by Daniel Hathaway
The “Christmas Truce” of 1914, the famous, spontaneous cessation of hostilities on the Western Front during “The Great War,” has inspired The Singers’ Club of Cleveland’s 2014 Christmas program, “A Season of Peace.”
On Saturday, December 13 at 7:30 at the Breen Center in Ohio City, Mel Unger will direct the 50 male singers who form the Singers’ Club in a program of music commemorating that event, when opposing troops left their foxholes to greet each other, bury their dead, exchange mementos, play games, and generally forget the horrors of war for a brief period of time.
In a phone conversation from his office at Baldwin Wallace where he is director of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute, Unger noted that the idea came from a committee member, but he had fun fleshing it out with musical ideas. “We’ll begin with a very imaginative arrangement of God rest ye merry, gentlemen by Mark Riese, then commingle English, German and French carols and other pieces that suggest the era, like Keep the home fires burning.
“We’ll also include After the War from the 2008 film, Passchendaele, which tells the story of the Battle of Passchendaele or the Third Battle of Ypres in Belgium, with mezzo-soprano Joanne Uniatowski as soloist. Also on the first half, we’ll sing a Chanukah Prayer by David Lantz and Ron Nelson’s Ring out wild bells, a setting of a Tennyson poem scored for four-hand piano and percussion.”
The second part of the program will feature the first-place winner of last year’s Mather Scholarship Contest, Matthew Reese, a countertenor who is currently completing his doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “Matthew will do a solo set, including at least one aria from Messiah, then join the choir for the middle movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms in the version for harp and percussion.”
Music by contemporary composers will fill out the rest of the concert, including John Rutter’s Prayer of St. Francis, Randall Johnson’s “jazzy” Festival Gloria, and Stephen Sametz’s Noël, a setting of a medieval carol “full of cross rhythms.” Sametz happens to be a colleague of Unger’s, both having studied at the Frankfurt Conservatory in Germany many years ago.
After some lighter fare including a Russian-inspired setting of The Sleigh, and a medley of secular holiday tunes, Unger and the singers will end quietly with the Austrian carol, Still, still, still, again with Matthew Reese as soloist.
Although Unger had never seriously conducted an all-male choir before being tapped for the Singers’ Club, he says he enjoys the difference between his chorus and a mixed group. “I like the timbre of the voices and I enjoy the camaraderie among the guys.” He thinks the chorus, founded in 1891 and one of Cleveland’s oldest musical organizations, has a bright future. “We tried something new this year. We held an open rehearsal and people invited their friends. We found some fine new singers that way, and the group is steadily improving in quality from year to year.”
In March, the Singers’ Club will join forces with the Duffy Liturgical Ensemble in a program devoted to Spirituals and Dance, and will collaborate with the Baldwin Wallace Musical Theater Department for a history of the American Musical in May.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com December 9, 2014.
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