Linda Edwards leading production of 'Stabat Mater'

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FARMINGTON — More than 30 local singers and instrumentalists are combining their talents to deliver a pair of "Easter prelude" concerts later this month featuring performances of a highly regarded and intricate piece by a contemporary Welsh composer.

Performances of Karl Jenkins' "Stabat Mater" are planned for 7 p.m. Saturday, March 30 and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 31 at the RiverStone Church, 808 N. Monterey Ave. in Farmington. Admission is free.

The concerts are being directed and organized by Linda Edwards, who recently retired after a 40-year career as a member of the music faculty at San Juan College. She hailed "Stabat Mater" as a masterpiece and said its primary theme of focusing on the suffering of all mothers who lose a child makes it a timely composition for the period leading up to Easter.

But mostly, she said, "Stabat Mater" is simply a gorgeous piece of music.

"People get absorbed by it. People get caught up in it," she said, extolling the feeling and emotion it evokes in listeners, even as the lyrics change from Latin to Arabic to German. "You've got these lush, neo-Romantic harmonies. … The sound of how (Jenkins) put it together tells the story."

"Stabat Mater" was composed in 2007, but it reportedly is based on a medieval prayer that reflects the suffering of Mary after the crucifixion. Edwards said Jenkins did an excellent job of broadening his interpretation of the original work to make it applicable to mothers around the world.

"He's portraying the feeling of a mother with anxiety, with stress, with anger, with sobbing, and he never let go of writing that feeling into the music, so the performers can give it back to the audience," Edwards said.

The result is an extremely challenging composition, Edwards said, albeit one that yields great rewards and satisfaction for a group capable of doing it justice.

"We are all so hoping that we hit those magical moments (when) everybody gets on the same page and hits the same musical line at the same moments," she said. "It is critical that that happen in this piece. It's a vibe."

Edwards has directed a performance of "Stabat Mater" previously. It was performed in 2011 as part of the Masterworks series at San Juan College, and Edwards said that experience was a memorable one. She said the response she got from performers and audience members alike was unlike anything else she can recall.

"They were enthralled, and for weeks and weeks afterward, they were still talking about it," she said.

This performance of "Stabat Mater" will feature some of the same vocalists and instrumentalists, Edwards said, a fact that makes this production a little easier, since not everyone will be starting from scratch with such an ambitious piece.

"It's provided me with some leadership in some sections," she said. "Those who had done it before had more recall sooner. … This is a very difficult work. We have had our work cut out for us whether they have done it before or not."

Aside from its technical difficulty, the production Edwards is assembling also has a lot of moving parts. When she began planning the concert, she wasn't sure if she wanted to stage a full performance with both chorus and instrumental ensemble or simplify it with just vocalists. Edwards chose the former.

"It's a big work, so I'm really glad I have all these people — although I wish I had a few more," she said.

Still, Edwards was pleased and gratified when so many of her former students responded affirmatively to an email blast she sent in January inquiring if any of them would be interested in taking part in a community concert in late March.

So many of them said yes, in fact, that Edwards realized this would be the ideal opportunity to stage "Stabat Mater" with the instrumental ensemble, which she considers an integral part of the composition.

"Jenkins wrote personality into the instrumental parts and emotion into the vocal parts," she said.

Edwards wound up with eight members of an ensemble — Ashley Markle, Gabrielle McPherson, Shia Deale, Gordon Peck, Martha McCabe, Bobby Faulkner, Brandon Jones and Alex Lee — that will perform on strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Alyssa Brown will serve as the accompanist.

"I thought it would be presented better if we did have a small instrumental ensemble," Edwards said. "And now I know I'm right."

The chorus is even larger, consisting of Stephanie Lewis, Annie Lewis, Shenika Myers, Tina Lee, Mary Cluff, Kathy Hensler, Walline Clark, Debbi Gregory, Jovanna DiPomazio, Carol Tookey, MaryAnn Brody-Pavlik, Aralia Vendetti, Amber Jones, Ed Vecenti, Nathan Thompson, Aaron Tsosie, Canaan Myers, Brian Murphy, Dave Bregar, Les Lundquist, Greg Harris and Zacwell Hutchins-King.

Edwards said her performers seem to recognize what a special opportunity has come their way with the chance to perform Jenkins' "Stabat Mater."

"Even with the new people I have that I have never worked with before, they have fallen in love with this piece," she said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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