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Chamber Singers explore shadows of sadness

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The 16-voice University of New Mexico Chamber Singers will perform a concert exploring the quiet shadows of Lent at First Presbyterian Church on Monday.

Titled “Tristia,” Latin for “sadness,” the program will feature music dating from 1125 through pieces by contemporary composers spanning Germany, France, Italy, Finland and the United States.

“It’s a wide mix of styles and composers,” conductor Kristin Ditlow said. “It speaks to the liturgical message of the time and about the state of the world.”

Hildegard von Bingen’s “Hymn to Spring” is the oldest piece on the program. Musicologists consider her the first recognized female composer.

“That piece is sung all in unison, and it’s 6½ minutes long,” Ditlow said. “If you were to watch a flower bloom in slow motion, that’s what this piece sounds like.”

“Plea for Peace” is a work by contemporary composer Augusta Read Thomas. The piece marks the 75th anniversary of the first man-made nuclear reactor.

“It talks about something that is such a part of New Mexico culture,” Ditlow said.

Hector Berlioz’s settings of scenes from “Hamlet” features a religious meditation and a heart-rending section about the death of Ophelia, she added. The singers also will perform six scenes from Henry Purcell’s most famous opera, “Dido and Aeneas.”

Based on Virgil’s fourth book of the “Aeneid,” it tells the story of Queen Dido of Carthage in northern Africa.

“She is grieving the loss of her first husband,” Ditlow said. “She meets Aeneas, who was a hero in the Trojan war.

“This music is certainly not easy,” she continued. “Some of it we started (rehearsing) last year.”