CANW to Kick Off Plymouth Residency with Extended Season, World Premieres

A special extended 2016-17 season and programs uniquely suited to showcase the spectacular acoustic of Plymouth Church UCC will kick off Choral Arts Northwest’s (CANW) residency in this new downtown location.

Following a large-scale renovation of its sanctuary enhancing the acoustic and replacing an organ damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake with a custom instrument designed and installed by renown organ manufacturer C.B. Fisk, the Plymouth sanctuary now boasts nearly four seconds of reverb making it an ideal choral environment. For a choir that, according to music critic Melinda Bargreen, “blends like a Cuisinart,” it’s an ideal fit.

Special Extended Season

CANW Artistic Director Robert Bode has programmed five different concert series (three featuring world-premiere commissions) to kick off the ensemble’s residency at Plymouth and anchor the CANW’s 23rd season.

To participate in the inaugural celebration of Plymouth Church’s beautiful new C.B. Fisk French-style tracker organ, CANW will reprise its Winter 2015 performance of the Duruflé Requiem with organist Douglas Cleveland, mezzo soprano Stacey Sunde, and the Jubilate! Young Women’s Ensemble from St. James Cathedral on Sunday afternoon, September 25 (3pm). This special program will also feature works by Seattle’s own Bern Herbolsheimer, kicking off a year-long festival by many of the choirs of Seattle celebrating the late composer’s life and music.

To further showcase the superb acoustical environment at Plymouth, CANW will perform Rachmaninoff’s beloved Vespers on October 15 (8pm). Widely regarded as the pinnacle of Orthodox church music, the work is often cited as a supreme example of “choral orchestration” and features an array of timbral and harmonic effects that are as haunting as they are beautiful. Those effects will be on display the following day at a special Olympia performance of the Vespers in the beautiful vault of the Washington State Capitol Rotunda Oct 16 (4:30pm).

CANW’s popular annual tradition of performing a choral contemplation of the holidays with classical guitarist Bob McCaffery-Lent will also continue at Plymouth. In an attempt to balance what is traditionally a very hectic time of year, each season Artistic Director Robert Bode assembles a program meant to be a serene meditation on the spirit of the season, a tradition that has become a clear annual favorite for fans of the ensemble. This year’s program, titled Not One Sparrow Is Forgotten, will also showcase the first of our 2016-17 season premieres: a commission from local composer and CANW soprano Jessica French in performances Saturday, Dec 10, (8pm) at St. Joseph Parish, and Sunday, Dec 11 (3pm) at Plymouth Church.

In 2017 more than three years of work will culminate in the premiere of a concert-length oratorio for choir with vocal soloists and chamber orchestra composed by CANW’s 2016-17 Composer-in-Residence, John Muehleisen ( Seattle-based Muehleisen’s music has been described as “imaginatively harmonized…beautifully realized…and brilliantly crafted” and this is his second time serving as CANW’s composer-in-residence. The result of our last collaboration—an oratorio titled Pieta—was premiered to instant critical acclaim, and in the few short years since its premiere has been performed by some of the most respected choral ensembles in the country.

This season’s work—But Who Shall Return Us Our Children: A Kipling Passion—commemorates the centennial of World War I by focusing on the historical account Lieutenant John Kipling’s 1918 death at the Battle of Loos, and its impact on his famous parents, Rudyard and Carrie Kipling, whose story represents that of countless families during World War I—and in all wars before or since. The narrative touches on a number of issues relevant to our own time, including the consequences of unbridled nationalism; the challenges faced by veterans who return home with severe physical, psychological, and emotional injuries, including PTSD (known as “shell-shock” in WWI); and the high rate of military suicide both during that war and in our own time—currently 22 per day in the U.S—a tragic trend that is both misunderstood and all but buried in our social and political discourse.

Featuring nationally renowned soloists Charles Robert Stephens (bass) as Rudyard Kipling, Kim Giordano (soprano) as his wife Carrie, and Eric Neuville (tenor) as their son John, Muehleisen uses the passion form to explore how we might find healing in the face of unspeakable tragedy. In so doing, the work seeks to honor and bring voice to the often-silent suffering of not only our veterans, but also of their families. The oratorio will be premiered on Friday, March 24 (8pm) at Plymouth Church with a follow-up performance on Saturday, March 25 (8pm) at Everett First Presbyterian Church.

CANW’s season-finale program, Unclouded Day, will add a 21st-century twist to the ideas explored in the Kipling Passion by setting the words of Puget Sound veterans to music. Each year, “Finding Your Voice,” CANW’s signature educational program, reaches out to a segment of our community whose voices and stories may be under-represented, asking them to answer this question in poetry: “What would you like us to know about what it’s like to be you?” Selected responses are then set to music by each season’s composer-in-residence and the result serves as the centerpiece of our season-finale concert.

This year, CANW is reaching out to veterans and their families for words that will be set by Kipling Passion composer John Muehleisen, who expects to find strong parallels in the words and experiences of modern soldiers with those of the Kiplings. The resulting commission will be performed alongside Shawn Kirchner’s choral cycle Unclouded Day and Will Averitt’s Over Jordan in performances on Friday, May 6 (8pm) at Plymouth Church and on Saturday, May 7 (8pm) at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina.