For the second year, Ekoos Vocal Ensemble will present Christmas Concerts featuring settings of the same text by widely different composers. Last year, the choir focused on the text O Magnum Mysterium. This year, it will explore Hodie Christus Natus Est (“Today Christ is born”).
Conductor Peter Dent suggested this program to the choir, which has embraced it with enthusiasm.
“We’re singing one simple phrase, but the eight different composers, spanning five centuries, make it sound so varied and help us to feel its depth,” commented alto Sheila Whincup.
The “Hodie” text was very popular in the Renaissance period but later fell out of favour. It has had a resurgence in the last 70 years or so. This antiphon was intended for the second Vespers sung on Christmas day. Its earliest origins are found in Gregorian chant in the Dorian mode.
Some members of the choir who are hockey aficionados offered this invitation — or maybe it’s a challenge, “Instead of staying at home on Saturday for ‘Hockey Night in Canada’, why not come out for ‘Hodie Night in Sooke’?”
In addition to the eight “Hodie” settings, the program includes several other selections such as the German carol Still, Still, Still and Giuseppe Baini’s setting of Panis Angelicus, featuring only the women’s voices.
Guest artists for this concert will be Sooke’s own newly formed Trio West who will play Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, written in 1690.
This concerto was originally scored for three solo strings accompanied by a small string orchestra and keyboard. Cellist Ellen Himmer has written an arrangement of the Corelli to stand alone as a trio.
“We will be using Baroque bows which are shorter and more triangular in shape, to produce a lighter, more dance-like sound. The piece was sub-titled ‘fatto per notte di Natale’ or ‘made for the night of Christmas’,” Himmer explained.
“Trio West” is composed of Heather Gatland on violin, Ellen Himmer on cello, and Shane Beech on keyboard. Both Heather and Ellen are members of several orchestras in the region, including the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra and the Victoria Chamber Orchestra.
Shane Beech grew up in Sooke and is a graduate of EMCS. He is currently a fourth-year piano performance major at the University of Victoria, and is studying Early Music performance with Peter Smith. Last year in the Greater Victoria Music Festival he was selected to be a provincial finalist in piano. “He is also a composer of great promise,” added Ellen Himmer, his former teacher.
The eight composers of the settings of the Hodie to be performed by Ekoos represent a rich musical history. Peter Dent provided the following notes.
William Byrd (1540-1623) was one of the most celebrated English composers in the Renaissance. Giovanni Maria Nanino (1543-1607) was an Italian composer and teacher of the late Renaissance and was the most influential music teacher in Rome in the late 16th century.
Luca Marenzio (1553-1599) wrote over 500 madrigals and his music was influential as far away as England.
Jan Pieter Sweelink (1562-1621) a Dutch composer and organist, was among the first major keyboard composers.
Giovanni Paulo Cima (1570-1622) was a leading musical figure in Milan. Although a contemporary of Frescobaldi and Claudio Monteverdi, he never achieved their fame.
Francis Poulenc (1899 – 1963) was a worthy inheritor of the tradition of Debussy and Ravel. He wrote opera, chamber works and much choral music. Poulenc was one of the first openly gay composers. His Hodie Christus Natus Est is without doubt the most famous of the contemporary settings.
Flutist, composer and choir director, Tullio Visioli was born in Cremona in 1957. Since 1999 he has taught music at the Faculty of Education of the University of Rome.
Pianist and composer, Bruno Vlahek, born in 1986 in Zagreb, Croatia, has composed in many genres (orchestral, chamber, solo, choral, pop music).
The concert in Sooke is on Saturday Dec.10 at 7:30 p.m., at the Holy Trinity Church, 1962 Murray Road. On Sunday Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. the program will be performed at Redeemer Lutheran Church, in Langford. Tickets are available at the Reading Room Bookstore, and at the door.