Da Camera Singers reception

Date: May 30, 2015
Location: The Emily Dickinson Museum
280 Main Street, Amherst
Time: 6:30 pm
Admission: $10, $5 for Museum members

The Da Camera Singers posing after a concert

Da Camera Singers

Death gets deep, lyrical and energetic treatment in the choral settings by composer Alice Parker of seven poems by Emily Dickinson, which will have their world premiere in performances May 29-31 by Da Camera Singers.

Performances are Friday, May 29 at 8 pm at the Federated Church of Charlemont; Saturday, May 30 at 8 pm at the First Congregational Church of Amherst; and Sunday, May 31 at 3 pm at Helen Hills Hills Chapel on Elm Street on the Smith College campus.

The Amherst concert will be preceded by a reception at the Emily Dickinson Museum, across the street from the First Congregational Church. Alice Parker will be in attendance, and the reception will feature light beverages, fruits and sweets, a house tour and readings of the poems which Parker has selected. Admission is $10, and $5 for Museum members.

Find out more about the concerts here. For further information about the concert, contact Judson Brown at s-jbrown[at]crocker.com at 413-584-1948 or 202-957-7221 (cell). For information about the reception at the Emily Dickinson Museum Homestead, call 413-542-2034 or email edmprograms[at]EmilyDickinsonMuseum.org.

On the subject of death, Emily Dickinson had a wide and variegated palette, and Parker, 89, has the notes to match in settings for choir a capella and cello accompaniment. Parker’s song cycle “Heavenly Hurt” was commissioned by the chorus, the sixth such commission of new work by western Massachusetts composers which the chorus, now in its fifth decade, has awarded in as many years.

Parker’s work is the centerpiece of a concert, “Women’s Voices Through the Ages,” that will feature work by women composers dating back to the 9th century.The other women composers on the program include Kassia, a Byzantine abbess, whose vigorous and haunting Byzantine chants, sung in Greek, were composed in the 9th century. With the possible exception of early 20th century Romantic American composer Amy Beach , the others composers –Lili Boulanger (early 20th century French prodigy and younger sister of Nadia, who died at 25), Isabella Leonarde (17th century Ursuline nun), Maddalena Casulana (16th century composer and lutenist), Caterina Assandra (early 17th century Benedictine nun and organist) – have rarely seen the light of day in contemporary performance.

Parker –choral director, teacher, song leader in the old New England Harmony style, but chiefly a composer— is a legend in musical circles in the Valley and the holder of the Smith College Medal from her alma mater, class of 1947. “Heavenly Hurt” is not by any means her first cycle based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, but according to Da Camera’s Musical Director (and the director of music at the Northfield Mount Hermon School) Sheila Heffernon, it is perhaps the most subtle and beautiful of her settings.

In “Heavenly Hurt”, one is taken from the gentle reflective lilt in Parker’s treatment of “There is a certain slant of light,” to the dancing cadence in the wistful and ironic “The Bustle in a House (the morning after)”, to the galloping rhythm in “Under the light yet under,” to a stately hymn-like, chorale which becomes the vehicle for the faith-filled “Behind me Dips Eternity.” The meditative and mournful “Shade upon the Mind” is, according to Heffernon, the most beautiful Parker has written and could only have been composed by someone well acquainted with grief.

The sequence reaches a still point with “There is a pain – so utter,” a stark, a capella offering with an extended deep drone in the bass, and then waltzes to a brilliant and energetic finale in a canon where sorrow is left behind in an exuberant evocation of the sheer musicality in Dickinson’s joyous frolicking with words for the pure delight of their sound, including the last word in the cycle, a whispered “Paradise. “

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