When the Virginia Consort takes the Cabell Hall Auditorium stage for its Mid-Season Masterworks concert, it’ll be a bittersweet moment for both the singers and the audience.
Founding director Judith Gary will be retiring in May, so Sunday afternoon’s performance will be her last on the Cabell Hall stage with the singers she started leading in the late 1980s. What began informally as a series of rehearsals with Gary conducting a small group of experienced singers is in its 30th season, and today’s organization includes six choruses — the Chamber Ensemble and Festival Chorus for adults, the Youth Chorale and Treble Chorus for young adults and teens and the Prelude Choir and First Step Choir for younger children.
“I had no idea what was going to happen,” Gary said of those first casual rehearsals. She and the singers enjoyed rehearsing together so much that they began to plan some performances.
“We decided something was missing, and we had to share it,” Gary said. “So we had a concert. Our very first concert was in the little rock chapel at Church of Our Saviour, which holds all of 80 people.” Other concerts soon followed.
Fast-forward to the performance of Mozart’s “Vespers” and Vivaldi’s “Magnificat” by the Virginia Consort Festival Chorus and Chamber Chorus at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Cabell Hall Auditorium, for which about 115 singers will be joined by a full orchestra and soloists.
Gary said the Vivaldi is “a multi-movement piece with lots of fugues. It’s brilliant. One movement is 12 measures long; he’s taking a line of the text and giving it its own moment.”
As a priest and music director, Vivaldi taught violin and wrote music for the Ospedale della Pieta orphanage for girls in Venice. The earliest version of his “Magnificat” in G minor is from a vespers service from 1715.
“They had an orchestra that was known throughout Europe,” Gary said. “He wrote all kinds of special things for them.”
Mozart’s “Vespers” is “incredibly invigorating music” that reflects the endlessly creative composer’s yearning to leave Salzburg for the enticing musical environment of Vienna.
Although the work was written for evening vespers use, “there’s nothing sleepy about it,” Gary said. “Nothing.”
Gary isn’t going anywhere just yet. She will conduct “A Little May Music” at 7:30 p.m. May 9 at First Presbyterian Church, which will feature Gabriel Faure’s “Requiem” and some pieces by the consort’s Youth Chorale to finish the consort’s season. She also will lead the Choral Academy 2020 from June 22 to 27, which will give high school singers an opportunity to study a choral masterpiece in depth with professional musicians and staff members and then present what they’ve learned in a concert at week’s end.
Tickets for Sunday’s “Mid-Season Masterworks” concert are $35; students pay $20. Get them in advance at the University of Virginia arts box office or Greenberry’s in Barracks Road Shopping Center.
For information or tickets, go to virginiaconsort.org or dial (434) 244-8444.