In May, Voci Women`s Vocal Ensemble celebrated the Hungarian vocal tradition in Songs of Heavenly and Earthly Love, its spring season concert series. Directed by internationally-known guest conductor Judit Hartyanyi, the concerts showcased the rich and varied Hungarian choral repertoire and method that have long been an inspiration for the world`s choral community. Mrs. Hartyanyi led Voci in works by well-known Hungarian masters Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, as well as distinguished Hungarian contemporary composers Erzsebet Szonyi, Miklos Kocsar, Gyorgy Orban and Andras Feher. Voci presented the world premiere of Feher`s stunning new work, LXXV. Favorites by Brahms, Faure, Elgar, Goetze, and others rounded out the program.
As the title suggests, Songs of Heavenly and Earthly Love juxtaposed and illuminated the differences between sacred and profane love. Among the pieces evoking sacred love were three strikingly different settings of the Ave Maria: a stunning Gregorian chant; a romantic rendition by Johannes Brahms; and a sublime 20th century version by Zoltan Kodaly. The Virgin Mary was further revered in Maria Mater Gratiae by Gabriel Faure, the greatest master of French song, and in Tota Pulchra Es Maria, Maurice Durufle`s well-known gem based on plainsong melody. Mary was also evoked by Hungarian composers in the radiant O Gloriosa by Gyorgy Orban and in the exquisite Salve Regina by Miklos Kocsar. Mary Goetze rejoiced in the love of God in her inspiring arrangement of the American folk song, Hold the Wind.
By contrast, earthly love was passionately explored through folk songs and works by contemporary and romantic classical composers. Voci presented the world premiere of LXXV, a dramatic six-part a cappella setting of the Shakespearean love sonnet, by Hungarian composer Andras Feher. The concert also featured the second and third songs from Johannes Brahms` beloved masterpiece, Vier Gesange (Four Songs), which contrasted the eternal nature of true love with the mortality of the flesh. Two richly emotional works by English Romantic composer Edward Elgar balanced love lost (My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land) and joyous love (The Dance), and the joy expressed between lovers was explored through two settings of the biblical Song of Solomon -- the stunning and richly textured work, Canticum Sponsae, by contemporary Hungarian composer Erzsebet Szonyi, and in Rise Up, My Love, by contemporary Canadian composer, Eleanor Daley. The haunting ballad, Queen Jane, by fellow Canadian composer Stephen Hatfield, told the sad story of King Henry`s loss of his beloved queen. Bartok offered us two fabulous short works based on traditional Hungarian folk music: Ne Menj El! (Don`t Leave Me!), a treasured, sorrowful song of love and loss, and the contrasting Tavasz (Spring), which celebrates the renewal of nature and the human spirit in spring, the season of love. The concert ended with the strikingly strange and rousing Weinemoinen by Kodaly, drawn from a Finnish epic poem describing the origins of nature.
Voci`s May 19 & 20 concerts were dedicated to the memory of Sandra Bernero-Pastermack, friend and Voci member, who passed away suddenly in April.
More about the Hungarian choral tradition: The Hungarian philosophy of music education, inspired by Zoltan Kodaly, views singing as the foundation of musical development. Music is seen as important to the intellectual, emotional, physical and social development of every individual. It is from this tradition, which naturally develops strong choral programs, that Judit Hartyanyi brings her special skill and exquisite selection of deep and varied repertoire. Judit is an Associate Professor of Choral Conducting and Music Education and Director of the Women`s Chorus at the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary. She was Voci`s guest conductor this spring, while artistic director Jude Navari, was on sabbatical.
To read more about Judit, click here.
In addition to working with Voci, Judit Hartyanyi is also visiting faculty at the Kodaly Center at Holy Names University in Oakland - internationally recognized as one of the major centers for Kodaly music education in North America. Judit`s visit, as well as many vocal performances she is leading this spring, are part of a larger world-wide celebration of the 125th anniversary of Kodaly`s birth, and the 40th anniversary of his death.
For more information about Zoltan Kodaly and the Kodaly Center at Holy Names University, including summer institutes and the graduate music program, click here.
Andras Feher, composer of LXXV, was born in Budapest in 1947 to musician parents. His father was a leading tenor in Budapest and Berlin and a distinguished guest performer in other European opera houses. Feher graduated from the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest in 1971 with a diploma in choral conducting, music education and composition. Since 1971, he has been a stage director in the Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest. He is also an acting instructor for the solo singing and opera department at the Liszt Academy. His compositions include works for chamber ensemble, symphony, theater, chorus and opera. He has received commissions from choral festivals and theatres and has directed operas by Mozart, Verdi, Puccini and Britten in Hungary, Austria, Germany and Italy.