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Masterworks Chorale presents “Modern Masterworks”

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On Saturday, November 14, at 8:00 p.m. in the Frank Arts Center Theater, the Masterworks Chorale, the Eastern Panhandle’s premiere vocal ensemble under the direction of Dr. Erik Jones, will present Modern Masterworks, featuring three fascinating pieces by modern masters—John Rutter’s best-known large-scale work for choir, “Gloria,” Bernstein’s work of driving rhythmic energy and passion, “Chichester Psalms,” and Paul Winter’s “Earth Mass,” with the choir and a jazz ensemble led by Shepherd University’s Director of Jazz Studies, Dr. Kurtis Adams.

Internationally recognized English composer John Rutter has become a veritable icon of contemporary choral music, and his Gloria is one of his most ambitious concert works. Commissioned by The Voices of Mel Olson, its premiere was the occasion for his first visit to the US, in May, 1974, when the composer conducted the performance by that chorale in its Omaha NE home. Analogous to a symphony, with three movements—allegro vivace, andante, vivace e ritmico—the work is, says Rutter, “exalted, devotional and jubilant by turns.” Gloria represents the second section of the Ordinary, the fixed-form portion of the Latin mass.

The Chichester Psalms are a compelling blend of Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway style with lyrical, intimate settings of three complete psalms in their original Hebrew, plus stray verses from several other psalms. Bernstein used music that had been cut from West Side Story, as well as material he had composed for a musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth (a project never completed). The overall mood alternates joyful exuberance with moments of violent frenzy and tender entreaties for peace.

Paul Winter’s Missa Gaia premiered in 1981 at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City as part of the Feast of St. Francis and the Blessing of the Animals. For some, a mass that celebrates Gaia, a heathen deity and now symbol for all that is part of this planet’s primordial causality, is nothing short of sacrilege and might be thought better suited in a pagan/druidical setting. The jazz/gospel hybrid work depicts the full range of Mother Earth’s emotions from the tear-drop consequences of Global Warming to the violence and power of a thunderstorm, all superimposed over one of the earliest forms of music, Gregorian Chant.

Dr. Kurtis Adams, originally from Nashville, TN, joined the faculty at Shepherd University in 2010 as Director of Jazz Studies. Previously on the faculties of Gordon College and Boise State University, he completed his graduate studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he performed with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Colorado Music Festival Orchestra, Ultraphonic Jazz Orchestra, Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra, and the 9th and Lincoln Orchestra, and shared the stage with great musicians including Arturo Sandoval, Paquito D’Rivera, Greg Gisbert, Pat Bianchi, Jeff Jenkins, Brad Goode, Peter Sommer, and Paul Romaine. As a member of the Jazz Ensembles at CU, Kurtis performed with guest artists such as Joe Lovano, Conrad Herwig, Jiggs Whigham, Tom Harrell, Bobby Shew, and Bob Mintzer. In 2005, Downbeat Magazine named Adams College Co-winner for Best Original Composition for his composition “Instable Mate?” and in 2007 he was selected to participate in the Paquito D’Rivera Latin Jazz Workshop performing with the Grammy-winning saxophonist at Carnegie Hall in New York.

The Masterworks Chorale, a vocal ensemble with over 130 singers, comprised of Shepherd University vocal students and members from the surrounding community, presents two full-length productions of great masterpieces from the choral literature every year, as well as appearances at Shepherd University’s Annual Holiday Gala Concert.

General admission for the Masterworks Chorale Modern Masterworks is $15, $10 for faculty, staff, alumni and seniors, $5 for age 18 and under, and free for Shepherd students with Rambler ID. For more information call 304-876-5555.