YARMOUTH — Sometime toward the end of last year, Shannon Chase and Vox Nova, the highly regarded chamber choir she founded in 2009, parted ways, and it looked briefly as though this adventurous ensemble, which specialized in contemporary choral music, would vanish from the midcoast arts scene.

But by the end of 2018, a group of its singers, intent on continuing the choir’s mission, reorganized, with a new artistic director – Virgil Bozeman IV – and a new name, Una Voce Chamber Choir.

The new group quickly introduced itself – its first concert was in January, barely a month after its reconstitution was announced – and Saturday evening, it presented its second program, “Seeking What Is Yet Unfound” – an evening of contemporary settings of poetry by Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and e.e. cummings – at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.

Here is some good news: First, though Bozeman will undoubtedly reshape the choir in his own way, he seems comfortable continuing its practice of focusing on contemporary scores, presented in thoughtful, thematic programs. And second, the choir sings with the unity and blend implied by its new name (“a voice,” singular).

To open the program, Bozeman turned over the podium to Drew Albert, a tenor in the choir who is also its associate conductor, who led a bright, energetic performance of Paul Rardin’s “My Spirit is Uncaged,” setting of Whitman’s “Jubilant Song.” Short as it was, the piece was a fine test of the choir’s mettle, given its energy and consistent rhythmic demands, which the singers handled easily while also projecting the text with impressive clarity. Kellie Moody negotiated the involved piano writing ably, and proved a fine accompanist through the rest of the program as well.

Bozeman reclaimed the podium for David Conte’s “A Whitman Triptych” and the rest of the program, which included Randall Thompson’s “Frostiana (Seven Counry Songs by Robert Frost)” as well as two works by Eric Whitacre, “The City and the Sea (Five Settings of poems by e.e. cummings)” and “I carry your heart,” also a cummings setting.


Conte’s unaccompanied work, which includes illuminating settings of “O Setting Sun,” “What Is the Grass” and “Facing West,” posed steeper challenges for the choir. Mainly, it demands a broader range of expression and the ability to move effortlessly from serenity to robustness. The choir met those requirements easily.

But Conte’s score also pointed up a few areas where this choir needs work, or at least, an injection of confidence. One is that Bozeman will have to identify strong soloists within the group, or better encourage those he chooses to show what they have. Both soloists in the Conte – baritone Ryan Newell and tenor Albert (who had conducted, earlier) – have appealing voices, and clearly know how to shape a line effectively. But they sounded underpowered, as if they were singing in a corner on their own, not wanting to disturb anyone.

Another was that in passages in which the focus shifted between the male and female sections of the choir, the sopranos and altos seemed able to project power more decisively than the tenors and basses. That should not be difficult to address; in fact, the disparity was less striking in the Thompson, where every movement required a different choral deployment – sometimes the full choir, sometimes just the sopranos and a divided alto section, sometimes just the tenors and basses (divided in various ways).

The Thompson includes a few of Frost’s best known poems – “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” among them – and is written in a melodically rich, folksy style that captures Frost’s spirit beautifully. But folksiness isn’t this music’s only striking quality. Chromaticism and rhythmic vitality drive some of the settings as well, and Thompson’s setting of “A Girl’s Garden” has an overt theatricality, as if it were an outtake from one of Leonard Bernstein’s early stage works.

Whitacre, born in 1970, was the youngest composer on the program, but probably the most famous these days, thanks to his prolific output of works and recordings. These e.e. cummings settings are, like many of his works, immediately gratifying to the ear, and sufficiently varied – rhythmically, harmonically and in terms of contrasting levels of energy – to hold the listener’s interest. They also captured the wit (and in “i carry your heart,” the passion) of the cummings poems, which Una Voce, in turn, conveyed with an admirable directness.

The concert was dedicated to the memory of Christopher Hyde, my predecessor in this space, who died on June 2.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:


Twitter: kozinn

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