By Colin Roshak
The summer heat has come and gone, our brief Alaskan fall has all but ended and the concert season is in full swing. The Alaska Chamber Singers are soon to join in and present their first concert of the season this weekend with Gloria!
Conductor and Artistic Director David Hagen is now in his 25th season with the ensemble, and has developed the group into one of the premiere performing ensembles in Alaska. As is typical for ACS seasons, this year Hagen has decided to focus on larger choral works and is excited to revive two large works that the Chamber Singers last performed in the 90s, when Hagen was still playing trumpet in the orchestra.
“When we do this really masterful music, it’s more satisfying for everyone,” said Hagen. In Gloria!, Hagen and the Chamber Singers explore two major choral works; Arthur Honegger’s Le Roi David and Francis Poulenc’s Gloria. Le Roi David features a smaller ensemble of mostly percussion and winds, and narrator. The piece is in 27 short, vignette movements that vary in length and character, and take the listener through the biblical story of King David.
The concerts namesake comes from the hymn “Gloria in excelsis deo,” which has been the subject of many settings throughout classical music history. Vivaldi and Handel both took a turn with the text, as did the great French composer Francis Poulenc. Poulenc is somewhat of an enigmatic and divisive figure in the classical canon. He walks a fine line between simple elegance, thick romantic expression and buoyant quirkiness. Poulenc’s music has a propensity for dramatic, sometimes inelegant, shifts in character and Gloria encapsulates all of the oddities and genius that make Pouelnc’s music so unique.
Poulenc’s Gloria is in six movements, each one completely different from the last. Poulenc uses the orchestra and choir to full effect, and demands the absolute extremes of expression. In a moment, the choir will go from shouting, with pounding drums and driving rhythms to a mere whisper of sound draped in a cloud of high strings. Poulenc’s writing is fresh and engaging with a sense of forward momentum that’s amplified by Poulenc’s colorful orchestration and characterful use of rhythmic structure.
Poulenc’s music is rarely overindulgent. Like a perfectly paced meal, he gives you small, memorable bites and leaves you with just enough room to be looking forward to the next. The Poulenc is paired with Honegger’s Le Roi David and Handel’s The King Shall Rejoice, and will prove to be an exciting start to their 2019/20 season.
The Alaska Chamber Singers present Gloria! this coming weekend at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral Friday and Saturday night at 8pm. Tickets are available at CenterTix.com.