Magnificent music inspires Manchester Chorale’s holiday season concert

By Karen Greer
Special to the Journal Inquirer
December 4, 2008

MANCHESTER — Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale celebrates the holiday season on Saturday, Dec. 6, with “Magnificats Revisited,” a concert by the Manchester Chorale conducted by its music director, Kevin L. Mack.

The concert will be performed at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 41 Park St., at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students 18 years of age or older, and free for those under 18.

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Manchester Chorale member Victor Agosto describes the Magnificat as “the song of the Virgin Mary to God, a song of praise to the Almighty as well as the feeling of thanks for being selected to be the mother of the Son of God.”

The Magnificat speaks of joy and of humility, of “scattering the proud in the imagination of their hearts”, and of “filling the hungry with good things.” People of all faiths and in any era find both grandeur and comfort in its poetry, and this beloved Latin text has attracted composers for centuries.

The Chorale will perform three different settings of the Magnificat. Two are from the Baroque era, one attributed to the 17th-century German composer Dietrich Buxtehude, and one by Antonio Vivaldi. The third setting is by the well-known contemporary composer John Rutter, whose musical influences for this work range from medieval plainchant to Broadway musicals.

The exuberant opening of Rutter’s Magnificat was inspired by the religious street festivals and processions of Spain and Latin America. Agosto, a native of Puerto Rico, recalls those celebrations.

“My family members, including my mother, we all sang in church choirs back in Puerto Rico “, he says. “We also, including friends, sang songs and carols from house to house during Christmas, especially on Jan. 6 (Three Kings Day or Epiphany), a big production remembering the arrival of the three kings to the manger.”

Following the example of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous setting of the Magnificat, Rutter added additional texts to reflect aspects of special significance to the composer or the audience. These include one of the oldest known poems in English, “Of a Rose, a lovely Rose.”

“It is actually a commentary,” Agosto says of the poem, in which the five parts of the blossom, represent five virtues of the allegorical Rose.

Rutter created full and reduced orchestral versions of his Magnificat and considers both to be equally expressive of his musical interpretation. The dramatic contrasts of the work make it effective in an even more intimate setting, as in this concert, where the Chorale will perform with piano accompaniment.

Donald Funk, the Chorale’s accompanist and organist at Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford, will provide the piano accompaniment, as well as the organ accompaniment for the two other works on the program.

“I hope the audience will be able to hear and appreciate the differences and similarities of the vocal aspects of these pieces better than they would if we were singing with the orchestra,” MSOC President Linda Cromwell says.