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The Northern Adirondack Vocal Ensemble (NAVE) will give two performances of a Festival of Lessons and Carols; Anthems, carols, and hymns illuminate the Christmas story along with community readers and congregational singing in the beloved tradition of King's College, Cambridge:
-Saturday December 26th at 7:30 p.m. at St. Peter's Church in Plattsburgh
-Sunday, December 27th at 4:00 p.m. at St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid
NAVE, under the musical direction of Andrew M. Benware, is a mixed chamber choir of professional and amateur singers that performs choral music from a variety of periods and styles with harmonies of four to eight parts.
NAVE's membership is truly indicative of its nomenclature, “Northern Adirondack,” being comprised of membership from points in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin counties. Distinct from other choral groups in our region, NAVE is essentially an a cappella chamber choir focusing on the rich and historical repertoire composed specifically for chamber choir unaccompanied by instruments.
NAVE's Festival of Lessons and Carols follows the traditional model of those performed annually on Christmas Eve (since 1928) at King's College Chapel in Cambridge, England. The customary format is built around nine short Bible readings from the Old and New Testaments that trace the story of the fall of humanity and the promise of a Messiah to the birth of Jesus. Anthems, carols, and hymns are liberally interspersed throughout to musically illuminate the narrative.
In this, NAVE’s fifth Lessons and Carols performance, the ensemble will again vary the musical palette from previous performances while maintaining several congregational hymns and beloved anthems. Early music will retain a featured role with two works dating from the 16th Century: the festive anonymous Spanish carol “Riu, Riu, Chiu" and the powerfully understated motet "O Magnum Mysterium" ("O Great Mystery"), by the English Renaissance composer William Byrd. While often overshadowed by the more popular setting of this sacred text by Victoria, Byrd's treatment is no less stunning in its use of imitative entrances and sonorous undulations passed among the vocal parts. Another noteworthy piece from the distant past is a 17th Century chorale setting of the Paul Gerhardt text "All My Heart This Night Rejoices" by German composer Johann Gerog Ebeling.
More modern and complex harmonies greet the listener in a setting of the traditional Hungarian "Christmas Carol" by noted composer and enthomusicologist Zoltán Kodály. The parallel major triads that open this festive anthem seem jarring to our ears and almost assume an air of bitonality. Each of the six text stanzas is uniquely set, pairing different voice parts at the octave, splitting into multiple divisi, and introducting interesting countermelodies, all the while frequently changing meter between duple and triple challenging the listeners and performers alike.
Certainly the hallmark of this year's program will be an extended work by 20th Century British compser Gerald Finzi. "Magnificat" employs the canticle text attributed to the Virgin Mary upon the Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. The work was originally comissioned by Smith College in Northampton, Massachusettes, and features a great variety of styles and text painting. The choir begins with a regal entrance proclaiming "my soul doth magnify the lord," before turning quickly on its heel to joyfully attach "and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." So it is with this piece that almost each line of text greets the listener with new musical material, often featuring one section in soli before switching to thick eight-part texture. Text painting abounds in a “musical battle” delivering the phrase "He hath shewed strength with his arm" and the low tone clusters of rejection which declare "and the rich he hath sent empty away." The work will feature organist Ralph Hastings who hails from Malone, who will also accompany the congregational hymns.
In an homage to the recent passing of noted English composer and arranger Sir David Willcocks, this program will include many traditional, yet infrequently heard English carols of his arranging. Among them are "The Lord at First did Adam Make," which relates the story of Adam’s fall from grace, "Blessed Be that Maid Mary," "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day," and an arrangement of the Old Basque Noel: "The Infant King."
Of special note will be the lush and sweeping harmonies of "The Shepherds' Farewell" by French Romanitc composer Hector Berlioz. The work comes from his oratorio, L'Enfance du Christ, that tells the story of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt after the birth of Christ. Originally written as an organ piece, Berlioz soon reworked the melody into a chorale in which the lowly shepherds bid farewell to Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus as they depart for Egypt to escape Herod's slaughter of the innocents. In this setting, three verses featuring palatable chromaticisms paint a beautiful portrait of sincere innocence, hope, and devotion.
Community members will read the texts, which include passages from Genesis, Isaiah, and the Gospels, as well as a contemporary poem, "Annunciation," by Denise Levertov. The audience is invited to join with the choir in congregational singing. These familiar Advent and Christmas hymns include "Once in Royal David’s City," "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus," "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," "Silent Night," "Hark the Herald-Angels Sing," "As With Gladness Men of Old," and "O Come, All Ye Faithful."
Admission is a suggested donation of $10. For more information please find us on Facebook or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the conductor
Andrew M. Benware is currently the Director of Choral Activities at Saranac Lake High School, where he conducts the Festival Chorus, Concert Choir, Men's Ensemble, Women's Ensemble, and teaches small group vocal instruction. He also serves as the Music Director for the annual musical theater production and maintains a small private piano and vocal studio.
Additionally, Benware has served as Lecturer in the field of Music Education at the Ithaca College School of Music in Ithaca, where he taught summer graduate courses in Band Methods as well as conducting the Summer Graduate Choir and Band. He previously held full-term employment as Assistant Professor of Music Education at the College, instructing wind instrument pedagogy, instrumental conducting, and secondary instrument methods. Additionally, he has supervised student teachers, conducted the Brass Choir and served as a sabbatical leave replacement as conductor of the Concert Band. He also served as accompanist and guest conductor for the Campus Chorale and accompanist and collaborative instructor for the Musical Theater Workshop.
Benware has been a member of the inaugural and subsequent faculties of the Ithaca College Summer Music Academy, an intensive college-preparatory music program at the School of Music where he has held various instructional roles in the fields of conducting, musical theater preparation, music fundamentals, and conducted the selective choral ensemble.
He is a native of northern New York State where he has served several years as a public school music educator, both as Director of Instrumental Music at Saranac Lake High School and as Director of Choral Activities at the Peru Middle/High School.
Benware is active as a lecturer and clinician, having recently presented at the NYSSMA Winter Conference in Rochester, and is in frequent demand as a guest conductor for honors ensembles (both instrumental and choral) throughout New York State. He is also active as a performer, taking part in the Upstate New York Chorus (UNYC) under the direction of Dr. Janet Galvan and the Northern Lights Chorus conducted by Ms. Helen Demong. Additionally, he maintains a role as church musician, holding positions at both St. Bernard's and St. Agnes Catholic Churches in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, respectively. He holds both a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education with a concentration on the Trumpet and a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from the Ithaca College School of Music.