Variant 6 Performs with Garnet Singers and Chorus

On Friday evening at 8:00 in Lang Concert Hall, the Swarthmore College Garnet Singers and the Swarthmore College Chorus will present their spring concert under the direction of Joseph Gregorio and alongside featured guest ensemble Variant 6.

This concert will cap off Variant 6’s yearlong term as Featured Guest Artists, which included a masterclass with the Garnet Singers, a masterclass for solo singers, and several reading sessions for new works by student composers. “Variant 6 has contributed a great deal to the education of singers and composers in our Department this year,” says Professor Gregorio. “Singing alongside and getting helpful feedback from such highly polished and professional musicians elevated the level of music-making among our singers, and hearing Variant 6 read student compositions was an invaluable opportunity for student composers to learn about writing for voices.”

On the first half of Friday’s concert, the Garnet Singers will be joined by Variant 6 for their entire set, which comprises music composed by Sulpitia Cesis, John Wilbye, Francis Poulenc, David Conte, Lili Tobias ’19, and Benjamin Britten. All of the Garnet Singers’ pieces are connected in some way to the theme of plants, according to Gregorio. “I’ll admit that it’s a bit of a strange theme,” he says, “yet each of these pieces met the group at the right level and helped us grow as an ensemble.”

Variant 6 will perform an excerpt of Caroline Shaw’s To The Hands to conclude the concert’s first half.

The Chorus, accompanied by an orchestra of strings, brass, and chamber organ, will perform a set of polychoral music on the second half of the concert. Once again, in various roles determined by the needs of the music, Variant 6 will take part.  “Polychoral music comes in many varieties,” explains Gregorio.  “Much music for multiple choirs is written in eight parts, for two roughly equal choirs. However, music for three or more choirs also exists, as does music written for two unequal choirs.  Chorus will be lucky to have Variant 6 helping us bring this music to life in several ways — for example, Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin (which he wrote when he was only sixteen years old!) asks that Choir II be sung by a semi-chorus or solo quartet. Variant 6 will serve as this small ensemble, while Chorus serves as Choir I. In Jacobus Handl’s Alleluia, cantate Domino canticum novum, which is scored for three choirs, Variant 6 will serve as one of the choirs, and Chorus, split in half, will serve as the other two. And in the other works Chorus is singing, which are scored for two equal choirs, Variant 6 will sing spread out among the members of the Chorus, as they will have done on the first half with Garnet Singers.”

Several facets of this semester’s choral concert stand out as unusual. “Aside from the remarkable and unique opportunity our singers will have to perform alongside Variant 6, the concert will feature two particularly noteworthy contributions from students,” Gregorio says. “For Wilbye’s madrigal Flora gave me fairest flowers, the combined forces of the Garnet Singers and Variant 6 will be led by assistant conductor and bass section leader Deondre Jordan ’19, who has rehearsed the piece all semester with the singers and shaped a beautiful interpretation of it. The Garnet Singers and pianist Mia Shoquist ’21 are also very proud to present the premiere of Herbae Ignotae (Unknown Plants), a piece by Lili Tobias ’19 that sets the names of plants in a language constructed by Hildegard of Bingen. I’m quite glad this concert features Deondre’s and Lili’s work so prominently; they have been stalwart members of both choral ensembles during their time at Swarthmore, and both groups and I will miss them dearly when they graduate. We’ll also be saying goodbye to soprano and tenor section leaders Rebecca Regan ’19 and Ben Warren ’19, who have likewise contributed immensely to Chorus and Garnet Singers.”

Desta Pulley ’17