Ask the members of Harvard’s Holden Choirs — the Harvard Glee Club, The Radcliffe Choral Society, and the Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum — to describe their new director, Andrew Clark, and their answers usually include the same word: energy.
“Andy brings an energy and freshness,” said Jason Varnell ’12, a glee club member. “We just had a retreat when we rehearsed for three days straight. We were tired on the second day, but Andy was directing us. He was dancing around, talking to us, anything to get a chuckle out of the choir. He gives so much, and we use that energy for singing.”
Clark’s enthusiasm may come in part from his youth. Barely 34, he was named director of choral activities last May. The move came after Clark spent seven years at Tufts University, where he presided over a quadrupling of choir membership, led students on international tours, and engaged in creative collaborations with other universities and ensembles. Clark has also served as chorus master and assistant conductor of Opera Boston, associate conductor of the Boston Pops Esplanade Chorus, and assistant conductor of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh (the chorus of the Pittsburgh Symphony), to name just a few of his posts.
Clark hopes to bring fresh energy and vision to choral music at Harvard. One of his top priorities is to leverage digital technology to bring the Holden Choirs to the world.
“We have a treasure trove of recordings on vinyl, tape, even eight-track that I would like to digitize,” he said. “It can be a challenge to fill Sanders five to six times a year for a performance, but there are over 30 million amateur choir members in the U.S. Many of them have iPods and laptops. Our groups are too talented not to figure out how to disseminate our performances around the world.”
Clark also hopes to bring new programming to Harvard’s choirs, often by looking to the past.
“I’m interested in the rediscovery of neglected American pieces,” he explained. “I recently found a piece by the 20th century composer Ross Lee Finney at Harvard’s Loeb Music Library, one of the few places in the world that has a copy. Finney took 14 hymns from the Ainsworth Psalter [that was] brought to America by the pilgrims in the 17th century and wrote arrangements for them so they sound fresh and familiar at the same time. The glee club will perform them in our March 5, 2011, show, and we hope to be the first to record this composition in studio.”
The choirs’ most-challenging program will come at the end of the year. “On the Transmigration of Souls” is John Adams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning composition for chorus and orchestra, written as a tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Modern and emotionally intense, Adams’ piece includes prerecorded sounds and spoken word, as well as a children’s choir, which sings fragments from missing-persons signs posted at ground zero in the days after the attack. Clark said he chose “On the Transmigration of Souls” because it shows students how art can respond to violence and human tragedy.
“I struggled with the decision to program the piece because it’s so difficult,” he said. “It brings back a terrible experience. But art serves not only as a balm, but also as a way to confront the world we live in.”
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a complex composition that Clark describes as “the antidote” to Adams’ piece and “an incomparable expression of the joy and connectivity of human experience,” will follow “On the Transmigration of Souls.”
Clark hopes that students and audiences are excited by the new programming. At the same time, he hopes to honor the choirs’ 150-year history of excellence. “Every tradition — including the annual retreats — has proven itself to be extremely effective,” he said.
Above all, Clark wants to honor the legacy of his predecessor, Jameson Marvin, who was choral director at Harvard for more than 30 years, and under whom Clark served as an assistant conductor from 2001 to 2003.
“The spirit, the sense of purpose, and the expectations of students for excellence speaks volumes about Jim Marvin and his legacy,” Clark said. “Jim viewed his career as an investment. It’s my job to make sure that investment continues to flourish.”
Upcoming holiday concerts
Haydn’s “Maria Theresa Mass”
The Harvard-Radcliffe Chorus performs “Theresienmesse” with the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston at Sanders Theatre.
Kevin Leong, conductor
Dec. 4, 8 p.m. Admission is $20 (general)/$10 (students & senior citizens), and tickets are available through the Harvard Box Office.
Christmas on the Common
The Radcliffe Choral Society and the Harvard Glee Club perform at First Church Congregational in Cambridge, 11 Garden St.
Andrew Clark and Kevin Leong, conductors
Dec. 10, 8 p.m. Admission is $20 (general)/$10 (students & senior citizens), and tickets are available through the Harvard Box Office.