Wednesday, April 27, 2005
A conversation with . . .
Brian Gendron conducts local voices
through contemporary music concert
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directs a recent
Photo by Matt Gentry,
The Roanoke Times
The upcoming spring concert of the 17-year-old Blacksburg Master Chorale is a different concert than the chorale has performed in recent years.
Virginia Tech Choir Director Brian Gendron, now in his second year , says he is excited about the chance to conduct a performance of purely contemporary music. Made up of more than 70 singers, the chorale includes community members and students and fosters connections between Virginia Tech and the surrounding community. Here Gendron shares some thoughts about this connection and on the contemporary pieces the chorale will perform Friday night.
So can you tell me about the pieces you will be performing at the upcoming concert?
BG: "Fern Hill" is a really beautiful text written by Dylan Thomas. It’s very melodic; it’s very pastoral. So it’s 20th-century literature. As a matter of fact, it was written in 1961, but it doesn’t sound like what some people would picture as 20th-century music. You know often times people think of 20th-century literature as being very avant garde, kind of off the beaten path. … I think whether somebody is trained musically or not, it’s a piece that they would really connect to. It involves the full chorus as well as a semi-chorus, and there’s also a mezzo-soprano solo in the middle of it. And that solo is being done by Sarah Foley, who is one of our master chorale members who currently teaches in public schools in Pulaski. She teaches music there.
You get a more scattered and disconnected effect in modernism. Musically at least, you have an experimentation with atonal sounds.
BG: Exactly. "Fern Hill" at times, some of the chords can be a little colorful but really it’s a very tonal piece.
Can you tell me a little about Thomas’s poem?
BG: It’s six verses, and it deals with a nostalgia for the ending of childhood as well as the ending of summer. There’s kind of a connection there that Dylan Thomas makes.
Why the choice for these particular pieces?
BG: The concept of the concert was to do 20th-century or 21st-century choral orchestral works. We received a grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts to bring contemporary choral orchestral literature to
Can you tell me more about the Part piece?
He’s an Estonian composer, and the "Te Deum" of course is a sacred text, which is yet another contrast, with "Fern Hill" being secular. Like I said, it’s a minimalistic piece based off of chants. It doesn’t use literal Gregorian chants, but it’s very chant-like. What Arvo Part does is he pairs voices … for example the altos and the basses will be singing parallel chant, and then he’ll take the soprano and the tenor voices and those voices will outline a major or a minor triad. And so it creates a very stagnant sort of sound. The piece is broken up into sections … and those two-voice parts sing one of three notes within a major or a minor triad, and move within that triad throughout an entire section. … Arvo Part himself called it the Tintinnabuli style of composition, the ringing of bells. … As these voices are moving from one pitch to another, it kind of creates the sound of bells ringing.
When was that piece written?
1984 to ’85.
How far back does the "Te Deum" text go?
It was first mentioned in 502 A.D.
And can you tell me more about Sarah Foley, the soloist for this performance?
She actually first did a solo piece for the master chorale when we did our community sing-along of Handel’s "Messiah" this December and did such a beautiful job that I invited her. Typically what the master chorale does is they bring in professional singers from out of town, but for this piece and knowing her voice, I thought her voice would fit the solo really well. Why bring in an outside person when we have such great talent right here in the community?