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Master Chorale salutes 'The Peacemakers'

Updated 8:01 p.m., Tuesday, March 05, 2013
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NEWTOWN -- Anyone who knows Connecticut Master Chorale's music director and conductor, Tina Johns Heidrich, must realize how carefully and well in advance the music in her concerts is selected. Understanding this makes this years' CMC spring recital even more special. Heidrich has a strong affinity for the music of Karl Jenkins, and immediately decided to perform his new oratorio, "The Peacemakers," following its world premiere in March 2012.

At that time, Heidrich had no way of knowing how relevant the program would be, following the horrific tragedy in Sandy Hook last December. Everyone in the audience was asked to literally get a little closer together to make room for the large turnout at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown on Sunday.

The concert began with the comforting sounds of flute and strings in "Fantasia on Greensleeves" by Ralph Vaughn Williams, a sentimental serenade often associated with the holidays. Fortunately, flutist Jennifer Bermann would be featured a few more times.

Heidrich gave a warm introduction to CMC accompanist Joseph Jacovino, Jr. before his rich organ solo emanated out of the tabernacle. Building to a transcendent crescendo, Jacovino played the sturdy "Nimrod" finale from Elgar's "Enigma Variations."

"The Peacemakers" is unified by the inspirational words of many well known leaders who have promoted world harmony. The music composed by Jenkins and his wife Carol Barratt is a 17-part celebration of diversity.

In the first passage, "Blessed are the Peacemakers," from the Book of Matthew, chimes added to the heavenly chorus. They expanded to an angelic litany of "Peace" in 20 languages, and then an ethereal elegy by Percy Bysshe Shelley that ended in a triumphant chant. Exotic flute returned as soft men's voices emulated the sounds of Tibetan monks delivering the strong message of Dalai Lama. Beautiful harmonies and the words of Mahatma Gandhi in "I Offer You Peace" combined with childlike simplicity.

Pastoral recorders played by May Steinberg and Claudia Mickelson transported the audience to Ireland in a Celtic prayer. Soprano Cindy Pena sang an emotional solo to the "Meditation" of Terry Waite. An uplifting waltz in an anonymous evening prayer helped brighten the mood just before intermission.

Holy Cross High School Girls' Choir, from Waterbury, directed by soprano Lyn Nagel, joined with CMC adding yet another dimension to the massive oratorio. The voices were hauntingly beautiful in a supplication by St. Francis of Assisi. Memories of Martin Luther King resonated with sadness. Words of Nelson Mandela, filled with determination and hope, reminded us of the many more hills to climb.

At times, the road to peace may seem endlessly uphill and circuitous like an etching by M.C. Escher. The music of Karl Jenkins can help sustain the spirit along the way.

Jan Stribula is a freelance writer in Ridgefield and can be reached at Janff@aol.com.