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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Choral concert to feature Beethoven’s ‘Mass in C Major’

On Friday, UC Davis University Chorus and UC Davis Symphony Orchestra will be holding their bi-annual collaborative musical performance in the Mondavi Center.

Third-year student conductor and musicology/conducting graduate student Jonathan Spatola-Knoll finds the opportunity to take the stage with other companies sets Davis’ music program apart from other college music programs.

“One of the exceptional things about our music program is that the orchestra and choir get to collaborate so frequently. This collaboration gives members of both groups the opportunity to perform many more major works for chorus and orchestra than most university music departments put on,” Spatola-Knoll said.

The upcoming performance will be larger than past shows, welcoming four soloists for two of the pieces and members of the Alumni Chorus and the Davis Chorale.

Jeffrey Thomas, Professor of Music, conductor in the Department of Music and holder of the Barbara K. Jackson Chair in Choral Conducting, explained that for each piece the entire ensemble of performers will be onstage.

“I, personally, find the idea of putting an orchestra and a large choir together very exciting. Not only do we have the sonorities of a choir expressing a text, but we also hear all of the different sounds that an orchestra can produce,” Spatola-Knoll said.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, Daniel Pinkham’s Sinfonia sacra and Beethoven’s Mass in C Major will be featured at the concert. Each piece builds musically upon the one prior, resulting in a well-rounded and captivating evening of music.

“[Serenade to Music] is an absolutely beautiful work, using a text from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The overall mood is one of calm, serenity and appreciation for the magical power of music,” said Thomas.

The Sinfonia Sacra by Daniel Pinkham will be conducted by Spatola-Knoll and performed by the University Chorus, a quartet of brass instruments and an organ. The three-movement cantata tells the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

“[Sifonia Sacra’s] alternate name is the ‘Christmas Cantata.’ The three movements each feature a text in Latin that tells a part of the Christmas story,” Spatolla-Knoll said.

The cantata begins with a slow and dramatic first movement, followed by a faster, longer section of music. The second movement is slower and far less energetic, culminating in the third and final movement as a fast, catchy, rhythmic melody.

“Although you can hear some dissonant and unexpected harmonies and offbeat rhythms, the piece nevertheless remains very tuneful and easily graspable musically,” Spatola-Knoll said, “[Composer Daniel] Pinkham also took some inspiration from the music of the Renaissance, and earlier. The second movement, for instance, begins with a sung passage reminiscent of medieval chant, and the third movement repeats a rhythmic pattern inspired by Renaissance dance music.”

The evening is set to close with Beethoven’s epic, 50-minute Mass in C Major. The piece is both the longest and the most difficult of the evening.

“This piece is full of engaging, dramatic contrasts and can be very emotionally draining,” Spatola-Knoll said.

Beethoven’s setting of the traditional liturgical text of the mass is very dramatic, changing in mood and pacing throughout.

“With a wide range of sonorities and contrasts, from start to finish the listener is captivated by [his] imagination and rhetoric, bringing out the simplicity of its opening ‘Kyrie’, the truly thrilling and almost bombastic ‘Gloria’, some colorfully atmospheric moments in the ‘Credo’, and even the militaristic sounds of the closing ‘Dona nobis pacem’,” Thomas said.

The venue for the program is significant for the musicians, as many of them have never had the opportunity to play in a space as large as the Mondavi Center.

“Not only are the facilities first-rate, but the acoustics and performance atmosphere are fantastic. Sometimes it can be a little challenging to sing in a way that people can hear you even at the back of the big hall, especially when trying to sing quietly, but our chorus can certainly rise to the occasion,” Spatolla-Knoll explained.

For those of us feeling the down-in-your-bones ache from Davis’ chilly evenings, Phil Daley, events manager of the music department, feels that relief can be found in these festive tunes.

“Choral music of just about any kind during December really warms you up,” Daley said. “If you and your date are looking for a break from studying this weekend, I highly recommend this concert.”

The performance will be taking place Saturday, Dec. 6th at 7 p.m. in Mondavi’s Jackson Hall. Tickets are available online for $8 for students and children and $12 to $17 (depending on seating section) for general admission.

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