For its spring concert, the Towne Singers will perform a musical history of choral music starting from medieval times and running through the present, completing the show with a piece the group commissioned last year.
It will be the world premiere of the piece, contemporary composer Eric Whitacre's “Seal Lullaby,” based on a Rudyard Kipling poem.
Being the first group to sing the piece is a privilege, Glendale choir member Julie Kirby said.
“I love the melody and the words,” she said. “It's to a Kipling poem, and it's just lovely. We're really thrilled to be the first group to sing this song.
In interpreting the piece, the singers and organ accompaniment will try to create a feel of the ocean, conductor Beth Richey said.
“We'll try to create the rocking back and forth, like the mother seal would rock its cub,” she said.
Whitacre visited two weeks ago to work with the singers on the composition, and he will attend the concert to hear his piece's debut.
His body of choral and symphonic work has been performed in Japan, Australia, China, Singapore, throughout Europe and at many American universities and colleges, Richey said.
It's been a thrill to work with such an accomplished composer, Richey said.
“He's considered one of the best modern composers,” the 27-year-old conductor said. “He just premiered an opera in Pasadena. It's a little overwhelming for me working with such a composer at such a young age.”
Choral music throughout the centuries, including works by Bach, Beethoven, Palestrina, Verdi, Bizet and several modern composers, will precede the Whitacre piece.
Among the selections will be Morten Lauridsen's “O Magnum Mysterium.” Written in 1995, it's one of Burbank singer Glen Stephenson's favorite pieces on the program.
“It is so beautiful,” he said. “It's very contemporary. I like modern-sounding things. And it's a challenge because of the harmonies.”
Towne Singer Richard Counsil, of La Crescenta, is looking forward to Beethoven's “Hallelujah,” he said.
“It celebrates God and his greatness,” Counsil said, adding that it's inspiring to sing in the Pasadena church because of its gothic architecture.
Hearing the hallowed composition in the church is what Angie Browne, of Glendale, is looking forward to.
“I want to hear what the piece is going to sound like in this sanctuary, and the organ,” she said. “I think it should be grand.”
Opera classics on the program include “Habanera” from the opera “Carmen” and “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from “Nabucco.” The choir will also sing a modern composition in the native dialect and rhythms of the Kroa Indians of Brazil.
Mezzo-Soprano Amy Arms will perform as the guest soloist in “Habanera.” Arms performs regularly in Southern California, and is a member of the L.A. Opera Chorus.
“It's always great to have a professional singer join us because it exposes the choir to a professional tone and is an inspiration to the singers,” Richey said.
The Towne Singers have been performing for 21 years. It is a nonprofit community choir with more than 90 members coming from Glendale, Burbank, La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge and other cities in the San Gabriel Valley.
In addition to two local concerts a year, the singers have performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and have gone on tour in the United Kingdom.