I Cantori di Carmel at the Mission

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Music Director Cyril Deaconoff

As the second conductor to continue I Cantori di Carmel since Sal Farentelli’s retirement, Cyril Deaconoff provided choral delights of the season as well as a West Coast premiere of his own composition. Ringing through the Carmel Mission Basilica the forty plus singers of this long standing local chorus opened from the back of the Mission with “Serenisima une Noche” by 17thcentury composer Fray Geronimo Gonzalez. The gentleness of “a most serene night” carried beautifully, and then as the chorus processed to the risers, the style changed into a joyful dance section. Enduring favorites of the season followed starting with the highly rhythmic setting of “Here We Come A-caroling” as arranged by Josh Sparkman. A decidedly different arrangement by Dan Forrest of the 1868 carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Lewis Redner featured soprano sax, violin and piano. The plaintive and haunting saxophone melody deftly wove in and out of the choral strains evoking a scene of long ago. Another favorite of choral groups in this season is the lively “Riu, Riu, Chiu” given a leisurely pace to really appreciate the warning call of the kingfisher to help protect the Virgin and Child. Another season favorite, Thomas Morley’s “Lirum, Lirum” continued the idea of seeking the Christ Child. The title refers to the imitative sound of a lute.

These wonderful choral pieces were the best introduction to the ten “Carols and Lullabies” of Conrad Susa that rounded out the first half of the evening’s program. Harp, guitar, and marimba set the accompaniment tone for these Spanish Carols. As the chorus sounded their love for this work, there were many featured singers among these exquisite carols. Daniel Cortez and David Canright carried the third carol, “Allegria.” Tenors Robert Ramon and Justin Huang, along with basses Seth Bates and Steven Moore were nicely featured in the fifth, “Las Posadas.” In the seventh, “En Belen Tocan A Fuego,” a trio comprised of Kathryn Smith, Astrid Holberg, and Justin Huang did the honors with great clarity. The ever-gentle eighth, “El Noi de la Mare,” beautifully featured Jody Lee along with Gayle Smith, Robert Ramon and Seth Bates. Special kudos to Harpist Pamela Scholtz who carried the bulk of the accompaniment throughout the carols – especially with flying fingers on the introduction to the second carol, “El Desembre Congelat.” Guitarist Robert McNamara and Laura McShane, percussion, also floated in and out of several of the carols. If this is not a familiar work to you, do yourself a favor and find a recording. It vies with Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” as a choral favorite. Composed in 1992, it was actually conceived as a companion piece to the Britten.

After the intermission, the entire second half was filled with the west coast premiere of Deaconoff’s “Canticles of Love, Despair and Hope.” This cantata has four movements with combined poetry of 19thcentury Emily Dickinson, and 16thcentury mystic, San Juan de la Cruz. Texts explore themes of sacred and profane perspectives of expressing emotions of love, despair and hope. Utilizing a full string orchestra with David Dally as concertmaster with winds, organ and piano, harp and percussion, truly all the stops were pulled out along with bells and whistles. Crashing shrill dissonance introduced the opening movement of Dickinson poetry, “One Joy of so much anguish.” Gentler strings supported the chorus entrance.  Soprano Katherine Edison shone as the bride in the second movement, “Canciones entre el Alma y el Esposo” (songs between the soul and the bridegroom.) Maintaining clarity with the high tessitura against the dissonant accompaniment showed her obvious vocal strength and musicianship. Joining in as the bridegroom, baritone Reg Huston effortlessly displayed his strength. Together Edison and Huston are a hard combination to beat. The third movement, Dickinson’s “No ladder needs the bird but the skies” was set to a very angular accompaniment as a scherzo. Edison and Huston alternated with the chorus on the fourth movement. “Gloria.” This last movement attempts the resolution to the conflict between the sacred and profane.

This program was certainly one of many contrasts. While the first half provided a soothing balm to the music soul of familiar choral sounds for the season, the second half was a reminder of the continued anguish and duality of inner as well as outer struggles.

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