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In troubled times, Schenectady's Octavo Singers turn to ‘Peace Pieces’

In troubled times, Schenectady's Octavo Singers turn to ‘Peace Pieces’

Will be in concert this Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Church
In troubled times, Schenectady's Octavo Singers turn to ‘Peace Pieces’
The Octavo Singers are shown in a 2016 performance at St. George's Episcopal Church in Clifton Park.
Photographer: courtesy octavosingers.org

Curtis Funk, artistic director for the Octavo Singers, didn’t have to look far to decide what his chorus would sing for its concert this Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Church.

“World events inspired me,” Funk said. “The concert’s theme is ‘Peace Pieces.’ ”

He chose two works, both of which were written during troubled times: Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’ “The Armed Man” (1999), dedicated to victims of the yearlong Kosovo conflict that ended in 1999; and Joseph Haydn’s “Mass in Time of War” (1796), when Napoleon’s armies were continuously routing the Austrian armies in Italy and Germany, and later occupied Vienna as late as 1809. 

Both works are new for the 100-voice choir.

There are four soloists: soprano Kelly Hutchinson; alto Ann Marie Adamick; tenor Alex Turpin; and bass Rich Mazzaferro; and there is a 19-piece orchestra.

Although both use the standard movements of a Mass, Jenkins’ work is a Mass in name only.

“He uses the Kyrie and Sanctus but also uses tons of texts by Rudyard Kipling, a Tennyson poem, text from Revelations,” Funk said. “It’s all very diverse. He also switches movements to keep the flow better.”

Some of the challenges include dealing with that variety of styles.

“Cadences are not traditional in that they resolve differently. There are repetitive harmonies. The range is not so high, but his leaps between notes are wide; and there’s some 20th-century atonality with tone clusters meant to reflect gunfire,” Funk said. “The moods go from energized to morose. It seems his goal was to say that war is not a good thing.”

The chorus will sing in Latin, English and French, and the soprano will act as the muezzin, who calls Muslims to prayer. There are also several solo cello lines that are incredibly evocative.

To expand on that focus, cellist Jameson Platte will solo in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major, which comes with several cadenzas.

The Haydn Mass, however, sticks to the regular Mass movements and will be sung in Latin. To add color, he uses timpani, often in odd places, Funk said.

“They’re to represent distant cannon fire,” he said.

But Haydn challenges his voices, especially the sopranos, who must sing more often in the “stratosphere.”

Tempos, too, are particularly brisk.

“We had to develop that speed over several rehearsal times,” Funk said. “We started in the fall, then had to break to work on the ‘Messiah,’ and then come back to the Haydn.”

On a more local level, singing at St. John the Evangelist Church can be daunting.

“Balances would be a challenge even for a professional chorus,” Funk said. 

Because of the architectural design, acoustics favor a large chorus in which the voices, especially sopranos and basses, easily project up to the balcony. But most audience members will sit downstairs in the lower section, close to the chorus.

“So the altos and tenors have to breathe deeply to support the tone, and work a bit harder to project,” he said. “Blending will be a big deal."

Octavo Singers

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: St. John the Evangelist Church, 806 Union St.
HOW MUCH: $25-$15; free for ages 10 and under
MORE INFO: 518-253-7088; www.octavosingers.org

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