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Clefhangers: Soprano Rochelle Bard and baritone Jason Detwiler hit the highs and lows of Fauré's Requiem with the Santa Cruz Chamber Orchestra this Saturday.

The Score

The Santa Cruz Chamber Orchestra teams with the Ariose Singers for an evening of adventurous programming 

By Scott MacClelland

Enlightened presenters of classical music know that pairing unfamiliar and familiar music sparks them both. Maya Barsacq, who founded the Santa Cruz Chamber Orchestra a couple of years ago, is enlightened. And so is Mickey McGushin, who took over the Ariose Singers after founder Leta Miller stepped down in 2006. These two leaders are sharing the SCCO program this Saturday at Holy Cross Church, Barsacq conducting the lovely Fauré Requiem, Toru Takemitsu's Requiem for Strings and Mozart's "concerto" for soprano, Exsultate, Jubilate! , while McGushin's group will sing Mozart's haunting Ave verum corpus and the local premiere of Eric Whitacre's Five Hebrew Songs—in each case, the familiar and unfamiliar.

McGushin has provided keyboard playing, conducting, vocal coaching, teaching and music directing in the community for decades, with ongoing work at UC-Santa Cruz, Cabrillo College and New Music Works. Barsacq took most of her training locally, as a vocalist with Brain Staufenbiel and Patrice Maginnis, and as a conductor with Nicole Paiement and Barbara Day Turner (of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra). She has sung with Bay Shore Lyric Opera and Lyric Theatre of San Jose. She hosts Aeolian Impromptu on KUSP.

Barsacq chose to use a reduced orchestration of the Fauré, a close approximation of the original that preserves the intimacy of this haunting and consoling work. After the dark opening of the Introit the atmosphere turns bright and, in places, like the Pie Jesu, childlike and innocent. (The work has inspired similarly gentle and comforting settings by other composers, including Duruflé, Rutter and Lauridsen.) Soprano and baritone solos will be sung by Rochelle Bard and Jason Detwiler, both well known to devotees of Opera San José.

Takemitsu's Requiem for Strings introduced the composer to the larger musical world when he wrote it in 1957, at age 27, as a memorial to his mentor, the Japanese film composer Fumio Hayasaka. An elegiac meditation, it reveals a remarkable sound world of subtle colors, tonally vague harmonies and constantly changing meters, a distinctly unique quality of expression. With just 12 strings, the writing is transparent, and, Barsacq says, "very challenging" to her musicians. 

At 38, the Nevada-born Whitacre has already established a major track record for his mostly unaccompanied choral works. Trained in composing by John Corigliano and David Diamond, he has turned out a stream of choral pieces that have been taken up by choirs here and in Britain, and recorded. The Five Hebrew Love Songs, of 1996, are settings of short delicate verses in Hebrew by soprano Hila Plitmann—then Whitacre's girlfriend, now wife—and first performed in Germany.

As published at the SCCO website, the program opens with the late Mozart motet Ave verum corpus for unaccompanied chorus, and closes with the early Mozart motet Exsultate, Jubilate! , a coloratura tour de force, featuring Bard with the chamber orchestra.

Now in their second season, Barsacq and the SCCO are traveling an adventuresome path, not only by way of unusual programming but also with fresh collaborations. Audience response has been very enthusiastic, says Barsacq, who is certainly filling a niche on the Santa Cruz music scene. She still has a student's appetite to learn from others, and looks forward to more collaborations.

"Artistically, it is just fun," she says, "with fresh ideas, more brain power and much benefit in making music." She adds that she's "contemplating" working with other art forms next season. Later this season, she collaborates with stage director Daniel Helfgott in Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera.

SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER ORCHESTRA & ARIOSE SINGERS perform selections by Fauré, Mozart, Takemitsu and Whitacre on Saturday, April 5, at 8pm at Holy Cross Church, 126 High St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20 gen/$15 seniors/$10 students, available at Streetlight Records and Alma Gifts; 800.838.3006.

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