BRATTLEBORO -- There’s no better time to talk about Paul Winter’s "Missa Gaia" than a warm, sunny, picture-perfect day in May.
Wrapped up in preparing for the upcoming performances of the piece by the Brattleboro Concert Choir, and equally caught up in the warmth and greenness of a spring that has finally come, Susan Dedell bubbled over as she talked.
"We’re having a great time," said Dedell, who will conduct the Brattleboro Concert Choir and a strong palette of special guests in performances of Winter’s "Missa Gaia" on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m., at Centre Congregational Church, 193 Main St.
Conceived in a spirit of freshness when the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City asked saxophonist Winter to write a new mass, "Missa Gaia" is both familiar and original, a spirited and spiritual celebration of the ecological and the ecumenical together.
Taking inspiration and thematic material from recordings of wolves, whales, seals and other animals which are played as part of the performance, Winter’s Earth Mass is a much-needed joyful celebration of the great community of all the earth’s creatures and ecosystems.
"I think it’s really fun and really exhilarating," said Dedell. "It is about the interconnectedness of nature and spirit. In that sense, it’s a piece for our time. Š In this piece, the underlying feeling is one of gratitude and joyfulness, just like we feel in May.
Musically, the piece reflects the open-minded, omnivorous approach of Winter, a six-time Grammy-winning composer and saxophonist whose work and collaborations have reached across genres to encompass jazz, classical, New Age, folk and other styles and have often included recordings of sounds from animals and the natural world.
"I do think people don’t understand what a fine instrumentalist and composer he is," said Dedell, who describes "Missa Gaia" as "Gregorian chants meet gospel ... in a way that’s very authentic.
"Because this piece is composed so much from the heart, with so much integrity, it really hits the mark," she said.
But that mark includes generous space for ongoing creation and evolution. The piece originated in 1982 as an interweaving of creative ideas from the members of the Paul Winter Consort, including Paul Halley, Jim Scott, Oscar Castro-Neves and Kim Oler. In subsequent performances, seven core movements remain, but new movements have been written and are still being written and may be added to the work as the director desires, lending a sense, as in the natural world, of constant creation, evolution and renewal.
Dedell has chosen to add three movements, including one created by longtime Winter collaborator and Brattleboro resident, Grammy-winning cellist Eugene Friesen.
In keeping with that spirit of renewal, Dedell has assembled a team of guest collaborators who represent, in her view, the next generation of fine musicians.
The first person she called was Tony Speranza Jr., a former piano student of hers and Brattleboro Union High School alumnus, who went on to graduate from Hartt College of Music. A saxophonist, who will play soprano sax for the concert, Speranza is a member of the Asylum Quartet, which recently won the Grand Prize and the Gold Medal at the 2014 Chamber Music Competition in Boston. He is the son of local music teacher Tony Speranza.
Guest vocalist is Zara Bode, a founding member of the Sweetback Sisters, most recently heard locally in the April presentations of "Three in the Wilderness" by Brattleboro-based Winged Productions. Percussionist -- and Bode’s husband -- Stefan Amidon, is a Brattleboro native and former student of Steve Rice’s at BUHS, who went on to the jazz program at Oberlin College and now has an active career as a freelance musician.
Guest cellist is Marta Roma of Barcelona, Spain, a student of Friesen’s at the Berklee School of Music. Friesen is a longtime member of the Paul Winter Consort, featured on the original recording of "Missa Gaia" and is now mentoring his student on the piece.
Other instrumentalists include oboist Ichiro Hilbrun, a versatile musician on the faculty of the Florida Gulf Coast University and active with a number of ensembles, including the Walt Disney World Orchestra; and pianist Brian Fairley, a former Brattleboro resident, who is music director of Double Edge Theater and is an active musician, teacher and director in the Boston area.
"I wanted to have guest musicians for this concert who were either former or current students of the musicians of my generation who were associated with this piece," said Dedell. "This sense of community and connectedness seems so appropriate for this piece, not to mention the fact that they are awesome musicians."
Tickets are $15 general, $8 for students, and are available by calling the Brattleboro Music Center at 802-257-4523 or visiting www.bmcvt.org.