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Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Skylark Vocal Ensemble sings: Chelmsford, Chatham, Falmouth, Newburyport

 Skylark Vocal Ensemble, led by Matthew Guard, in performance.

Skylark Vocal Ensemble, led by Matthew Guard, in performance.

The Skylark Vocal Ensemble continues to expand its audiences and its repertory, with four programs over Memorial Day weekend. In addition to two performances on Cape Cod, the ensemble, just back from its debut concerts in London, sings “Lieder & Lovesongs” on Saturday evening at All Saints Episcopal Church in Chelmsford, and again on Sunday afternoon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newburyport.

“It’s all love,” says Skylark’s founder and director Matthew Guard about the upcoming program. “We gravitate toward great romantic compositions, from lieder to parlor songs and standard jazz. This concert looks at both sides of that, from Mendelssohn and Brahms, to Debussy, going through to the great American songbook—Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael.”

Since founding Skylark in 2011 with his wife, soprano Carolyn Guard, beginning with performances in both Boston and Atlanta (where they live), Skylark “has performed four or five concerts a year,” Matthew Guard says. 

“We’ve built a strong base in Falmouth, where we have the longest history. And this is our first season in Chatham, and those audiences have grown in each concert. We were in Newburyport at Christmastime, and have done a few of our Spotlight Series”—smaller performances by individual members of the ensemble—“a couple of times there.”

Appreciators of vocal music in the Boston area will recognize many of Skylark’s singers. Drawn from the deep talent pool of vocalists, many of them also sing with prestigious groups like Lorelei Ensemble, Handel & Haydn Society and others. 

On one hand, that talent pool helps create a great sounding ensemble; on the other, it increases the competition for audiences. Guard and the Skylarks have worked hard to build their own following. 

“It all starts with a home base,” he says. “There’s a lot of interest around Boston. People who don’t necessarily want to go into the city, but who love to hear great singing. We like to go back to places where we know people.”

That includes repeat performances on Cape Cod, and on the North Shore. But Skylark has also branched out—a spring tour to London during Holy Week, singing sacred repertory from the group’s recent “Seven Words from the Cross” recording, proves that. 

“It was great to go someplace where they really value sacred choral music,” Guard says. “We sang before enthusiastic crowds. Tallis Scholars performed the following night, and the ‘Times’ of London came to review us. And we also spend time performing on prime time at BBC Radio 3.

“It’s a pretty big expense, and it would be great if we could go over every year. But we will definitely continue touring sometimes,” he says, noting plans for a more modest tour that takes the group to Washington, D.C. in 2019, a program based on music and the visual arts.  

“The core will always be four or five concerts in our home base,” he says, “concerts that provide a sense of continuity. A vital home audience is the key. Even if you look at a group like Chanticleer, who tours all the time, they do most of their concerts right in San Francisco where they live. Those concerts are most important.”

The Skylark Vocal Ensemble performs Lieder & Lovesongs in Chatham, Chelmsford, Newburyport and Falmouth May 25–28. For tickets and information visit www.skylarkensemble.org or call 404-395-0498.

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