New Classical Tracks: Self-professed 'choral nerd' Dale Warland releases album of rare Christmas music
Dale Warland — Hodie! (Gothic)
"I don't know — it was a disease that I caught and I'm glad I did. I classify nerds if they really get what choral music can do. There's something deep and profound that can come through choral music like no other idiom."
Based on his own definition, Dale Warland is a choral nerd. His distinguished career as a choral composer and conductor spans more than six decades. Three of those decades were spent leading the ensemble he founded, The Dale Warland Singers. That ensemble disbanded in 2004, however their legacy lives on in a series of live recordings. The latest celebrates music of Benjamin Britten and Daniel Pinkham in a recording titled 'Hodie!'
"The whole idea was to revisit past performances of the Dale Warland Singers and find literature that either had never been recorded before or for which there were very few recordings, or at least there weren't many good recordings, and especially repertoire that is not so well known. So it was an effort to keep good choral music alive."
Why are these two composers, Benjamin Britten and Daniel Pinkham, so significant?
"It's the quality of their writing, first of all. I looked at Britten as probably the greatest composer of the 20th century. And the risk of doing A Ceremony of Carols is that it's such a classic and everybody knows the work. But, in my case, we just happened to hit a performance where everything seemed to click. There was a magic — we look for that word and it seldom happens. But it happened that one night.
"If you know the work, you know that it was first written for SSA — three part treble voices — and harp. Subsequently, because it was so well known, he gave approval to put it for SATB, mixed choir, in 1955. It gives the piece the guts that I find the treble voices can't always deliver. So, my favorite version is the mixed chorus with harp."
Let's talk a little bit about Daniel Pinkham.
"We first met at Tanglewood when I was a student there in 1958. He had written the Christmas Cantata in '57. It was commissioned and performed by Lorna Cooke deVaron, who was a famous conductor on the East Coast, and she was on the faculty. She was one of the teachers I had at Tanglewood. I was a conducting student, but I also was a part of the student choir, and we sang the Christmas Cantata in manuscript that had just been performed the December before. And little did I know that it would catch on.
"When it was published, I remember one thing that Daniel Pinkham told me. He said that the royalties paid for his garage. So that was pretty good for the first year."
Company at the Creche is delightful. I had never thought of a porcupine or a spider being there. And a caterpillar?
"Norma Farber, the poet, chose these interesting animals. Daniel Pinkham takes those creatures and tries to emulate the character of how we imagine the behavior these animals would have coming to the Creche. There's a freshness and an appeal about every single movement of this wonderful setting."
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Dale Warland — Hodie! (Amazon)