturday, March 23, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 24, at 3 p.m. Performances are at the First Baptist Church on Main Street in Bennington.
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door, in advance from choristers or at the Bennington Bookshop. The First Baptist Church is handicapped accessible.
About the performance
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) is regarded as one of the masters of vocal music and the French art song, or "mélodie." Although he began work on his "Requiem" in 1887, shortly after the deaths of his parents, the composition was not intended to mark those events; it was, according to Fauré, created "for the pleasure of it." He made a personal selection of the texts from the requiem mass -- omitting the "Day of Judgment" sections, for example -- and emphasizing themes of rest and peace. A first version was performed in 1888 at the Church of the Madeleine in Paris, where the composer was the choirmaster. This performance included five movements and used a small complement of instruments besides the organ.
This version of the work was presented at the Madeleine during the next decade -- as was a larger version, beginning in 1893, with two added movements: the "Offertoire," written in 1889, and the "Libera Me," based on music the composer had penned as early as 1877. A version with full symphony orchestra premiered in 1900 -- likely requested by Fauré's publisher, Hammelle, to ensure concert performances -- propelled the work's growing fame. However, the Choral Society's concert recaptures the more intimate ethos of the earlier versions of the "Requiem."
The BCCS performance also includes an earlier work, the lovely "Cantique de Jean Racine" Op. 11, composed while Fauré was a student at the École Niedermeyer, the prominent school for training church musicians. This work won him the school's first prize in composition at age 20.
Sacred music was also important to the German composers Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), although their reputations today seem to hang on more secular concert works. The BCCS concert includes two pieces Mendelssohn wrote in his early 20s, "Verleih' uns Frieden" ("Grant Us Thy Peace"), 1831, and "Lord, Have Mercy Unto Us," 1833. The selected works by Brahms also date from his 20s and were both composed in 1856, as Brahms was pursuing counterpoint studies with Joseph Joachim. His enthusiasm for older music and interest in the abstract process of composing led him to make settings of movements of the mass in a canonic style. The concert includes the Benedictus from this group of mass settings, as well as Brahms' more finished piece, his "Geistliches Lied," Op. 30, which continues his fascination with imitative procedures in the refined setting of Paul Flemming's poem about quiet consolation in grief.
About the performers
Conductor Edwin T. Lawrence has led the Bennington County Choral Society since 1976, directing the group in performances of works from the 9th to the 21st centuries. He is an adjunct instructor of music at Williams College and minister of music for the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, of Williamstown, Mass. He is a founding member of the Consortium of Vermont Composers.
Music Director Lawrence welcomes organist Scott Bailey for this performance. Bailey, staff accompanist for Westfield State University, earned degrees from the Crane School of Music and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has also served as staff accompanist at UMass and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. He was music director at the First Congregational Church of North Adams, where he helped found the North County Music Series and the North County Ecumenical Choir.
Two members of the BCCS are featured as soloists in the Fauré "Requiem." Soprano Carol Poppe sings the "Pie Jesu." Poppe has studied voice with Marlene Walt, Wayne Dalton and Kerry Ryer-Parke. She has sung frequently with the Bennington Chorus, as well as the Battenkill Chorale and the Berkshire Choral Festival. She is a member of the choir at the Old First Church in Bennington. David Haley sings the baritone solos, "Hostias at preces tibi Domine" and "Libera me, Domine." Haley previously sang the role of Jephthe in Carissimi's oratorio in the BCCS's 2010-2011 season. He sang with the New Haven Chorale in Connecticut for many years and served as a board member and stage manager. In Bennington, he has sung with Sweet Praises and is a member of the choir at the Second Congregational Church.
About the BCCS
The Bennington County Choral Society (BCCS) is a mixed adult chorus of voices drawn from southern Vermont and nearby New York and Massachusetts communities. Its aims to foster an environment in which chorus members coalesce as a group and develop as an ensemble, with the goal of growing musically through weekly rehearsals and performances that are a source of pride and pleasure.
The Bennington County Choral Society is open to all ages and singing/reading abilities, and performs three concerts each year. Auditions are not required to join. Members are expected to bring a love of singing, and are asked to pay dues of $25 per concert. Information: bccsmusic.wordpress.com.