The Masterworks Choir of Florence will present their annual Spring Concert at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 29, in the FMU Performing Arts Center on Dargan Street. Admission is free.
The performance will be dedicated to the choir’s founder and music director William B. Mills, who passed away Feb. 18. The 65 voices of the Masterworks Choir will be joined by a chamber orchestra along with seven soloists, and will be conducted by Dr. William Carswell, Associate Professor of Music at Coker College and music colleague of Bill Mills.
Carswell conducts the Coker Singers, teaches conducting, voice, and courses in music education. He is active as a clinician, guest conductor and adjudicator throughout the Southeastern United States and has presented sessions on choral literature, choral methods and performance techniques for various levels of the American Choral Directors Association. Recent conducting engagements include performances in Bulgaria, England, Austria and France.
The concert opens with “Hallelujah” from Christ on the Mount of Olives, Op. 85, an oratorio by Ludwig van Beethoven, which portrays the emotional turmoil of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion.
The program features the beautiful Serenade to Music by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Serenade (1938) was written as a tribute to the conductor Sir Henry Wood to mark the 50th anniversary of Wood’s first concert. The Serenade has outlived the occasion for which it was written and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful and inspired of all settings of Shakespeare. The text is an adaptation of the discussion about music and the music of the spheres in Act V, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice byWilliam Shakespeare. Sergei Rachmaninov, present at the work’s premiere, is said to have been so overcome by the beauty of the music that she wept.
Nanie (“Song of Lamentation”) is one of the least known of Johannes Brahm’s major works, and one of the most incredibly beautiful. The piece was written to memorialize the composer’s friend and artist, Anselm Feuerbach. Reading the text, by the poet Schiller, one might fear a rather gloomy work, but it is not. Nanie is at times serene and accepting and at other times soaring. The work is a fitting tribute to musician and friend to many, Bill Mills.
Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy is the final work on the program. The piece will feature Dr. Benjamin Woods, Professor Emeritus of Music at Francis Marion University, at the piano. Woods was also the soloist more than 20 years ago when the Masterworks Choir last performed the work. He has conducted concerts of the Francis Marion College Chorus, the Florence Choral Society, and the Florence Masterworks Choir and Orchestra. Having served as Music Director/Conductor of the Florence Symphony Orchestra from 1996 to 2002, he conducted a performance of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony with the Florence Symphony and the Masterworks Choir. Woods was named one of the University’s Board of Trustees’ Research Scholars. This distinction recognizes his outstanding achievements in music performance, and the promise of continued scholarly activity in the future. He was also selected as the 2005-06 recipient of the J. Lorin Mason Distinguished Professor award which recognizes excellence in teaching, scholarship and professional achievement, and service to Francis Marion University and the community.
The Fantasy was the last piece on the program at a benefit concert in 1808, showcasing new works by Beethoven. It is not difficult to hear glimpses of both the Fifth Symphony and the mighty finale of the Ninth Symphony in this brilliant and stirring work.
Vocal soloists for the concert are singers from the ranks of the choir. The Serenade to Music will feature Erin Figueras, soprano; Karen Porter, alto; Shaw Thompson, tenor; and Jim Fincher, bass. The Choral Fantasy calls for six soloists to include Chrissy Welch and Sharyn Mapes, sopranos; Karen Porter, alto; Paul Zwiers and Shaw Thompson, tenors; and Jim Fincher, bass.
This concert has been greatly anticipated by the musicians and the community alike, as it will be the first performance by the Masterworks Choir in the new Performing Arts Center.