Works by Women True Concord Voices and Orchestra features female-penned music

By Laura Latzko

Since 2004, True Concord Voices and Orchestra has been sharing classical music from around the world, from composers from different centuries.

This year, the Grammy-nominated orchestra and choir will continue to bring classical selections to audiences but in outdoor settings with smaller audiences and through video recordings of performances.

The first half of the season started in October and runs through December, with shows at a variety of venues in Tucson and Green Valley.

This season is operating under a “bubble” concept inspired by the NBA. As part of this, vocalists quarantined 10 days prior to rehearsals and performances.

True Concord is also taking other measures to make this season safe, such as offering no-touch ticket systems, requiring masks and limiting concerts to 50 patrons.

“We are taking extreme precautions to not only protect our artists but our audiences, our staff, our volunteers and everybody who is involved. First and foremost, we need to be concerned with everyone’s well-being,” says Eric Holtan, music director.

“We consider that well-being to include access to and the ability to be able to make great music at a time when the world really needs it more than ever.”

This season is centered around the theme of “HER,” and each concert is inspired by the complex and varying roles women play as nurturers, leaders, trailblazers, healers, warriors and individuals.

The series is being presented during the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

“We want to celebrate that this year. We thought a good way of doing that would be to program a season that highlights the various roles in which women have made an indelible impact on the world,” Holtan says.

Throughout the season, the organization will offer videos of its concerts for patrons who do not yet feel comfortable going out to events or who don’t live in Tucson.

“That’s the beauty of the internet. We can put these concerts up online, and people anywhere in the world can watch them and take them in,” Holtan says.

The videos are being recorded at Camelback Bible Church in Paradise Valley and will be available to view around the same time as the live concerts.

True Concord opened the season with Johannes Brahms’ “Requiem,” which was written by the composer following the death of his mother.

Two “Vocal Consorts” concerts from October 28 to November 8 will highlight smaller ensembles of around four to five singers. As part of these concerts, the vocalists will perform pieces such as English madrigals.

These two concerts are being conducted by Philip Moody, assistant director and a longtime vocalist for True Concord.

Moody says that when working with smaller ensembles, it is often a collaborative effort between the conductor and performers.

“You are trusting these amazing vocalists to deliver your vision of the piece but also their vision of the piece,” Moody says.

During the “Mother Earth” concert from November 13 to November 15, choir members, soloists and musicians will perform works by composers from different continents, including Randall Thompson, Johannes Brahms, Charles Villiers Stanford and Eric Whitacre.

For Whitacre’s “Little Birds,” choir members will imitate bird sounds.

Video recordings of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” and a Mary-inspired program called “Lessons and Carols by Candlelight-Mary’s Gift” will be available for view in December. There will be no live performances for these concerts.

As part of the “Lessons and Carols” concert, audiences will can hear three pieces from True Concord’s Christmas album, which was released in November 2019.

Moody says that as a vocalist, each season offers chances to perform new and familiar pieces, all of which have their own nuances and challenges.

“There are always a few pieces in every season that I don’t know, or it’s been a while since I’ve worked with them and I get to revisit them and love all of them all over again,” Moody says.

“All of these big works are a living gem that every time we go back and revisit it, it’s a time for us to polish it a different way, put it into a different light so that it shines in a different radiance.”

The dates for the spring concerts are still being developed, but the programming has already been set.

During the “Trailblazers” concert, True Concord will premiere a new work by composer Jocelyn Hagen, which uses texts from women about the female experience.

The program will also have other works that are written by female composers or incorporate texts by women authors and poets. During this concert, audiences will also have a chance to hear a piece by the winner of the 2020 Stephen Paulus Emerging Composers Competition. This national contest was designed for emerging composers ages 18 to 40.

This year, the composers wrote classical pieces incorporating poems by prominent female suffragists.

Holtan is always surprised by the varied works that emerging composers develop for the competition.

“I’m not a composer, so I greatly admire those who have that skill. I love seeing what composers come up with because words inspire different thoughts, feelings and creativity in everybody. It’s really interesting to see how these various composers react to the texts,” Holtan says.

Moody says the competition gives the winners the chance to work closely with the orchestra and choir members.

The two world premieres are part of the organization’s efforts to highlight new classical pieces.

As part of “Music for the Royal She” concert, True Concord will present works inspired by or written for royal women such as Empress Maria Theresa, Queen Mary and Queen Caroline.

“The Goddess” concert will feature Carl Orff’s masterwork “Carmina Burana.”

True Concord is able to reach audiences of different generations through its varied programming and educational efforts, in which artists work with performers in local high schools.

In the past, the orchestra and choir has programmed concerts focused on Latin American music and African American spirituals and folk songs, which have helped to attract a wider audience.

True Concord’s singers hail from different parts of the country, and a majority of the musicians are from the Tucson area.

The performers have been working with the organization for varying lengths of time.

Many have been with the organization for around four to eight years, but a few members have either performed with True Concord since the beginning or are just starting out with the organization.

Moody has sung with True Concord for the last 10 years. He has found that the returning orchestra and choir members form close-knit relationships with each other over time.

“One thing I love about True Concord is the sense of family that we have,” Moody says. “There are a lot of old friends that you get to come back with.”

Moody says True Concord has had a similar mission over the last 10 years.

“There’s always been that strive for excellence, that strive for the organization to provide nurturing and enriching experiences for the audience, vocalists and the musicians,” Moody says.

This year, the organization scaled down the number of singers and orchestra members due to COVID-19. Holtan says this won’t change the way the music is approached and presented.

“The music is the music. My approach to it is always dictated by what’s in it and who wrote it. That’s the main consideration. The music-making process is a collective process. Everybody has a significant role. I may be the conductor, but it takes the whole group to make this work,” Holtan says.

“Of course, every project is different, depending on who’s involved, how many people are involved and the group dynamic that exists within that particular makeup. But we all have a commitment to the music, bringing out the inherent beauty of it and doing it in a stylistically accurate way that honors the intentions of the composer.”

Holtan says that for him as a conductor, it is meaningful to work with masterworks and contemporary pieces.

“There’s nothing quite like preparing and conducting a piece by one of the greats like Bach or Brahms, knowing the immense history behind those works and the number of performances of it by ensembles and leading musicians all over the world. That’s an awesome experience,” Holtan says. “Equally awesome is preparing and conducting a work that has never been heard. It’s really exhilarating. In that case, you oftentimes get the experience of working with the composer, who helps you to understand their insights into the music.”

With the additional expenses of video recordings and reduced ticket revenue, the organization needed to raise additional funds for this season.

Community members helped the organization by donating an additional $100,000 toward this season.

“Based on our history with their community and our base of supporters, we felt confident that we could go to them and they would respond. They have indeed,” Holtan says. “People are really digging deeper in support, and for that, all of us at True Concord, the musicians and the board, are grateful.”