By Jane Primerano
A highlight of Harmonium’s spring concert is always provided by the choral composition contest winners.
On Saturday, June 2, the group performed two selections, Carl Hausman’s “Moonlight” and Reshima Kopparapu’s “The River, My Soul.”
Kopparapu, a senior at Newark Academy in Livingston, took the grand prize. She used her jazz background to inform harmonic choices in the piece. She and Hausman have been entering the composition contest for four years, “going neck and neck,” Conductor Anne Matlack said as she introduced them.
Hausman’s piece, the runner-up, was based on a poem by Li T’ai-po, an 8th Century Chinese poet. Carl is a senior at Mount Olive High School. Although he placed second last year and third place in both 2015 and 2016, this is the first time his work has been performed by Harmonium.
The annual composition contest is open to ninth through 12th graders from any school in New Jersey. The entries are judged by a panel of professional musicians, composers and music educators.
Matlack also honored the high school seniors who sing with Harmonium. They sang as a small ensemble in a piece called “River” by Joan Szymko, a composer and choral conductor from the Pacific Northwest. The group, Regina McElroy, Jessica Bach, Peri Munter and Gabriel Lukijaniuk demonstrated how well young people can perform in a professional setting.
The theme of this concert was Let the River Run. That song, which won Carly Simon the Academy Award for Best Song in the movie “Working Girl,” was the finale. Matlack also presented it as a surprise encore, inviting the audience to sing along, which many did.
The entire program followed the river theme, including an arrangement of “Song of the Volga Boatmen,” that’s “a far cry from the John Thompson Book I version,” as Matlack said, referring to the children’s piano book that many in the audience obviously recalled, considering the laughter.
Five men sang solos in “Along the River” by A. V. Sveshnikov, a prominent 20th Century Russian Choral Conductor. The soloists ranged from the teenaged Lukijaniuk to veteran Harmonium soloist Mark Hewitt and each did a spectacular job on this humorous folk song.
As always with Harmonium, the songs were varied in era and style.
Two were old favorites of fans of the group. The James Erb “Shenandoah” is always a treat. “The Boatmen’s Dance,” by Aaron Copland featured Matthew Siebenhuhner, a young soloist who provided maturity in the booming solo.
The Chamber Singers demonstrated their versatility with the Palestrina “Super Flumina Babylonis,” based on Psalm 137. The souring Renaissance lines were in stark contrast to the next song, “Mouth Music,” an example of Celtic lilting or diddling.
The women performed “Peace I Ask of Thee, O River” by Gwyneth Walker, another contemporary composer, who played accompaniment for them. The men followed with Bound for the Rio Grande, an example of the arranging collaboration of Robert Shaw and Alice Parker. Matlack is known for choosing the perfect pieces to highlight voice parts and these songs did not disappoint.
“Crossing Over” combined the traditional spiritual “Deep River” and the well-known hymn “Amazing Grace.” Sometimes these medleys don’t work, but this Ian Coleman piece brought the two familiar melodies together with precision and beauty.
“Song for the Mira” has become a standard in Celtic repertoire and is becoming an anthem for Nova Scotia. The beautiful piece was not familiar to most of the audience but they appreciated the old-time nautical feel.
This concert marked the end of the Harmonium season, but they will be back next December under Matlack’s energetic and precise direction.