Submitted photos and press release:
The story of the nativity, with all of its simplicity and grace, is featured in the Dec. 13 and 15 Christmas concerts of the Genesee Chorale.
Director Ric Jones has selected Ottorino Respighi’s “Laud to the Nativity,” and several old favorites with new arrangements he believes will delight the audience.
Concerts begin at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at Grace Baptist Church, 238 Vine St., Batavia, and at 4 p.m. Dec. 15 at The Grove UMC, 11004 W. Center Street Ext., Medina. Tickets are $10 and are available through the Chorale website genesee.chorale.com, or at the door.
The Respighi work, Jones said, is a master choral work that hasn’t received the attention it deserves.
“Respighi uses elements of Renaissance music throughout the work, with dance-like madrigals and Italian carols,” Jones said. “The accompaniment of the work was unique with him using a chamber sextet as accompaniment.
"Lastly, the theme of the work was great. It uses the poetry of 13th century Franciscan monk Jacopone da Todi. The text focuses on the angel, the shepherds, and Mary.”
The story is told through three soloists – a soprano representing the angel, a mezzo-soprano representing Mary and a tenor representing a shepherd – and full chorus, with instrumental accompaniment by a sextet drawing from talented local players, and Chorale’s pianist Douglas Hanson.
Mary Wojciechowski (inset photo, right) sings the soprano (angel) part. Wojciechowski has experience in musical theater, opera, jazz and classical voice, and has produced and starred in several jazz concerts.
She has been featured with the Brockport Symphony Orchestra, the Brighton Symphony Orchestra, the Gateswingers Big Band and the Rochester Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra.
On stage, she’s performed such roles as Adele in "Die Feldermaus," Sister Angelica in "Sister Angelica" and the Countess in "The Marriage of Figaro."
Mezzo-soprano Mariami Bekauri (below left inset photo) sings the role of Mary in “Laud to the Nativity.” She has been praised for her “warm” and “handsome” tone, and last month made her debut in the titular role of Rossini’s "La Cenerentola" with Buffalo Opera Unlimited.
She is appearing as mezzo-soprano soloist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s holiday concerts this month.
She is a graduate of Fredonia School of Music and currently teaches in the music department at Buffalo State College, Houghton College Buffalo and the Fredonia School of Music.
Tenor John Clayton (bottom left inset photo) performs the role of the shepherd in the Respighi piece.
He has been described as a gallant singer with the ability to “put the audience in standstill” and was designated “one of Buffalo’s top vocalists” by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. His is a familiar face on the Buffalo stage, with appearances in more than a dozen operas with Nickel City Opera, Opera Sacra and Buffalo Opera Unlimited.
Clayton often appears as a recitalist or concert soloist with choruses, including Orff’s "Carmina Burana" with the Genesee Chorale a few seasons ago. He recently returned from Italy where he debuted as Don Ottavio in Mozart’s "Don Giovanni."
“This piece has challenged the Chorale in the sense of style,” Jones said. “The piece uses so many different elements and styles that fold in to one another, and that is challenging.”
It is also a challenge to put the music of chorus and instrumentalists together.
“The Chorale has risen to these challenges and I think they will present a moving musical work that depicts the Christmas season,” Jones said.
“Laud to the Nativity” is sung in English translation and constitutes the first half of the program.
The remaining pieces include a new arrangement of "Silent Night" by Dan Forrest, using the traditional text and melody wrapped in what Jones describes as a “beautifully unique harmonic setting.” "Rise Up Shepherd" gets gospel-style treatment, and remaining selections feature new harmonies.