Capella Festiva unites Vassar, East Coast choirs in song

Director of Choral Activities Christine Howlett and Capella Festiva Treble Choir Director Susan Bileck worked on a choir festival, to be conducted by Bill Chilcott, that unites numerous East Coast choirs. courtesy of: London A Capella Festival.
Director of Choral Activities Christine Howlett and Capella Festiva Treble Choir Director Susan Bileck worked on a choir festival, to be conducted by Bill Chilcott, that unites numerous East Coast choirs. courtesy of: London A Capella Festival.
Director of Choral Activities Christine Howlett and Capella Festiva Treble Choir Director Susan Bileck worked on a choir festival, to be conducted by Bill Chilcott, that unites numerous East Coast choirs. courtesy of: London A Capella Festival.

The first ever Capella Festiva Treble Choir festival, a musical afternoon initiated by a local organization in Poughkeepsie that sponsors an adult and treble choir, will take place in The Skinner Hall of Music on Nov. 17 at 2:00 p.m. The event features music by members of the Capella Festiva Treble Choir, The Pennsylvania Girl’s choir and the Troy Children’s Choir together for performances. It also presents renowned English conductor and composer Bill Chilcott.

For Capella Festiva Treble Choir Director Susan Bialek ‘86 and Capella Festiva Artistic Director and Director of Choral Activities at Vassar Christine Howlett, this is a long worked for and awaited event.

Capella Festiva was founded in 1974 by Jameson Marvin, who was  then the Director of Choral Music at the College and Robert Harvey, and instrumentalist for the Hudson Valley Philharmonic. Membership in Capella Festiva is by audition, and the group pulls from throughout the greater Hudson Valley region.

After Howlett and Bialek took over the group in 2006, they expanded its activities by  founding the “Summer Choral Festival,”  an auditioned summer choral festival at Vassar for children in the Hudson Valley, and the Capella Festiva Treble Choir. This was done in an effort to bring high quality choral music to the region, and then the two began discussing a larger festival for the future.

“Ever since 2006, [Bialek] and I talked about doing something like this where we bring in real notable artists like Ben Chilcott. We put together some funds over the years from our summer festival and decided to bring him to Vassar,” Howlett explained.

The Children’s Capella Festiva choir is made up of children from Poughkeepsie aged 10-18, and during the summer the choir auditions children as young as 8.

“You compete with so many other activities like soccer and theater and so I pushed to get the children singing earlier so that they fall in love with singing and want to continue,” explained Howlett.

Howlett also reached out to the Pennsylvania Girls’ Choir and the Troy’s Children Choir to participate in this event, and select members from both choirs traveled back and forth to Vassar in preparation for the upcoming concert.

“It didn’t start as something for Vassar students but now it’s promoting the school for kids who might want to attend, and I hope that all the girls from the Pennsylvania Girls’ Choir apply. It’s a way of inviting people here and showing them that we’re not just our own little bubble and that the music we’re presenting is for all ages. Vassar hasn’t had a chance to do this before now,” Howlett noted.

The Pennsylvania Girls’ Choir has been around for nearly decade. According to its website, the choir was founded in 2004 and has grown to more than 160 girls from five different counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

Within the past two years they have performed a number of world premieres, including Thomas Pastatieri’s “A Charm of Moonlight,” and Jonathan Leshnoff’s “Hope: An Oratorio.”

The Troy Children’s Choir is an ensemble of children from 2nd through 1oth grade. The choir sings in a variety of languages and genres.

In total, more than 50 young girls and boys will participate in the event.

Bill Chilcott, who manages a schedule of commissions world-wide as a master of children’s choir compositions, will come to campus and conduct original songs from his extensive selection of work.

Some of these commissions include the first performance of The Angry Planet at the Royal Albert Hall in England as well as Five Days that Changed the World, a twenty minute work that will premiere at the Worcester Cathedral.

James M. Fitzwilliam, a notable organist, pianist and composer of the Hudson Valley, will accompany Chilcott on the piano. Chilcott has over 125 pieces published by the Oxford University Press, two acclaimed recordings on Signum, Making Waves (The Sirens) and Man I Sing (BBC Singers), and he wrote the title tracks for the King’s Singer albums, Swimming over London and High Flight.

His song “Irish Blessing” appeared on the multi platinum debut album of “The Priests” in 2008.

In addition his Requiem was released on Hyperion and the Wells Cathedral Choir and Nash Ensemble conducted by Matthew Owens performed it in March 2012.

Since 1997, Chilcott has conducted in 23 countries in various continents, and received invitations to conduct in Poland, Denmark, Spain, Germany, China, Japan, the United States and Canada.

The Vassar College Music Department is sponsoring the event, providing both administrative support with programs and advertising. Members of the Vassar College Choir will have a chance to work with Chilcott on Friday Nov. 15 in a master class on one of his works, “Beach,” for chorus and viola.

“Beach is a beautiful piece that is deeply about nature. It was commissioned for a hospital in London and each piece reflects memory and the architecture of the building,” explained Howlett.

This song will be performed at the Vassar College Choir concert on Sunday November 24 at 3:00 p.m., with Maria Ichizawa ’14 on the Viola.

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