Dolce Canto, an auditioned Missoula choral group, is entering spring with a new artistic director.
This weekend's concerts, titled “The Peace of Wild Things,” will be led by David Edmonds, the former director of choral activities at the University of Montana.
In 2018, he moved south and is now the director of choral studies at the University of New Mexico, leading the school’s concert choir and university chorus.
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During his time at UM, he collaborated with Dolce Canto and said he was “always impressed with the artistic quality” of the group. In 2014, they won a Dale Warland Singers Commission Award that resulted in a new work, and later a tour of South Korea.
So when artistic director Yong Mao left and the job opened up, it sparked his interest. On the one hand, he admired their performances and accomplishments.
“The human side of it, if you will, is simply that I fell in love with Missoula while I was there,” he said. "And I still have many colleagues and former students, etc., that I have kept in touch with."
The concert’s theme alludes to spring, the natural landscape and our relationship to it in western Montana. Beyond the beauty, there’s the therapeutic aspect, he said.
Composer Jake Runestad wrote the centerpiece, “Come to the Woods.” Edmonds commissioned him when he was at UM, and Runestad has visited Missoula. The piece, about 10 minutes long, is based on texts from naturalist John Muir. It, and other pieces on the program, will feature accompaniment by pianist Mac Merchant, who works with both local and regional groups. (He also toured with a production of “Wicked.”)
As artistic director, Edmonds said he hopes to build concerts around centerpieces, and potentially ones longer than this. He said these can have a substantial impact, both for audiences and listeners. He’d also like to look at commissioning such works. He’d like to see more collaborations with other musicians that can “help broaden the scope of the repertoire,” he said.
The program also includes works by two Pulitzer Prize winners.
George Walker, who died in 2018 at age 96, was the first Black composer to win the prize, which he was awarded in 1996. While this selection, “O Western Wind” (from Three Lyrics for Chorus), is short, Edmonds said it’s the most challenging work on the program, with “extreme mixed meters” and vocal entries at unexpected points. Caroline Shaw, the youngest composer ever to win the award back in 2013, wrote “and the swallow,” which draws its text from Psalm 84. (Earlier this year, the Missoula Symphony performed her work, “The Mountain Who Loved a Bird,” for its family concert.)
The program reaches back in time, too. The concert begins with a Baroque work by Monteverdi. It’s a madrigal from one of his late books, which he wrote a quarter-century after his early innovations in opera.
The work features accompaniment by UM cello professor Adam Collins. The text and mood shift from a “motionless night” and “motionless sea” to a work about unrequited love, Edmonds said, shifting from stillness to activity.
Since Edmonds is based in New Mexico, they’ve adopted a different model for rehearsals. He came to Missoula in March and they rehearsed heavily for a couple of days, and will return this week for more ahead of the concerts.
This structure has allowed former students outside Missoula, including Kalispell, Spokane and even Wyoming, to join.
Michael Marsolek, the board chair and a bass singer, said the ensemble now counts 30 people, which includes local choir directors, voice teachers and professional musicians.