Ave Maria is one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs ever to escape from the lips of singers. Composed in 1825 by 28-year-old Franz Schubert, Ave Maria was written as a setting for words by Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. Scott’s The Lady of the Lake describes a struggle in the 16th Century between several Scottish Highland clans.The beautiful heroine, Ellen Douglas, is forced to hide out in a mountain cave, along with her father, James Douglas. In that cave, she sings a song, Hymn to the Virgin, a prayer to the Virgin Mary for help and comfort.
Ave Maria was written for voice and piano and first published in 1826, although the most commonly used words are not the original words set to music.
On Dec. 15 and 16, Ekoos Vocal Ensemble will be singing the text of Ave Maria in settings by a variety of composers from the 16th to 20th centuries. Settings by such notable composers as Rachmaninov, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky and Verdi. Peter Dent will be conducting the performances in Sooke and Victoria. In Victoria the performance takes place on Dec. 15 at St. Michael and All Angels Church at 7:30 p.m. In Sooke, on Dec. 16, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church on 1952 Murray Rd. at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $12.
Conductor Peter Dent is well known as both a choral conductor and a jazz musician. He currently conducts several choirs in the Greater Victoria area, and leads musical ensembles on tours in Europe, Cuba, and the U.S. He is also a composer and arranger.
Ekoos is a small group of singers based in Sooke. Its members enjoy performing a wide range of a cappella music, especially Renaissance motets and madrigals, but also music of the Baroque era right through to pieces composed in the 21st Century. The group has always striven for a harmonious vocal blend, good intonation, and pleasing expressions of the music it performs.
Ekoos member Fred Andrew began recording performances in 2010 and has compiled a repertoire into a CD.
All the selections were recorded live in performance and therefore have both the delights and deficiencies of music sung “in the moment.” He said the excitement of live performance is tempered by a few extraneous noises, and one or two measures which, had they the opportunity, they might like to try again.
The recording was initially not intended for wider use. Their conductor, however, felt the standard of performance was very good and some of the repertoire deserved a broader exposure. Moreover, as public funding for choirs dwindle, they hope the sale of this CD will help them to supplement member fees and keep their performances affordable to all.
Editing, mixing and mastering were done in October and November, 2012 by Evan Rabby of Company Zero Productions in Victoria. Editing focused on removing extraneous noises – chair creaks and slamming doors and the like. Mastering concentrated on achieving a uniform overall sound for selections that were recorded in at least four different venues.
Ekoos usually performs twice a year, at Christmas and in the late spring. Their repertoire reflects these seasons. Included in the CD are two settings of the O Magnum Mysterium – by William Byrd and the other by the contemporary American composer Morten Lauridsen, and two Hodie Christus Natus Est of Jan Pieter Sweelinck (Flemish) and Francis Poulenc (French). These choices reflect their interest in music from both the Renaissance and the contemporary.
Also included are two extended works: Gartenlieder Op.3 by Fanny Hensel, the sister of Felix Mendelssohn, and three Motets Op. 38 of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. The latter work was performed in a joint concert with Coro Galiano, an ensemble also directed by Peter Dent. A variety of Madrigals, carols, sacred and secular short selections round out an eclectic mix of music reflecting their creative work in the past two years.
From tthe conductor Peter Dent:
“As I make the weekly trek from Victoria to Sooke, I always look forward to Ekoos rehearsals.
“The commitment to rehearsing is strong, the personal responsibility for preparing music between rehearsals is noticeable and the good choral discipline always evident. It is a tribute to previous conductors that the ensemble has achieved such a standard. The willingness to try new or relatively unknown repertoire is a huge plus.
“I have enjoyed my time with the choir thus far and look forward to new and pleasurable challenges on this wonderful Odyssey,” said the conductor.