Adams sings praises of Aspen community, choral society |

Adams sings praises of Aspen community, choral society

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Choral Society conductor Ray Adams leads a rehearsal Tuesday evening at the Harris Concert Hall. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

For several months, Ray Adams had been glum about the prospects for the Aspen Choral Society, the group he founded 27 years ago. The Choral Society was low on funds, concert attendance has been low. And Adams himself – who conducts the concerts, has composed four large-scale choral works for the group to premiere, and handles tasks from publicity to fund-raising – was low on energy and optimism.But Adams and the Choral Society have a newfound hop in their step. The Choral Society’s financial fortunes have taken a turn for the better, thanks to matching $5,000 grants from the city of Aspen and the Thrift Shop. Adams is in the midst of composing the final installment of his five-part sacred choral cycle, the “Creation,” which, unlike past works, he describes as “a big, happy celebration.” And musicians are arriving in town from as far as Houston for this weekend’s Spring Concerts, set for today and Saturday at Harris Hall. The concert will feature approximately 90 voices from throughout the valley and the 35-piece Aspen Choral Society Orchestra.Perhaps the greatest contributor to Adams’ optimism is the music itself. The all-Mozart concerts will feature the Sinfonia Concertante, akin to a concerto for four wind instruments, and Mozart’s Requiem, among the most beloved pieces of choral music. “The programming, I think, for the concert is perfect,” said Adams in the offices of The Aspen Times.

The Concertante – featuring oboist Kathy Rafelowski, clarinetist Stephanie Zelnick, French hornist Devon Park and bassoonist Charles Hansen – was previously unfamiliar to Adams. But he was made a quick admirer of the music.”It’s like opening up a bottle of Mozart champagne,” he said. “It’s bubbly effervescence, a virtuoso tour de force for the four wind soloists. He was a younger man when he wrote this piece, and it’s fun.”The Requiem is a mirror image of the Concertante, in mood and historical context. Mozart composed his Requiem in 1791 – or wrote most of it as least. Mozart was on his literal death bed while writing the “Lachrymosa,” which translates as “Day of Tears,” and which Adams calls “arguably the most beautiful passage” in the Requiem. Mozart died before the work could be completed. His student, Sussmayr, was given the task of finishing the music.”And he did a very good job of it,” opined Adams. “But for years, people wondered if other sketches had been left behind. Mozart certainly would have done more in some places. But it’s perfect the way it is.”

Vocal soloists for the Requiem are bass Scott MacCracken, tenor Daniel Fosha, mezzo-soprano Kathryn L. Hone, and sopranos Marnie White and Stacey Weiss.The Choral Society may not be in perfect shape, but its fortunes are far better than a few months ago. “A lot of people stepped up,” Adams said. “The onus is now on us to get our [things] together. It’s time. The singers deserve it.”Adams seems energized by the support he has been shown by the city, the Thrift Shop and several individual donors. He is planning a fund-raising event for early winter, before the annual performances of Handel’s Messiah, and aims to enlist season sponsors for the group’s events. The organization, he hopes, will hire a grant writer by the end of the summer. The Choral Society has already instituted the Adopt-A-Musician program, which pairs donors with individual musicians they are supporting.”It means a lot to a donor to not only sit in the audience, wondering who they adopted,” Adams said, “but get a chance to meet them and know where they came from.”

In the offing is a possible name change, to reflect the fact that a substantial number of the singers and instrumentalists hail from downvalley communities.With his “Creation,” scheduled to be premiered this winter, on the horizon, Adams is again feeling as though he and the Choral Society can make a vital contribution to the valley.”The sign and barometer of the health of any community is what’s created from within,” he said. “I don’t want Aspen to get to a point where the only thing that matters is a big name that gets imported.”Aspen Choral Society’s Spring ConcertFriday and Saturday, March 25-26, 7:30 p.m.Harris HallTickets: $20, available at the Wheeler box office and at the doorStewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is

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