As the country lurches past the one-year anniversary of widespread lockdown announcements, the Boulder a cappella ensemble Ars Nova Singers is celebrating rebirth, securing a full-time job for founder, conductor and artistic director Thomas Edward Morgan, and rebranding itself.
To mark all these changes, on Saturday the group will host its first virtual performance of 2021 appropriately called Rebirth. The show, an eclectic Renaissance mass, includes works new and old in Italian, Spanish and English. Those will be followed by three pieces performed by Grammy-nominated tenor Nicholas Phan and Ann Marie Morgan, who plays the viola de gamba, an instrument popular during the Renaissance and Baroque eras that allows musicians to adjust the tension of their strings while playing.
The ensemble is two years into a three-year campaign to raise additional funds that will be matched by the Avenir Foundation, which has allowed the group to create an endowment and pay for its new direction.
Since founding the ensemble in 1986 — when there was only one other auditioned choir in Boulder — Morgan has led Ars Nova in a part-time capacity, while also directing the music program at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
“I’m looking forward to devoting my time, energy and creativity exclusively to Ars Nova in the remainder of my career,” Morgan wrote on Ars Nova’s website.
While the number of choral groups in Colorado has burgeoned since Ars Nova was founded, Morgan worries that an understanding of singing and music in the broader community has declined because of cuts to music education programs in public schools.
He hopes that his full-time role will allow him to expand community-outreach efforts that might bring new devotees to Ars Nova performances and the art form.
“We’re looking in the future at how we can physically get more performances into places where we can reach those communities,” Morgan explains, adding that he hopes to bring more concerts into art centers and public auditoriums. Meanwhile, Ars Nova’s board is also considering how its visual identity and communications can best engage new audiences.
By programming concerts like Rebirth that showcase the diversity of styles throughout music history, Morgan aims to bring first-time audience members into the fold.
The selections were recorded from past shows and chosen by six singers, who will introduce the pieces. Among the works included are Juan Pérez de Bocanegra’s "Hanacpachap cussiciunin," the first work of vocal polyphony published in the Western Hemisphere, and German polymath, composer and saint Hildegard of Bingen’s "Ave Maria, O Auctrix Vitae." There's another work by Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, a favorite of the ensemble, known for his atypically chromatic and experimental music.
“For modern ears, Gesualdo’s music is very fresh and original,” Morgan says. “His mood changes from word to word, and it paints the feeling of each piece.”
The audio will be accompanied by video footage curated by Morgan, who proudly claims that the pandemic has given him a crash course in serving as an “audio and video producer.” Ars Nova put together a similar virtual concert for the holidays that can be streamed on YouTube.
Morgan believes that people who have not dedicated their lives to choral music will still find profound beauty in it.
“All the parts are equally important and interwoven frequently. They need to find their way through the texture,” he explains. “The imitative polyphony we do in the Renaissance is a golden age for vocal music.”
Rebirth takes place online at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 20. The performance is free, but $20 donations are encouraged. RSVP at the Ars Nova Singers website.
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