BERLIN - Voices from across New England joined together over the weekend at Bethany Covenant Church, kicking off a week-long experience that happens once a year.
The Connecticut Choral Artists’ 2018 Summer Festival unites 20 professional singers with 60 amateur or “avocational” singers, hand-picked to take part in the annual event.
The first of five rehearsals took place Sunday in the church, where the program will culminate with a concert at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4.
Artistic Director Chris Shepard is serving as maestro, guiding singers in separate sections as they work through the festival program all this week.
“Wonderful Town! A Bernstein Centenary” features the works of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, born 100 years ago this year. It includes selections from “West Side Story,” “Mass,” “Peter Pan,” “Candide” and “Wonderful Town.”
“We’re getting to do some really terrific music,” Shepard said. “It’s an exciting year.”
This is the festival’s 20th year. Many participants have taken part during multiple summers.
“It allows avocational singers the luxury of doing the harder music with the support of the pros,” Shepard explained. “Many come back year after year, which makes for a wonderful family environment.”
CONCORA’s section leaders sit among the singers, providing guidance during rehearsals.
“For me it’s like having a bunch of assistant conductors,” Shepard said.
After Sunday’s practice, the entire group sat down for a communal dinner together.
CONCORA was founded at South Congregational Church in New Britain, still its home base 44 years later. The professional chorus often performs with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra New England.
It also served as the resident chorus of the acclaimed Bard Festival, alongside the American Symphony Orchestra.
CONCORA member Edward Tyler is a music teacher at Manchester High School. He welcomed several of his own students to the festival, among 10 high school and college scholars in the group. Festival participants are selected through an application process, with most accepted by recommendations from community and church choruses.
“It’s so rare you get to sing with such a big and enthusiastic group,” Tyler pointed out. “The high level of music that gets created in the five rehearsals is something everyone can appreciate.”
As he took the stage to address singers Tyler told them, “I’ve been looking forward to this all summer. It’s going to be a fantastic week of music.”
Church member Ann Quinn said this is her 10th time taking part.
“My first festival was in 2001 and we sang Brahms,” she remembered.
Burlington resident Ellen Lyman came with her parents Andy and Susan Nagle, who live in Vermont. The family has been singing with CONCORA at least three summers.
“You can attach yourself to community choruses but you can’t get this quality of performance or expectation of performance anywhere else,” Susan Nagle pointed out. “That’s why we drove three hours to get here.”
“It’s wonderful,” Andy Nagle added.
Some singers come from as far away as Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas.
The 15-hour rehearsal schedule continues Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, with the final rehearsal Saturday morning. The concert is open to the public and tickets can be purchased at CONCORA.org.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.