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British composer Will Todd takes a baton at SORS’ season opener

Southern Oregon Repertory Singers plan a profoundly moving concert experience when it kicks off its 33rd season opener with highlights by British composer Will Todd.

The program’s showcase number is Todd’s “Among Angels,” which is “absolutely transcendent,” according to SORS music director Paul French.

“The music is lyric and beautiful,” French says. “However, it’s not a one-note concert. There are contrasting pieces as well, some even boisterous and fun.”

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, in the Music Recital Hall, 450 S. Mountain Ave., at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. Tickets are $27 or $33 and can be purchased at repsingers.org or by calling 541-552-0900. Musicologist Ed Wight will lecture one hour prior to each concert in Room 132 of the music hall.

Todd will be on hand at the concert and conduct one of his pieces, “The Call of Wisdom,” to be sung by the Repertory Singers and the SOU Chamber Choir.

“Wisdom” was commissioned in 2006 by the Genesis Foundation, an art project based in the U.K., for London chamber choir The Sixteen and its conductor, Harry Christophers. Scored for choir and two harps, with a libretto by Ben Dunwell, The Sixteen premiered the work in Salzburg, Austria.

“This was my first collaboration with the Genesis Foundation,” Todd says, “and the piece makes full and lyrical use of the sumptuous choral textures of the chamber choir, interwoven with bell-like harp calls.”

Music reviewer John Quinn of Music Web International wrote that Todd’s creativity was liberated in the work of three movements, which he called “imaginative and resourceful.”

“The Call of Wisdom” was composed for the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee. More than five million people heard it performed during the event.

“I love his music,” French says. “I’ve been buying so much of it over the years, that’s probably why his representatives contacted me about his coming here.”

Todd was booked for an East Coast engagement — not exactly in the neighborhood. But French met with colleague David Humphreys, director of the Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU, and the two agreed to split the cost of the composer’s appearance.

A companion piece, “Angel Songs II,” will be performed during the concert, along with “Sainte-Chapelle” by Eric Whitacre. Written for The Tallis Scholars, a British early music vocal ensemble, it tells the story of a chapel-window image of an angel that comes to life and sings.

“Ya Eres Mia” by Morten Lauridsen, written for choir and piano, takes its inspiration from a love poem by Pablo Neruda.

Also look for “Harpsonnets” by James Bassi.

“This piece features Eugene harpist Jeff Parsons and is based on three Shakespeare sonnets,” French says.

“Tonight,” by Repertory Singers’ resident composer and accompanist Jodi French, is for choir, harp and piano and celebrates a Sara Teasdale poem.

“Kpalongo” by Derek Bermel, a South African composer, is a big contrast in style, French says.

“It’s joyful, percussive, boisterous and fun.”

There will be “Horizons,” by Peter Louis van Dijk, who also is from South Africa.

“This piece is dramatic, a cautionary tale,” French says.

It tells the story of English ships arriving in South Africa, greeted by trusting natives who soon discover their trust is misplaced. Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra timpanist Theresa McCoy will accompany on African percussion instruments.

“Indodana” by Michael Barrett and Ralf Schmitt is in the style of South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

An arrangement of “Good Night, My Angel,” a lullabye by Billy Joel, written by the King’s Singers, was inspired by Joel’s daughter, Alexa Ray Joel.

“Yonder Come Day” by Paul John Rudoi concludes the program with a rousing spiritual. McCoy will accompany on the tambourine.

“It’s layers of three different spirituals on top of each other,” French says.

Todd will join audiences for open discussions following each performance, and he’ll conduct a clinic for students and members of the choirs from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.

“This is a rare opportunity for our singers and audience members to get a first-hand, up-close encounter with one of the best composers of choral music in the world,” French says on the Rep Singers’ website.

Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland.

Born in 1970 in Durham, British composer Will Todd's choral music ranges from simple anthems for church and youth choirs to complex works for professional chamber choirs. Photo by Andy Holdworth