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Harmonia marks a decade of music with concert, world premiere

The Harmonia Chamber Singers are celebrating 10 years of vocalizing. The popular singing group, led by Robert Pacillo, has marked a lot of milestones along the way.

They instigated a mystical candlelight concert that has become part of every Buffalo spring. They sang Palestrina’s Pope Marcellus Mass at St. Louis Church. Last year, they triumphed at Carnegie Hall, as part of the festival “A Cappella Next!”

Not bad for a choir formed on the spur of the moment for a concert at St. Lawrence Church for Gaudete Sunday, a moment of rejoicing in the midst of Advent. Pacillo, the founder and artistic director, laughs that he and his wife, Catherine, are the only two original singers in the ensemble. But a good number of singers date from the choir’s second season.

“Over the years, the roster changes naturally. People have kids or move out of town,” said Pacillo, who besides leading the choir teaches at Lockport High School. Some singers return, he adds. The door is open.

“We’re this tight-knit group. We have people who have been with us almost from the beginning, and people who just joined us in January. We work closely together for the common goal of singing really great repertoire.”

Harmonia has found a distinctive voice by championing not only music of the distant past but of the present as well. The singers have a composer in residence, Rob Deemer. And their anniversary concert, on May 21, will feature the song “Echo,” newly commissioned by Steven Sametz of Lehigh University.

The text is a poem by Christina Rossetti. Already, Pacillo said, the song has become dear to the choir.

“It’s written like an echo between female and male voices,” he said. “It’s a very evocative text. He brings out the poem in the music.”

The composition has a special place in the composer’s heart.

“We were going over different texts, and nothing was clicking,” he recalled. “The moment I sent him ‘Echo,’ he called me and said, ‘This is the one.’ A month later – he spent a full month on it – it was done. When he was ready to deliver it, he said he would have a hard time parting from this piece.”

The concert Saturday takes place in St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo and will feature the world premiere of “Echo.” The evening also has music by the Elizabethan masters Palestrina and William Byrd; and composers closer to our own time including Anton Bruckner and Benjamin Britten. Several distinguished guest musicians, including Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra cellist David Schmude, will join the singers as they revisit past challenges and accomplishments, and look toward the future.

What does the future hold for Harmonia?

“This past Christmas we made our Canadian debut,” Pacillo reflected. “We sang at St. Mark’s Anglican Church as part of Music Niagara. We want to reach out into Canada. Canadian audiences are so receptive and appreciative of good music and art. They received us so well.”

Spring 2017 will bring a choral exchange with the Avanti Chamber Singers from Brock University in St. Catharines. Harmonia is also planning a summer 2017 tour of Montreal and Quebec.



What: Harmonia Chamber| Singers 10th Anniversary Concert

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: St. Joseph Cathedral, 50 Franklin St.

Tickets: $10 donation