'All-Night Vigil of Rachmaninoff' by Brattleboro Concert Choir

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BRATTLEBORO >> Considered by many to be the greatest piece of unaccompanied choral music ever written, the "All-Night Vigil of Rachmaninoff" will be performed by the Brattleboro Concert Choir on Saturday, at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 4 p.m. Both concerts are at Centre Congregational Church, 193 Main St., Brattleboro under the choir's artistic director is Susan Dedell.

Lasting closer to an hour than all night, the Vigil still manages to encompass an astonishing range of both human emotions, not to mention actual musical tones. Rachmaninoff loved the music and tradition of the Orthodox Easter Vigil, and this piece reflects that passion and joy. "The mood of the music ranges from wildly celebratory to darkly mysterious," comments Dedell. "It is also famous for containing some of the lowest notes every written in choral music! And the effect is absolutely thrilling."

In the twenty-six years that Susan Dedell has directed the Brattleboro Concert Choir, there is only one piece of music that she has undertaken three times: Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil. Although she delights in exploring new choral music, the return to an old friend presents an opportunity to explore and enjoy the music on a deeper level. "The fascinating thing about this time around is that instead of finding the music more complex, I find it unfolding as a simpler piece. And that is my goal with this performance – to allow the simplicity and sheer beauty of the music to shine and not be outstripped by the very real effort it takes to achieve that point. I want to achieve that wonderful miracle of heart-to-heart communication between singers and audience that happens when we reach the heart of the music." If it is at heart a "simple" piece, then what is the purpose of the multilayered (sometimes as many as 16 separate parts at once) harmonies? According to Dedell, these provide the sensory ambience that gives the piece its intense visceral quality. "In a Russian Orthodox service, one is surrounded with a rich tapestry of colors, sounds, and smells. Candles glow, icons gleam; bells and chants range from almost inaudibly low to silvery highs; and the smells of incense and beeswax infuse the atmosphere. It is spiritual and sensual at the same time, just like Rachmaninoff's music."

It is Rachmaninoff's musical genius and passionate heart that transform these sensations into sound. "The Vigil is like a time-space transport machine. From the moment of the first note, listeners should feel as if they have been lifted to a different time and place, even to a different state of reality. And as they pass through the individual movements of the Vigil, they will take a journey that is both emotional and physical, concluding with the happiest last movement that I know of in all of sacred music. Bells ringing, dancing, blissful abandonment!"

Tickets are $15 and $10 for students. Tickets are available at the Brattleboro Music Center by calling 802-257-4523, online at bmcvt.org, and at the door.


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