The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Edgewood College conductor Albert Pinssonneault discusses The Madison Choral Project, a new professional vocal group, makes its debut this Saturday night with a program celebrating Spring. | May 16, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Choral Project (below) – a new vocal group on the Isthmus -– will give its inaugural concert this Saturday night, May 18, at 7 p.m. in the Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, in Madison.

Madison Choral Project color

The debut concert, entitled “Celestial Spring,” will celebrate the season- with sets on the return of color, nature and love. For details about specific works and composers, see below.

Tickets are free. Those who are able are encouraged to leave a suggested donation of $15 each.

For more information including how to audition for the vocal group, contact The Madison Choral Project, 901 High Street, Madison, Wisconsin, 53715 or visit www.themcp.org, Albert Pinssonneault, the founder and director of the choir, who teaches choral conducting at Edgewood College in Madison, recently gave an email Q&A to The Ear:

Albert Pissonneault 2

Can you briefly describe how and why the Madison Choral Project came about?

Many pieces came together to make the Madison Choral Project happen, like spokes on a wheel.

First were the incredible voices in Madison, interested in ensemble singing.

Additionally, there was the huge support for choral music in town, dating from the era of Robert Fountain (below, in 1979) at the UW-Madison to today with many extremely fine choruses and UW ensembles performing.

I had a passion to bring together a core of the finest singers for a single “project,” and with a lot of help I was able to raise and secure funding, find venues, audition singers, and a new entity was born: The Madison Choral Project.

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Why is another choral group needed or wanted in Madison? Briefly, how do you expect it to be different from other local groups?

The Madison Choral Project is unique in Madison, in that it is a fully professional chamber choir of 16 voices.  We hope to offer a highly refined and expressive chamber choral sound, singing both new unique repertoire, and treasured favorites.

As this very talented group comes together to present one project at a time, we feel we can tailor our concerts to the needs and tastes of our musical community.  We are so excited to contribute our small part to the outstanding musical landscape of Dane County.

Can you briefly introduce us to your career in choral singing and directing, to your professional and personal commitment to it?

I’ve always loved making music with others, and I love people, and I love text, and expression.  I grew up in Minnesota and wanted to move away to a conservatory for college, yet some inexplicable gut feeling drew me to attend St. Olaf College (in Northfield, Minnesota), where I found a choral music experience that was the nexus of all the things I loved.

In the years following St. Olaf I lived in St. Paul and completed a Master’s degree in choral conducting at the University of Minnesota, where under the excellent tutelage of Kathy Saltzman Romey I had the opportunity to work closely with the German conductor Helmuth Rilling (below top) and the American vocal conductor Dale Warland (below bottom).

helmut rilling

Dale Warland

Applying broadly to doctoral programs, I was extremely fortunate to receive a kind offer from the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, where I was able to work with several wonderful professional conductors, including Earl Rivers, Richard Westenburg, Richard Sparks and Donald Nally.  I completed my doctorate in choral conducting and music theory from CCM in 2009, and got a dream job: Full-time employment at a wonderful liberal arts college in Madison — Edgewood College (below, he is conducting the Chamber Singers at Edgewood College).

Edgewood Chamber Singers

Can you comment on the upcoming premiere program and specific works on it?

The idea behind “A Celestial Spring” came not only from the title work by F. Melius Christiansen (below), but also from the season of spring and its promise of rebirth and newness, fitting for the inaugural concert of a new ensemble.

F. Melius Christiansen

Our first set of German Romantic composers seeks to capture the comforting return of lush green in nature, echoed in wondrous rich harmonies.

The very first work, “Abendlied” (Evening Song) by Joseph Rheinberger (below bottom) invites the audience to “Bide with us,” an entreaty both to for the duration of the concert and for our life as a new ensemble.

Josef Rheinberger bw

The second set, “The Celestial Season,” focuses on the season of spring itself, beginning with rays of sunshine (“I Am the Great Sun” by Jussi Chydenius) and ending in sunset (“The Sun Has Gone Down” by Leland Sateren).  In between are two movements of F. Melius Christiansen’s “Celestial Spring” (at bottom in a YouTube video), a work composed completely without text.  Christiansen (below) sought to capture the sounds of the season with an orchestra of voices, and later gave the finished score to his colleague Oscar Overby to “fill in” with text.

The third set of music, “The Call of Summer,” explores transitions into a wondrous hereafter, in settings by the great English composers Charles Hubert Parry (below top) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (below bottom). This set addresses the end of spring, and alludes as well to the idea of death as a gateway into an everlasting summer.

hubert parry

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Our fourth set traces the evolution of romantic love through texts depicting five tableau scenes.  In “O Mistress Mine” by Matthew Harris (below top), the protagonist is struck with attraction from a distance.  “The Devon Maid” by Dominick Argento (below bottom) represents first contact and flirtation, in this case by an aggressive suitor. “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day” by Nils Lindberg represents the honeymoon of intense passion, while “It Was a Lover and His Lass” (Parry) recounts many merry days of coupled frolicking.  “Rest” (Vaughan Williams) is a tender goodbye, to that loved one now deceased.

Matthew Harris Color

dominick argento 1

Is there more you would like to add or say?

Thank you so much, Jake, for the opportunity to share our efforts on The Well-Tempered Ear!


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