On Friday, November 17, the Madison Chamber Choir presented a concert of contemplative choral music by candlelight. On the program was Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil interspersed with selections by Samuel Barber, Gerald Finzi, Edward Elgar, and two selections from the All Night Vigil in Memory of St. John the Baptist by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. Also on the program were a southern folk hymn, “My Song in the Night,” which was my personal favorite and the American folk song, “Now Our Meeting’s Over,” to close the concert.
What set this concert apart from most I have sung in or attended was the intentional contemplative setting. A reception was held starting 45 minutes before the later start time of 9 pm to allow for socializing but also for the concert to end in relative silence. The sanctuary was darkened save for lit candles throughout and the singers’ lights. A pre-concert announcement warned that it was relatively pointless to look through the program in the dark “forcing” one to be immersed in the music and be fully present. We are all used to the obligatory ‘please turn off your electronic devices,’ plea before every concert (which many don’t heed given the frequency phone rings at events). But when is the last time, a concert attendee was reminded to just simply experience the musical offering?
The conductor, Albert Pinsonneault, who also directs the sublime Madison Choral Project, directed entirely from memory, a rarity, and did so with precision and grace. The chorus sang with nuanced beauty and created a moving meditation. One particular touch that I especially liked was the use of handbells rather than a pitch pipe. The effect created was not unlike meditation gongs or singing bowls which set periods of silent meditation. Alas, Madison’s cold and flu season is in full swing, and unfortunately there were lot of intrusions with coughing. Given the contemplative nature was more pronounced than might attendees which is also somewhat unusual for the Madison classical scene.
Word had gotten out about this evening and despite the later time, clearly appealed. I think this speaks to a need in our increasingly electronically intrusive and faced paced world of a need for stillness, for quiet contemplation with minimal distractions. I hope that there can be many more experiences like this in the future. If the large audience is any indication, I’m not alone.