Art never exists in a vacuum; it is intimately tied to the human context in which it is made and observed. Choral music only comes into existence through the voices of living, breathing, phonating human beings – in Ensemble Companio’s case, twenty-five highly skilled singers with twenty-five sets of life experiences who converge once a month somewhere in the Northeastern United States. Then there’s the composer, the poet, the listeners (hopefully you!), the location, the date…
Our collective context is a nation grappling with its conscience.
As we move through each day, we are all faced with a constant barrage of choices: between love and fear, compassion and greed, to welcome or to withhold. In order to comprehend our full potential for good, we must also acknowledge our ability to harm. We must wrestle with the difficult parts of our psyches, the ugly faults we prefer to ignore, our capacities for cruelty and indifference. If we recognize that in each moment lies a choice, then we become aware that our destinies emerge through the aggregate of our choices – destinies extending beyond us as individuals into the courses of families, communities, nations, our species, our planet. Ripples of responsibility, for better or for worse, bond our fates to one another.
What if we all chose to love?
Perhaps it’s not that simple…but what if we believed it could be? How would we change by committing to love – in all of its forms, however small – again and again?
Failed Saints explores what it means to be human in a time of inhumanity, probing our mortal imperfections, our shared divinity, and ultimately our power to co-create the world as we wish it existed. Featuring the world premiere of two selections from Sarah Rimkus’s eponymous Failed Saints (as well as several regional and state premieres), other musical highlights include Alberto Ginastera’s Lamentations of Jeremiah, Saunder Choi’s The New Colossus, and works by Melissa Dunphy, Sydney Guillaume, Mari Ésabel Valverde, and Carol Barnett, among others. This music traverses the darkest and brightest parts of human experience, holding space along the way for rage, grief, transformation, catharsis, and healing.
In keeping with our mission of “building bridges”, I am thrilled to tell you that we’ll be joined in concert by VOICES Boston on Sunday, April 28th. We first met with these fantastic young singers last November and were so inspired by their poise, passion, and musical sophistication. I hope you’ll be able to join us; even if you’re outside the Boston area, it will assuredly be worth the journey.
If Boston is a little too far from home, I look forward to seeing you in New York (March 30th), Rhode Island (April 27th), or Philadelphia (May 11th) for this unique and powerful program.
With great love,
On this shortest day of the year, it is with great joy that I write to you for the first time – and about the season’s music, no less!
Reflecting on repertoire over this past summer, themes of reincarnation kept insistently rising to the surface. This year clearly marks a new beginning for both Ensemble Companio and myself, but the excitement of fresh opportunities comes too with the acknowledgment that we are creating music together in volatile times. We may not know what the future holds, but we will (in all likelihood) still share the same earth.
As a Pacific Northwesterner, the natural world has always been a source of awe and inspiration to me. Wandering in the old growth rain forests I used to call home, one cannot help but be amazed at the beautiful intricacy of Life, each being governed by their own individual cycles but somehow also co-creating the great, green harmony of the woods. The ancient and the new feed each other. There is both overwhelming energy and profound stillness. St. Hildegard of Bingen, the medieval mystic whose antiphon O Frondens Virga opens the second half of the program, describes this permeating life-essence as “viriditas”, or living greenness. Sitting near one of the many lakes close to my current home in Minneapolis, I was struck by the sameness of water, light, soil, and grasses – “viriditas” itself – across the thousands of miles now separating me from those dense forests; an apt metaphor for Ensemble Companio’s unusual rehearsal structure perhaps, but also the thread on which to pull for our first season together.
The Greening explores the parallels between human experience and the cycles of the natural world – through darkness into light, through winter into spring, through loss into renewal.
A blurring of opposites – old and new, sacred and secular, universal and highly personal – runs throughout the program; listeners will hear Josquin des Prez’s seamlessly cyclical Salve Regina alongside Edie Hill’s translucent We Bloomed in Spring, Tomás Luis de Victoria’s beloved O Vos Omnes alongside recent works by Jussi Chydenius and Don Macdonald, and Dale Trumbore’s Spiritus Mundi, a luminous setting of a text by contemporary poet Amy Fleury inspired by Renaissance composer Orlando de Lassus, among other gems. One particular under-performed jewel in this year’s repertoire is Abbie Betinis’ God of Owls, which sets an anonymous poet’s prayer that we may be prevented “from being blind to what we’re afraid to see” atop a thorny bramble of low voices and haunting bird calls. The course of the program meanders through awe, sadness, and mystery to hope and healing, meditating on the myriad ways we ourselves are reflected in nature throughout the journey.
Mark your calendars for The Greening:
March 24-25 – New York
April 28-29 – DC
May 12-13 – Connecticut shore
More specific information about locations, venues, etc. will be available in the new year, so be sure to keep an eye out for another note from us! As always, you are more than welcome to join us for one of our rehearsal weekends; email us at email@example.com and we’ll provide you with more details about when we’ll be in your area.
Though today’s solstice marks the first official day of winter (which is certainly evident here in Minnesota!), it also marks the beginning of the sun’s gradual return. May you find peace and joy in each day’s growing light, and I hope to see you in a few short months for The Greening!
All my best,
Ensemble Companio is sailing into its fifth season with the wind at its back.
There is much that is as true of Ensemble Companio now as it was five years ago. We remain wholly committed to and guided by our mission of building bridges between people through authentic, inspiring performances of the finest choral music. We still travel from all over the northeast United States to make music together one weekend per month. We still fuel all of our hard work with delicious muffins baked by soprano section leader Elena Gregorio.
Yet much has changed since we embarked on our first season five years ago. We’ve grown from comprising twenty-one singers in our inaugural season to a group of twenty-seven as we start our fifth. We have hired our first-ever assistant conductor, Michael Weinberg. Thanks to our first annual — and very successful — Drive To Sing fundraising campaign spearheaded by Development Chair and alto Megan Lemley, we have been able to institute what we’re calling a Member Experience Fund, designed to help defray our musicians’ travel and logistical expenses associated with membership in Ensemble Companio. And before the present season began, our officers plotted all sorts of exciting opportunities and goals for the group that would have been all but unthinkable five years ago.
When I meditate on how far we have come in five years, and then think about where the group is bound, I’m overcome with a sense of almost limitless possibility. I also feel deep gratitude toward all the supporters, venues, volunteers, and singers and officers past and present who helped us not merely to stay afloat but to make waves while connecting with hundreds of listeners over the last half decade. We have taught ourselves a great deal while navigating uncharted waters, but we have also benefited greatly from the advice of artistic directors, officers, board members, and singers from more established ensembles — for all of which I am likewise thankful.
Our listeners this season will soon be getting some counsel of their own — in musical form. Warnings, Wisdom, and Wit grew from an idea I had a few years ago to put together a program of works through which composers and/or writers of text give caution, dispense moral advice, or make pithy observations about society and life. Listeners will hear an ancient monodic French song called “L’homme armé” (“The armed man”) warning the listener about one bearing arms, and a movement from a Mass by French Renaissance composer Guillaume Dufay that weaves this monophonic song into the fabric of his polyphonic composition. There will be other sacred works by nineteenth-century German composer Anton Bruckner and late-nineteenth-/early-twentieth-century English composer Charles Villiers Stanford as well. We’ll also perform a piece by contemporary Pennsylvania-based composer Kala Pierson on a Shakespeare text about love; arrangements of folk music from Colombia, England, Ireland, and Mexico; shape-note music from The Sacred Harp; an arrangement of a poignant warning from French singer-songwriter Francis Cabrel about the effect technology can have on communication and memory; and more. Each work on the program is in part or in whole an exhortation or a lesson, be it serious or silly, about how we might best chart a course through life.
I hope that your course will include a stop at one of our concerts this spring. If you can’t make it to a concert, e-mail us about dropping by one of our rehearsals, which are held throughout the northeast United States and which are always open. We look forward to sharing Warnings, Wisdom, and Wit with you!
(And if you’re wondering whence comes all the nautical talk: Though I’ve always thought that a ship is an excellent metaphor for a musical ensemble, I think it owes more at the moment to the fact that this season our tenors and basses will be singing Alice Parker and Robert Shaw’s arrangement of sea chanty What shall we do with the drunken sailor — and that I simply cannot get the tune out of my head!)