Dwight “Buzz” Holmes, Idyllwild Master Chorale musical director and conductor, likes to mix it up. Recently, IMC’s biggest successes have been Holmes’ fusion concerts. Examples include the Winter Solstice celebrations mixing traditional Christmas carols and sacred music and a second half with jazz soloists and a jazz combo; the spring concerts where Holmes combines traditional secular and sacred music with a second half devoted to more modern choral music and selections from some of the greatest musical comedy box-office triumphs, Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot” and “My Fair Lady;” and last season’s “Les Misérables” by the European team Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg.
This year, Saturday, March 28, Holmes offers up English madrigals, the pop music of the English Renaissance and Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s “West Side Story.” Why “West Side Story”? “It’s musical evolution,” said Holmes. “Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ becomes Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story.’ Shakespeare’s texts and themes continue to reappear in some incantation or other from his time until now.”
The idea for the madrigal-themed presentation came from a conversation Holmes had with regular IMC guest soloist and fan favorite, jazz chanteuse Sherry Williams. “We talked about Cleo Laine and her work fusing Elizabethan texts to jazz,” remembered Holmes. From that came the idea for featuring madrigals, a new and broadly expressive form that burst forth during the Renaissance.
Holmes said he thought madrigals were a perfect choice for spring — the blossoming of secular freedom of expression during the Italian and English Renaissance that infused and brightened madrigal verses and texts. “It’s hard through our lens at this point in time to imagine that prior to madrigals, musical expression was only through listening to or participating in sacred ceremony,” said Holmes. “The birth of madrigals gave rise to everyone’s traditional popular favorite subject in song — ‘love,’ be it happy, affirming, sad and disarming, or disappointing with lamentation and woe — all followed by the musical onomatopoeia of human laughter in madrigals, sung, ‘Fa, la, las,’ in a sense confirming an understanding of the human condition and our ability to laugh about it and at ourselves.”
Williams is featured this spring with Laine’s jazz riffs on traditional madrigals, “Blow, Blow Thou Winter Winds,” “It Was A Lover and His Lass,” “O Mistress Mine” and “Sign No More Ladies” — the Renaissance texts set to rhythmic jazz with choral accompaniment.
Also returning as featured IMC soloists, in the “West Side Story” segment, are Dimyana Pelev and Justin Holmes, reunited after their leading roles in last summer’s IMC production of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.”
Dr. Marja Kay, premiering as a featured IMC soloist, joins Pelev and Holmes, adding some attitude and heat in “America,” “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love.” Kay is a soprano with established careers in opera, as a studio singer in Hollywood and in premiering new music works of contemporary composers. She holds a doctorate from the University of York in England, a master’s in fine art from the California Institute of the Arts and a bachelor’s of music from Chapman University.
The concert, at Stephens Hall on the Idyllwild Arts campus, begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students, available both at the door and online at www.idyllwildmasterchorale.org.