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Performance brings a Bach masterpiece to peninsula
Over the past several months of writing for the Gazette, I have learned just how artistically rich this area truly is. I am once again astounded by the artists of our community; though this time I have experienced their quality not by observation, but through collaboration.In January, I began singing with the Peninsula Singers under conductor Dewey Ehling. To be honest, I had no idea what a task I had signed up for. The next four months my life were focused largely around a single choral work which pushed me to my musical limits and radically increased my already strong respect for the musicians of the North Olympic Peninsula and their dedication to going far beyond the expectations of community performance.
On Sunday, April 21, I had the privilege of singing Johann Sebastian Bach’s B-minor Mass with the Peninsula Singers.
When I use the word “privilege” here it’s not as a figure of speech. I majored in Vocal Performance in college and choral music is one of my greatest passions. I have sung in at least a dozen choirs in the past 10 years in four states and eight countries, but this concert stands out absolutely as one of the highlights of my singing career.
The Bach B-minor Mass represents the pinnacle of one of history’s greatest musician’s artistry and creativity. Bach’s sublime setting of the Latin text is considered by many to be one of the greatest artistic achievements of Western culture, but it is almost prohibitively difficult. This work is a major undertaking for even a top-tier professional chorus. It contains 27 movements (most symphonies have four) and runs a full two hours. Every musician involved has many extended passages of incredible musical and technical difficulty, not to mention the monumental task of performing anything for two hours. Beyond those preliminary demands, this work requires the highest level of artistic sensitivity and aesthetic sensibility. The Peninsula Singers and Mr. Ehling are to be commended for even attempting this massive undertaking, but the success of the performance is an unquestionably remarkable feat.
It is difficult for me to recall and articulate more than a few details of the performance. The beautiful playing of the orchestra, the passionate singing of the chorus and the brilliant clarity of the conductor are all I can recollect through the fog of my own intense concentration while performing, but ask any of the around 600 audience members and I assure you that they will have something to say about their experience.
The overwhelming consensus of those I spoke with is that they couldn’t believe this was a concert by a local ensemble. Musical works of this sort are almost solely in the domain of professional ensembles from major metropolitan areas, yet the Peninsula Singers are all locals. We were joined by five professional soloists, including the superb mezzo-soprano Esther Morgan-Ellis, who grew up in Port Angeles, as well as a few specialist instrumentalists from the Seattle area.
The roughly 70 other musicians and singers were talented local musicians who worked extremely hard to bring this far-too-seldom-heard masterpiece to life on the Olympic Peninsula and I was honored to be among them.