A conductor's last lark

Singers and audience members expressed mixed emotions before Madrigalia’s final concert of the season. It was the last one conducted by the choral group’s long-time music director, Roger Wilhelm. He received a standing ovation before anyone sang a note.

The crowd was bigger than expected (my guess, 300+). Ticket sales surpassed those of Madrigalia’s annual Christmas concert. Richard Gladwell, host of the national sacred music show With Heart and Voice, made an appearance, as did recently-retired classical music host Mordecai Lipshutz. Tom Folan also attended: he’ll conduct Madrigalia in the fall while they search for a new director. Folan’s first CD with the Baroque chamber orchestra Publick Musik is one of my favorite recordings of all time.

The first half of the concert included an exquisite Requiem by Eleanor Daley (a church music director in Toronto) who set Latin, Anglican text and poetry to deceptively simple-sounding music. The second half started with a buoyant French folk song about the ideal husband (ladies, he’s a man who takes care of chickens), two athletic pieces by Aaron Copland, and a set of four songs by Virgil Thomson that made it on the program due to grant money Madrigalia received from the Virgil Thomson Foundation. A disclaimer from the conductor was unnecessary: the pieces were charming. But the best moments happened during two solos, tossed off by basses. Joe Finetti’s reading of Aaron Copland’s “Lark” spun out with deft, conviction, and joy.

The reception afterwards was packed. Piles of brownies, lemon bars, and macaroons vanished. The crowd downed four bowls’ worth of punch in the first few minutes. Board member Dean Eckberg had to make an emergency run to Wegmans.

There were at least two candidates for Roger’s job sitting in the hall. As a Madrigalia Board member, I imagined their desire to lead the group only intensified.