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Encores and Curtain Calls

Pioneer Valley Chorus

Conductor Jonathan Harvey takes you to the movies April 14

Get out the popcorn — now that its orchestral brethren have had their fling, it’s time for the Pioneer Valley Symphony Chorus to go to the movies, too.

Well, come to think of it, better cancel the popcorn; the racket would obliterate more than a little of the luscious musical banquet that PVS chorus director Jonathan Harvey will be setting out for our eager ears on Sunday, April 14, at 3 p.m. at the Second Congregational Church, 16 Court Square, Greenfield.

And we wouldn’t want to overstress him, Harvey may be juggling just about as many musical plates as any young conductor can. Aside from overseeing the 65-member PVS Chorus, he’s also the choral director of the South Hadley Chorale, a community group with whom he presents both a major and a holiday concert each year, as well as pursuing a doctorate in choral conducting at the University of Connecticut five days a week, where he also directs yet another chamber ensemble, the Collegiate Singers, a group of 21 singers.

Unassuming and accessible, Harvey nevertheless harbors an old-world graciousness beneath his easygoing surface and manages to strike an engaging balance between outward poise and inner intensity, skills essential to bringing great art to birth for ordinary mortals in a user-friendly manner in the artistic climate of the 21st century.

For things are not as they were — musically or socially — a century ago, when the divide between popular culture and art was not nearly so gaping. The contemporary presenters of what has been called “art music” have been challenged to come up with new and much more dynamic approaches to engaging their public, of exciting the imagination and creating bridges and networks from “there to here,” as it were.

And what better point of mutual contact than the movies? Why, not even highest of highbrows doesn’t love a good movie, either openly or on the sly. Embedded in our group cultural DNA — right alongside the Beethoven 5ths and the Puccini show-stoppers — are songs like “Over the Rainbow” and “Moon River,” replete with all the rich childhood memories, comings of age and combinations that allow all our secret emotional locks to suddenly spring open.

And what better time than spring for such an opening?

But, let’s hear from Jon Harvey himself:

JM: The PVS chorus’ 65 is a pretty sizable singing group to manage, isn’t it?

JH: Pretty much, yes, but for a choral group that performs with a symphony orchestra, it would be great to have more singers; we’re always looking to have more singers in the Pioneer Valley Symphony Chorus, it could stand to be much bigger.

JM: So, if your baton were a magic wand, how many singers would you have?

JH: I’d love a hundred.

JM: Wow; do you have periodic community outreaches?

JH: Yes, we started this season what I’m going to turn into a tradition, which is starting every season with an open rehearsal in which we sing through a little bit of every concert we’re going to do through the season and anyone who wants to come can come. There are no placement hearings or anything for that first rehearsal. Just come, everybody, and see what we’re going to do. Actually, it was quite successful at the beginning of this season. We had between 16 and 20 new singers come and check it out and see what it’s all about, and most of them have stayed on through the entire season.

JM: Because I personally find it so lovely, if it’s done well, I’m imagining that most choral directors privately adore a cappella (unaccompanied) choral music above all. Do you feel that way?

JH: (laughs) That’s the certainly the repertoire that I enjoy singing the most myself, the small group a cappella singing. But, as far as conducting, I’m at a point in my young career that I will gleefully launch into pretty much anything anyone will let me conduct.

JM: And beyond these three groups, you’re dealing with your doctoral curriculum as well; what does that involve?

JH: I’m a teaching assistant for a conducting class for undergraduates. I’m also taking courses myself, a choral literature course looking at choral music forms through the ages. And, I’m taking a course on opera from Mozart to Britten, sort of a seminar looking at select operatic work talking about how opera changes, what the goals of opera are. That’s a very interesting class.

JM: Well, if I were in your shoes right now, I’d say I would pretty much like a kid with an ice cream cone ...

JH: Absolutely, yeah! (laughs)

JM: Can you speak a bit about what you’re doing for the upcoming program?

JH: It’s called, “Pioneer Valley Symphony Chorus Presents the Movies in Song,” in keeping with the symphony’s 75th season theme, which is “PVS at the Movies.” We’re doing two different sets of pieces which were either composed for films made famous by their inclusion in films.

JM: What would be an example of the latter?

JH: We’re doing the arrangement for choir of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which came to be titled “Agnus Dei.”

JM: Who used that, and in which film?

JH: It’s used in many films, “Platoon” is where it’s used most.

JM: As a choral piece?

JH: Not as a choral piece, no.

JM: Alright, that’s a guaranteed winner. What else?

JH: Then there is “The Bridal Chorus” from Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” which has been in every wedding movie that has ever been done ... And we’re doing a madrigal by British composer Thomas Morley, “Now is the Month of May” by Thomas Morley; and that was included in the movie, “Beaches.”

JM: Now did you select the program, or was it by committee?

JH: I did select the repertoire, yes.

JM: So you’re fond of this music, obviously.

JH: Absolutely. These are some of my favorites ... then, we’re doing a motet by Anton Bruckner entitled “Os Justi,” which was used in the film “Oscar and Lucinda,” a movie starring Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes, wherein she plays an Australian heiress and he plays an Anglican priest and they make a bet that he cannot transport a church made out of glass from England to Australia. And this motet is sort of used to depict the beauty and the fragility and the immensity of this idea of the glass church. It’s one of my favorite pieces — full stop, period — in the entire repertoire of any period of any kind. I think it’s an amazing piece.

JM: Can you cite any specific reasons, or is it purely an instinctual response?

JH: Mostly this section at the beginning that then repeats at the end, with this gorgeous chain of suspensions (delayed “comings-together” of non-chord notes into their “rightful” chordal places); it feels like it plucks your heart out and then you gather yourself together and it plucks your heart out again, this continuing sequence of ... amazing descending moments.

Also on the program: “Moon River” by Henry Mancini and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen and, a piece originally slated for an unproduced Disney film by Eric Whitacre, and Benjamin Britten’s non-cinematically inspired “Five Flower Songs,” written for the blooming of both springtime and love.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for seniors and students and $6 for children. www.pvso.org or call 413-773-3664. Tickets are also available at World Eye Bookshop, 156 Main St., Greenfield; Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main St., Northampton; Boswell’s Books, 10 Bridge St., Shelburne Falls; Amherst Books, 8 Main St., Amherst.

An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at
josephmarcello@verizon.net.

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