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Cantata Singers Pay Tribute to Vaughan Williams

CFA’s Hoose conducts season of concerts


David Hoose, a CFA professor and director of orchestral activities, has directed Cantata Singers for 28 years. Photo by Michael J. Lutch. Photo below by Elizabeth Hannah

Ralph Vaughan Williams believed that music was not only entertainment, but also necessary for a person’s spiritual and physical health. Budding musician David Hoose discovered the British composer, who was born in 1872, when he was a high school student. Now a College of Fine Arts professor of music and director of orchestral activities, Hoose recalls being “just entranced” by the composer’s overture to The Wasps after hearing it performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Tonight, Hoose conducts Boston’s Cantata Singers at the New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall as part of a series paying tribute to the evocative, lesser-known choral works of Vaughan Williams, who composed until the very end of his life, in 1958. 

Over the course of three Jordan Hall performances (tonight, tomorrow, and Friday, January 14), the singers will perform the Vaughan Williams works Flos Campi; Concerto in A minor for Oboe and Strings, with soloist Peggy Pearson, oboe; Riders to the Sea, a semistaged one-act opera; Loch Lomond; and Three Shakespeare Songs. The final concert of the series is May 13, 2011, at First Church Cambridge.

In an essay titled “Getting to Know RVW,” Hoose writes, “It is his unexpected music that I think is essential, its full heart sung through those miraculous sonorities, from gleaming sunshine to the brooding fog, with noises of wasps along the way.”

Now in its 47th season, the last 28 under the direction of Hoose, Cantata Singers has evolved from a chorus and ensemble devoted almost exclusively to the choral works of J. S. Bach to one embracing an innovative repertoire. The group was recognized a few years ago with an ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music.

Cantata Singers still maintains its devotion to Bach, while commissioning major choral and orchestral works by such composers as John Harbison, a BU lecturer, James Primosch, T. J. Anderson, Andy Vores, Andrew Imbrie, and Lior Navok. Tonight, in addition to Vaughan Williams’ Concerto in A minor for Oboe and Strings, the program includes Imbrie’s On the Beach at Night, Irving Fine’s The Choral New Yorker, orchestrated by Hoose, and the world premiere of Yehudi Wyner’s Give Thanks for All Things, commissioned by Cantata Singers.

With a fluid membership of about 70 singers, 40 to 45 of whom perform at each concert, Cantata Singers has been an important showcase for gifted BU alumni and graduate students, both vocalists and instrumentalists. “The group has great relationships with alumni and current students,” says Hoose. For this concert, 13 chorus members are either BU students, alumni, or faculty.

In his 22nd year as CFA director of orchestral activities, the energetic, dynamic Hoose is also music director of Collage New Music, a nonprofit whose mission is to commission, perform, and record contemporary classical music. Its recording of Harbison’s Mottetti di Montale was nominated in 2005 for a Grammy for Best Performance by a Small Ensemble. In 2008, Hoose, who works with the Young Artists Orchestra at BU’s Tanglewood Institute and is a guest conductor around the country, was awarded the Alfred Nash Patterson Lifetime Achievement Award from Choral Arts New England.

Although diverted from Vaughan Williams’ music for many years after first encountering The Wasps, Hoose rediscovered the composer. “I was totally awestruck by him when I was 12 or 13, but when I went off to music school, there wasn’t going to be Vaughan Williams there,” he says. His teacher had been a student of pioneering German composer Arnold Schoenberg, and Vaughan Williams wasn’t in Schoenberg’s dramatic camp. “Vaughan Williams was seen as backward, so he kind of disappeared for me, but some time later, when I got out of school, I began listening to him again, and it was the same feeling I felt when I was 12,” says Hoose. “This was not backward music; this was fresh.”

When the Cantata Singers were debating which composer to focus on this year, Hoose initially dismissed the notion of highlighting Vaughan Williams, because the composer is known for his nine symphonies rather than his choral works. “But then I realized it was a fantastic option,” he says, “because his choral writing, small and large, was so original and so beautifully written, pieces like his Shakespeare songs would be focal points for everything else that was in that concert.”

Hoose points out that the Vaughan Williams program is in keeping with the Cantata Singers’ allegiance to Bach. For Vaughan Williams, Bach was “the supreme composer,” he says. “He loved the B minor Mass and conducted St. Matthew Passion 23 times, the last time a month and a half before he died.” Over the years, no matter what the singers have done, Bach “has remained the touchstone, the musical heart,” says Hoose, calling Bach “the most profound musical thinker this world has ever witnessed, and as well, somebody whose music was not just entertaining, but probed the human condition.” Bach, he adds, “has always stood there at our shoulder, kind of guiding us.”

The Cantata Singers concerts at NEC’s Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough St., Boston, begin at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $17 to $52. Get more information or purchase tickets here.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

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