Opera composer’s choral work highlight of concert

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photoHenry Mollicone

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If you go

What: Vancouver USA Singers to perform “The Majesty of Christmas,” which includes Henry Mollicone’s “Christmas Celebration.”

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: First Presbyterian Church, 4300 Main St., Vancouver.

Cost: $15; $10, students and seniors.

Information: 360-513-8315 or http://vancouvers...>

One of the coolest things about Vancouver USA Singers’ Christmas concert is that they will perform a piece written by a living American composer noted for his operas and his melodic style. We are talking about Henry Mollicone, who has written six operas, including “The Face on the Barroom Floor,” which has received acclaim in the United States and Europe.

Mollicone happens to be a longtime friend of Jana Hart, music director of the Vancouver USA Singers. She will lead the hundred-plus voices of the choir in singing Mollicone’s “Christmas Celebration,” a piece that she knows well, having sung at its premiere back when she was a budding opera singer in Los Angeles.

“It’s wonderful to perform Henry’s work,” Hart said. “From the ’60s through ’80s it was all about atonal, minimalistic music. You were not taken seriously if you

wrote in a harmonic style. It’s great to see melody come back into favor, and now Henry is getting his due. Singers love to sing his stuff. ”

“The Christmas Celebration is about 30 minutes long,” Mollicone said over the phone from his home in Saratoga, Calif. “It features a choir, narrator, organ, flute, and simple percussion. Some of it has a Renaissance quality, with a mixture of early chant and contemporary sacred music. It also has narrated text from poetry of the 18th and 19th centuries, along with passages from the Bible.”

Coordinating the music with the narration is the biggest challenge associated with the work, according to Mollicone. But Hart expects to clear this hurdle easily, with the help of Ron Frasier, the choir’s former music director.

“Ron has a beautiful speaking voice,” Hart said. “He has sung with Portland Opera and has a stellar reputation as a teacher. I’ve met a number of people who were in his choirs, and quite a few have told me that he changed their lives.”

Vancouver USA Singer’s “Majesty of Christmas” concert will also feature other selections.

“For this program, I just wanted the music to focus on the story of Christmas,” Hart said. “The first three pieces are totally different settings of ‘Ave Maria.’ In the Vaughan Williams (composed) ‘Magnificat’ the flute represents the Holy Spirit and the contralto solo is the voice of Mary. It requires an operatic style. You can hear pride in her voice. Vaughan Williams wanted Mary to be strong.”

The men of the choir will sing Franz Biebl’s rendition of “Ave Maria,” and the entire chorus will sing the “Ave Maria” that was composed by Vladimir Vavilov around 1970.”

“Vavilov’s piece was actually a musical hoax that was misattributed to the Baroque composer Giulio Caccini,” explained Hart. “So it is well-known as the ‘Caccini Ave Maria.’ It’s a beautiful and very lush piece of music that you’ll never forget.”

The choir will also sing Daniel Pinkham’s popular “Christmas Cantata.”

“The Pinkham has the shepherd’s story and the ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ text,” said Hart. “Its sound is big and angular. For this piece, we have two brass ensembles that consist of ten exceptional players from our community. Fortunately, we have enough voices to balance well with them.”

In addition to composing, Pinkham taught at several universities, including the New England Conservatory, where Mollicone studied composition under him. Mollicone has always counted Pinkham as one of his best teachers, so it is especially fitting that they have two of their works on the same program.

Mollicone will travel to Vancouver to hear the performances by the Vancouver USA Singers and meet Hart and her husband, David, who was the lead tenor in the premiere of Mollicone’s “The Face on the Barroom Floor” opera.

As an additional feature of this concert, the choir is recording Mollicone’s piece for a CD that it will release later this year.