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From the Director: An invitation to The Greening

Dear friends,

On this shortest day of the year, it is with great joy that I write to you for the first time – and about the season’s music, no less!

Reflecting on repertoire over this past summer, themes of reincarnation kept insistently rising to the surface. This year clearly marks a new beginning for both Ensemble Companio and myself, but the excitement of fresh opportunities comes too with the acknowledgment that we are creating music together in volatile times. We may not know what the future holds, but we will (in all likelihood) still share the same earth.

Minneapolis, MN, just before a summer thunderstorm. (Photo: Erik Peregrine)

As a Pacific Northwesterner, the natural world has always been a source of awe and inspiration to me. Wandering in the old growth rain forests I used to call home, one cannot help but be amazed at the beautiful intricacy of Life, each being governed by their own individual cycles but somehow also co-creating the great, green harmony of the woods. The ancient and the new feed each other. There is both overwhelming energy and profound stillness. St. Hildegard of Bingen, the medieval mystic whose antiphon O Frondens Virga opens the second half of the program, describes this permeating life-essence as “viriditas”, or living greenness. Sitting near one of the many lakes close to my current home in Minneapolis, I was struck by the sameness of water, light, soil, and grasses – “viriditas” itself – across the thousands of miles now separating me from those dense forests; an apt metaphor for Ensemble Companio’s unusual rehearsal structure perhaps, but also the thread on which to pull for our first season together.

The Greening explores the parallels between human experience and the cycles of the natural world – through darkness into light, through winter into spring, through loss into renewal.

A blurring of opposites – old and new, sacred and secular, universal and highly personal – runs throughout the program; listeners will hear Josquin des Prez’s seamlessly cyclical Salve Regina alongside Edie Hill’s translucent We Bloomed in Spring, Tomás Luis de Victoria’s beloved O Vos Omnes alongside recent works by Jussi Chydenius and Don Macdonald, and Dale Trumbore’s Spiritus Mundi, a luminous setting of a text by contemporary poet Amy Fleury inspired by Renaissance composer Orlando de Lassus, among other gems. One particular under-performed jewel in this year’s repertoire is Abbie Betinis’ God of Owls, which sets an anonymous poet’s prayer that we may be prevented “from being blind to what we’re afraid to see” atop a thorny bramble of low voices and haunting bird calls. The course of the program meanders through awe, sadness, and mystery to hope and healing, meditating on the myriad ways we ourselves are reflected in nature throughout the journey.

Mark your calendars for The Greening:
March 24-25 – New York
April 28-29 – DC
May 12-13 – Connecticut shore

More specific information about locations, venues, etc. will be available in the new year, so be sure to keep an eye out for another note from us! As always, you are more than welcome to join us for one of our rehearsal weekends; email us at info@ensemblecompanio.org and we’ll provide you with more details about when we’ll be in your area.

Though today’s solstice marks the first official day of winter (which is certainly evident here in Minnesota!), it also marks the beginning of the sun’s gradual return. May you find peace and joy in each day’s growing light, and I hope to see you in a few short months for The Greening!

All my best,

New Beginnings: A message from Ensemble Companio

 

 

 

 

 

Dear friends,

A new season is upon us, and with that, some new faces and new beginnings! My name is Mikey Steiger, and after four seasons of singing in the tenor section, I am joining the Board as the third President of Ensemble Companio (I’ll still moonlight as a tenor – never fear!).

Last weekend, we began our seventh season by welcoming our new Artistic Director, Erik Peregrine, into the Ensemble Companio family. After a long and productive day of charging fearlessly through the repertoire for this year, we gathered for the traditional dinner and fellowship at a nearby member’s house. Our Founding Director, Joe Gregorio, stopped by with his family, and there in the kitchen (where everything important seems to happen), Joe and Erik met for the first time and greeted each other with open arms. It was a moment of pure happiness and deep gratitude from both. A passing of the batons, from the founder of the group who brought us together and set us on our path, to the new director, whose artistic vision will carry us into the future.

I was immediately transported back to my first rehearsal with Ensemble Companio, in our third season. What I remember most about that first day was the welcome I received, which from the moment I walked in the door was warm, joyful, and all-encompassing. It was like discovering “old friends who’ve just met,” if I may borrow a line from The Muppet Movie. I’ve sung in many different choirs for nearly 20 years now, but never before have I felt so instantly, completely at home as I did and continue to feel from my very first moments with this group. In that moment 4 years ago, and again last weekend, I felt a joy and excitement that I hadn’t expected.

The truth is, I practically had to drag myself to rehearsal last weekend. Stories of anger, of division, of terrible natural disasters and destruction left in their path have been the top headlines this summer. At times, a feeling of hopelessness and despair has drained me to the very core these past few weeks. As Saturday approached, the idea of traveling hours from home and giving up my free time to spend poring over new scores seemed overwhelming, the complete opposite of self-preservation.

It turns out that it was. By which I mean that turning inward was not what I needed at all. I needed to sing, to discover beautiful music that I never knew existed. I needed to forge connections with our new director and new members, and renew those with returning members. By the end of a weekend spent with my amazing fellow singers and our inspiring new Artistic Director, my heart was full to bursting with joy, laughter, and song.

Every year, we form and reform this community of singers – each time new, and yet always somehow the same. As I returned home, I felt open to the world again, ready to face the challenges the next week would present, with a future that has never looked brighter. That is the power of music. That is the power of love, shared with friends old and new. That is the power of community. That is Ensemble Companio.

I am so excited about this season that we are making, friends! I can’t wait to share it with you.

With love,

Introducing Our New Artistic Director: A Special Message from the President

Dear Friends,

I hope you are all doing well, and enjoying time outside in the gorgeous warm weather we’re having!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Ensemble Companio has chosen Erik Peregrine as our new Artistic Director.

Erik Peregrine

In his own words:

I am overjoyed to be joining the Ensemble Companio family and to carry on this vibrant tradition of heart-filled choral music in the coming season. Ensemble Companio’s mission of building bridges and human connections through music resonates deeply with my own artistic values, and I am so inspired by the musicians’ dedication to live out this mission in all they do together. I am both thrilled and humbled to be entrusted with artistic stewardship of this unique choral community going forward.

We, too, are overjoyed to welcome Erik into the Ensemble Companio family, and are eager for him to both push our musical boundaries and help us build exciting new bridges. He will begin his tenure as Artistic Director this summer.

For all the hard work, diligent follow-up, respectful debate, and thorough discussions that led us to this point, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the members of the Artistic Director Search Committee, especially my co-chair Mikey Steiger, The Board, and the wonderful singers in Ensemble Companio. I would also like to thank Michael Weinberg for kindly and steadily shepherding the Ensemble through this most recent season. Throughout the entirety of the search, all were patient, thoughtful, and expressed great care for the Ensemble. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to serve as President for the past three years; indeed, it has been an honor.

A backstage moment with Megan Lemley (alto, Development Chair) and Mikey Steiger (tenor) during intermission in Washington, DC. (Photo: Sarah Glaser)

Since this will be my last message as President of Ensemble Companio, I wanted to share something with you that happened several years ago. In the spring of 2013, when I had just completed my first season with the Ensemble and was serving as Ensemble Advocate, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Chorus America conference in Washington, D.C. The conference was packed with inspiring lectures, round-table discussions, and opportunities to learn from more established groups. There were also “buttonhole interactions”–chances to speak with someone experienced in fundraising/musical direction/board leadership/etc one-on-one, for 15 minutes. I sat down with the then General Manager of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and explained Ensemble Companio’s founding and structure, and our mission. He listened intently, offering sage advice and encouragement. He then asked about our long-term plans. Surrounded by representatives from other choirs that had been operating for 20 or 30 years–some even more–and with budgets much larger than ours, I wasn’t sure what to say. How could a choir like Ensemble Companio–barely 2 years old and with an improbable traveling rehearsal structure–hope to plan 10 or even 5 years out? I started, “Well, I really hope that we’ll be around 5 years from now…” And he answered simply, “You will. Of that I have no doubt.” I was surprised and heartened by his conviction. And he was right.

Having a laugh during our end-of-season brunch in Newport, RI. (Photo: Elise Croteau-Chonka)

Here we are, about to begin our seventh season. We have evolved with our membership, we have expanded our Board and our fundraising capacity, we have sung in seven states and Washington, D.C., won awards, completed our first-ever Artistic Director search, and continue to build bridges between people through authentic, inspiring performances of the finest choral music. It’s been an amazing journey–one I now look forward to participating in simply as a singer–and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

In the next few months, a new President will take the reins. We’ll have some new Board members, too, and I can’t wait for you to meet them. As always, we welcome you to contact us with any thoughts or suggestions you have along the way. Clearly, we couldn’t have done all this without your wonderful support: the Ensemble Companio family is incredibly special, and I know I speak for all the members when I say we know how lucky we are to be a part of it. Here’s to the next seven years.

With deepest gratitude,

Cailin