Masterworks gets back to deep roots

Contributing writerOctober 12, 2012 

This season, Masterworks Choral Ensemble is returning to its roots — and they couldn’t be much further away from roots music.

“Masterworks started in 1981 with the main intent of performing the great choral masterpieces,” said artistic director Gary Witley. “We said, ‘How about if we go back to that and use that as the umbrella for the entire season?’”

The idea stemmed from the challenge of the current economic climate.

“I came across a quote by Tolkien,” Witley said. “He wrote, ‘Deep roots are not reached by the frost.’ To me, the frost is the economic downturn. While the plant on the top is being affected by the frost, the roots of our organization are strong and sound. And so we have our roots season.”

The season is classical in the broad sense, he said. It’s art music. So the holiday concert will feature seasonal art music and the pops concert will be “Pop Meets the Classics.”

On Saturday night, however, the choral group will open its 32nd season with classical music that fits the narrower definition: music composed in the period from about 1750 to 1820.

“The big composers of that time were Haydn and Mozart,” Witley said. “Beethoven goes from classical into the next period, the romantic period.”

The first half of the concert focuses on Haydn, including excerpts from “The Creation;” the second half is devoted to Mozart, including excerpts from his Requiem Mass.

The program also includes a solo by cellist Christine Sears, a winner of the group’s Youth Music Competition. Sears, 16 and a junior at North Thurston High School, will perform “Adagio/Moderato” from Edward Elgar’s Concerto in E minor, Opus 85, accompanied by pianist Art Peterson.

“It’s a really emotional piece, and it’s very impressive, but it’s not fast and exciting,” Sears said. “It’s kind of a sad, dark piece.”

Sears said she’s thrilled about this concert. “It’s definitely a much bigger deal than any other concert I’ve done,” she said. “I’m soloing.

“It’s also in The Washington Center. Everyone loves to perform in The Washington Center.”

Saturday’s classical theme doesn’t mean all dark or serious, though.

The program also includes Linda Spevacek’s “Spoof a la Classique,” which adds humorous lyrics to melodies by Beethoven, Bach, Liszt, Haydn, Rossini and Handel, and a piece by P.D.Q. Bach, a character invented by musicologist and humorist Peter Schickele.

The name of the latter: “My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth.”

“It’s a send-up of all the folk-song madrigals,” Witley said.

The piece even includes such sound effects as coughing, snoring and laughing.


What: Masterworks Choral Ensemble opens its 2012-13 season with a program of classics and twists on the classics, plus a piece performed by Youth Music Competition winner Christine Sears.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with a lecture at 7 p.m.

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.

Tickets: $19 for adults; $16 for students and seniors; $9 for youths.

Information: 360-753-8586,,


The shows: “A Joyful Noise,” Dec. 1; Harmony Sweepstakes, March 16; “Deo Gloria,” April 20; “Pop Meets the Classics,” June 15.

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.

Season tickets: $83 for adults, $60 for students and seniors, $43 for youths. Without the Harmony Sweepstakes, it’s $68 for adults, $48 for students and seniors, $32 for youths.

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