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Ariose Singers’ Winter Concert
A Celebration of the Human Spirit

By Catherine Pickerrell

Published in the Register-Pajaronian, 1/11/2007

The 16-member chamber choir, Ariose Singers, will present their winter concert on January 20th and 21st in the beautiful Pacific Gardens Chapel in Santa Cruz. Saturday’s performance will be at 8:00 PM, and Sunday’s at 3:00 PM. This will be their first full concert under the direction of Michael McGushin. The ensemble will perform pieces by classical composers, Mozart, Haydn, Rossini, and Schubert, in addition to works by Debussy and Britten. Also on the program are contemporary compositions by Barbara Kolb and Meredith Monk.

Michael McGushin comes to the directorship position with a fine local reputation as a skilled pianist, conductor and composer. His most recent accomplishments include serving as music director/conductor for Shakespeare Santa Cruz Winter Productions of “Sleeping Beauty,” “Princess and the Pea,” and “Cinderella” as well as for Cabrillo Stage productions of “Music Man” and “The Fantasticks.” He is a professor of music at Cabrillo College and works as music coach and accompanist for the UCSC Music Department.

McGushin was a member of “Ariose” since its inception in 2001, under the directorship of UCSC professor Leta Miller, who founded the group. He had also been Miller’s assistant director, and he was happy to step up and lead the group when she retired from the position last spring.

“Ariose” takes its name from an old English word, meaning “melodic,” and it just so happens that McGushin has chosen a composition written in Old English as the centerpiece for this concert. The work is entitled “Rejoice in the Lamb,” the words of which were penned by Christopher Smart, a devout English poet, who lived from 1722-1771, and did some of his finest writing while confined in a mental asylum. Smart was known for his vivid imagination, and childlike introspection into the everyday things of life. However, he began having symptoms of mental aberration before the age of 30, which later developed into religious mania. Smart’s poem, “Rejoice in the Lamb,” was set to music in the 20th century by English composer, Benjamin Britten (1913-1976).

In choosing the repertoire for this, his premiere performance as director of Ariose Singers, McGushin knew right away that he wanted to include this composition. “The first piece I decided upon was the Britten – a piece I dearly love and know very well,” he said. “Around this pillar of the program I tried to choose pieces that would complement and contrast in a variety of styles.”

The ensemble will also perform Debussy’s “Trois Chansons,” which is a set of three French songs, each different in both style and subject matter. “This set of gorgeous and rarely-performed ‘Chansons’ seemed perfectly suited to our forces and offered a level of virtuosity and subtlety that I think has been most rewarding for the group to work on,” said McGushin.

Choosing the remainder of this concert’s repertoire was not so easy for McGushin. “I did a lot of searching and gathering of pieces without anything specific in mind. Eventually this crystallized into the set of three classical pieces with which we will open the concert. Each piece is an absolute gem and was previously completely unknown to me.”

Another “gem” that McGushin uncovered in his search was Rossini’s “Toast Pour le Nouvel An,” which he described as “… such an ebullient and delightful ‘Toast to the New Year’ that it found its place as the closing piece – sort of a delicious sweet at the end of a meal.”

“I stumbled across the Barbara Kolb pieces in a music store while searching for music for another choir. I knew some of her instrumental music and was curious what her writing for choir would be like, so I purchased a copy ‘on a lark’, as it were. When I got home and played through them at the piano, I realized that I had happened upon a breathtakingly beautiful and well-crafted pair of pieces,” McGushin said. “I have never heard the ‘Virgo Mater Creatirx’ performed before – and feel certain that the set is a small masterpiece of contemporary choral literature.”

The program will also feature two recently published compositions by Meredith Monk, “Astronaut Anthem” and “Panda Chant II.” Ariose Singers recently had the opportunity to perform these two pieces at one of Phil Collins’ “New Music Works” concerts, to the delight of the audience. “I have long been a fan of Meredith Monk’s pioneering work in the realm of vocal music,” stated McGushin, who pulled the ‘Panda Chant II’ from Monk’s Sci-fi opera entitled “The Games.”

“The small size of ‘Ariose’ makes available to the group a tradition of virtuosic music for chamber chorus not often encountered in some of the larger-sized choruses in our area,” added McGushin. “It’s very exciting to work with this fine ensemble on the rich tradition of repertoire for chamber-sized chorus. I look forward to continuing the high standard the group has developed and the further exploration of both the well-established and lesser-known treasures of choral music.”

Both performances of this concert will be at Pacific Gardens Chapel, 1050 Cayuga St. (just off Soquel Ave.) in Santa Cruz. Tickets prices are: $13 general; $10 advance purchase, seniors, and Students. Advance Tickets may be purchased at Streetlight Records, 941 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. For more information call (831) 438-1450, or visit www.ArioseSingers.org .