The beautiful sanctuary of the United Church of Christ on 9th Street in Longmont was filled with the magnificent sounds of the Ars Nova Singers on the last concert of their 2018 Christmas series called In the Moon of Wintertime. The Boulder-based a cappella ensemble are about forty strong, and roughly equally divided between male and female singers. This is their 33rd season and they have performed over 100 different concert programs during that time.
The centerpiece of this evening was a performance of the 2014 Kile Smith composition of The Consolation of Apollo. Fifty years ago on Christmas Eve 1968, the crew of the Apollo 8 became the first astronauts to leave the Earth’s orbit, circle the moon and photograph the entire Earth, and this anniversary inspired Smith to memorialize the event and include the context of Christmas.
While reading the script of the performance, it may have looked like an experiment in dissonance and discord, as the composer interspersed transcripts of the Apollo crew 1968 communications with the 5th century musings of the philosopher Boethius.
Strange, perhaps, but the skill and virtuosity of the Ars Nova Singers and their Artistic Director and Conductor, Thomas Edward Morgan, brought it all into focus and everyone appreciated the intended disharmony between the 20th and 5th century words.
We heard Frank Borman asking “How’s that steam pressure, Bill?” and then “There the Sovereign of the world his calm sway maintains…” from Boethius. Next the astronaut Bill Anders tells Mission Control that Apollo is “approaching one of our future landing sites” on the Moon, while Boethius describes “…the bright sun most clear is beaming, gleaming in heaven…”
Eric Harbeson provided percussion balance during the seven sections of The Consolation of Apollo. Whether the kettle drum or the triangle, the resonance of the instrument lingered long after the singers had gently closed down their parts. Very moving.
The second part of the concert was a little closer to the Ars Nova Singers’ traditional norms, with several carols “and Beyond.” Starting with the German 15th century carol Quem pastores laudavere which describes the traditional Christmas scene of kings bringing precious gifts to “Christ the King,” through the folkloric Israeli song of Ma Navu. The finale was the exuberant 16th century English carol Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day which was full of joy and lively enthusiasm.
A splendid evening of old and new music, with the singers clearly enjoying themselves as much as the audience.
Morgan shared several vignettes of non-musical information. Who knew that today’s iPhone has more power than all those NASA computers of 1968 that sent men around the Moon? And do we really want to use that power just to view cat videos? And how impressed the audience was with the two soprano high school apprentices who were granted solo appearances.
The Ars Nova Singers have both a winter and summer concert series, as well as a gala fundraiser event in May. If you attend the silent auction in May, you can bid on a special gift of re-orchestrating your favorite Christmas carol. Not only will it be performed at the Christmas concert, but you will have the score and a DVD of the music hand-delivered to your door on Christmas Eve.
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