Sierra Master Chorale shines in “The Armed Man: A mass for peace”

The Sierra Master Chorale put on a remarkable performance of “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” — a demanding, internationally known composition — on Sunday afternoon to a sold-out crowd.

The performance ended to an enthusiastic standing ovation from all 475 attendees and was a reminder that our performing arts scene is an ever-growing force in the foothills, complimenting our many other virtues.

In some ways it was a performing-arts milestone for the foothills. For one, “The Armed Man” is not exactly the “easy listening” genre of music. And it was performed on gorgeous day to be outdoors, not inside the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Grass Valley for a concert.

But the music, with a full orchestra and accomplished Organist Isabelle Demers, kept the crowd spellbound. We saw many families with their children in the audience.

The Armed Man is a Mass by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, subtitled “A Mass for Peace.” The piece was commissioned by the Royal Armouries Museum for the Millennium celebration to mark the museum’s move from London to Leeds. Jenkins dedicated the composition to victims of the Kosovo crisis.

The Mass begins with a marching army and the beat of military drums, the orchestra gradually building to the choir’s entrance, singing the 15th-century theme tune — The Armed Man.

From the horror of mass destruction the works turns to remember that one death is one too many, that each human life is sacred and unique, as Guy Wilson writes in his program notes.

The Benedictus heals those wounds in its slow and stately affirmation of faith and leads us to the final, positive climax of the work.

The Benedictus caused some tears to swell in the crowd. A video clip is here: Benedictus

It was extraordinary for this piece — which debuted at London’s Royal Albert Hall 12 years ago — to make it all the way to the Sierra Foothills in the first place. That’s a credit to Conductor Ken Hardin but also local singer Hasel Carter, who brought it to his attention nearly 10 years ago.

The Sierra Master Chorale is now under the umbrella of InConcert Sierra, which is on a roll with its concert series — dubbed a “Mini-Mondavi” because of the intimacy of hearing world-class performers. Earlier this year, it presented world-renowned pianist Garrick Ohlsson. InConcert Sierra Executive Director Julie Hardin is a member of the chorus.

The group also performed the piece on Thursday.

My only regret about “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” was that I didn’t get to go twice.

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