Madison Choral Project to put on unique seasonal concerts

Elite vocal group's program draws on many faiths
Madison Choral Project to put on unique seasonal concerts
Photo by Ilana Natasha Photography
The Madison Choral Project

You can count on Madison Choral Project artistic director Albert Pinsonneault to eschew nutcrackers, sleigh bells and dreidels at the December concerts of his 30-voice choir. Instead, he takes the annual opportunity to look at the big picture.

This year’s Madison Choral Project concerts, titled “Finding Your Path,” embody an interfaith exploration through music and readings. They take place on Friday, Dec. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society and Saturday, Dec. 14, at 3 p.m. at the First Congregational Church.

“Sometimes our darkness is existential. That is, sometimes the thoughts that haunt us are about not fully understanding the ‘who’ or ‘why’ of who we are and what purpose we have,” Pinsonneault explains. “We explore that. And then we also explore the ecstasy of figuring it out and finding our path again. And all of that with some really, incredibly fantastic music you will not hear anywhere else in Wisconsin.”

The program for each of the two concerts is divided into three parts with Wisconsin Public Radio’s Noah Ovshinsky delivering the readings. Part one, titled “Seeking Guidance,” will include Flemish composer Josquin des Prez’s famous motet “Ave Maria … Virgo serena” and the timeless Christian carol “I Wonder as I Wander.”

Part two includes “Tathāgatas” by Minnesotan composer Justin Merritt, the first of three world premieres on the program. The second is “the road not taken” by Elio Bucky, based on the 1916 Robert Frost poem of the same name. The third and final piece to be performed for the first time is also by Merritt — “Like Cotton on the Wind,” which depicts a moment of Buddhist ecstasy.

Part three begins with a solicitation of the audience to sing the earlier “I Wonder as I Wander.” The concert emphatically closes with selections that celebrate the finding of a path: “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree,” “Let Us Cheer the Weary Traveler” and “The Runner,” based on the poem by Walt Whitman.

The Madison Choral Project approach to the season stands out amidst more standard holiday fare. Pinsonneault is clear as to why that is.

“December is a time when we reflect on darkness and seek for the light,” he says. “It is a season of hope, and we see this echoed in the Advent/Christmas anticipation of the birth of Jesus, in the Hannukah menorah and celebration of the light’s endurance.”

He also notes that the performances come before Dec. 21, when the hours of daylight start lengthening. “One hallmark of our December concerts is that they always end hopeful and positive, but we do not shy away from that very darkness.”

Greg Hettmansberger writes about jazz, opera and classical music for