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Davis, California

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Need some peace before finals? Of chorus you do

In what is the opening of a nearing close, the University Chorus alongside the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra and soloists Yulia Van Doren and Jesse Blumberg will perform at the Mondavi Center on Friday at 8 p.m. The program will feature Vaughan Williams: Dona nobis pacem.

As performed in 1996 by the University Chorus, Dona nobis pacem (meaning Grant us peace) returns as the repertoire for this academic quarter with a new choir and in a new venue. Tickets are $5 for students.

The piece, timely as it is, still conveys a relevant message as it did when it was written in 1936 by Ralph Vaughan Williams in the brink of World War II. Williams had hoped to urge peace amongst the Europeans in his growing fears of another war. Using texts from the Bible, Walt Whitman and even sections of the Mass, Williams’ pleas are full of emotion and movement.

“He saw the terrible destruction and waste of war,” said Jeffrey Thomas, conductor of the University Chorus. “The first few movements of the piece are descriptive of all the terrible aspects of war and the last movement is very hopeful and uplifting.”

Holding true to the original intention of the work, the piece will be performed by a chorus, orchestra and soprano and baritone soloists.

“[The soloists] are [not portraying] named characters, but portraying feelings that [are] communicated through the text,” said Philip Daley, Events and Publicity manager of the Department of Music.

Yulia Van Doren, the soprano, recites the words “Dona nobis pacem” throughout the piece in a continuous thread. Her beautiful and pure voice, mixed with the heroic sound of baritone Jesse Blumberg, contrasts the message of war and peace throughout the work.

With almost 200 performers, the grandeur of the performance is expected to convey a powerful and stark emotion that was Williams’ vision at the time.

“This is an extremely powerful work and I think the message can be understood by everyone,” Thomas said. “In this particular piece, those earlier movements are almost cinematographic – the depictions are very, very real.”

The University Chorus, in a quarter-long preparation and many rehearsals, hopes to cohesively find the voice of Williams in Friday’s performance.

“Every single person in the choir puts all of their effort into the piece,” said second year Kelsey Einhorn and member of the University Chorus. “We all work [so] hard that when the choir and orchestra come together, it just flows.”

For such a graphic and powerful message as Dona nobis pacem, it is important to see the thread of the message tie into the collective performance of the orchestra, choir and soloists live on stage.

“You can go and hear this on a recording somewhere but its not nearly the same as going to a concert hall that’s so live as the Mondavi Center,” Daley said.

For more information, visit mondaviarts.org or music.ucdavis.edu.

KAREN SONG can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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