Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Skylark Vocal Ensemble begins subscription season in Newburyport, Falmouth, Chatham and Weston

It happens when people talk to each other.

That’s how Skylark Vocal Ensemble has built a strong audience in its five seasons.

A mixed chorus of premiere singers, under the direction of Matthew Guard, Skylark opens its ambitious subscription season with performances this weekend in Newburyport, Falmouth, Chatham and Weston.

People hear them sing, and they tell others.

“Word of mouth is really the strongest way to learn about Skylark—that’s the way it travels,” Guard says. “And it’s easier to build a community in places that are smaller.” 

Sold-out churches on freezing February weeknights in Falmouth prove Guard’s point. Although there are Harvard Square performances later in the season, and a quick tour to New York, Skylark will stick to its plan to build audiences steadily. 

“There’s a lot of people around greater Boston who appreciate the music. But the time and travel are deterrents,” he says. “There are communities who would not hear what we do, if we did it all the time in the Back Bay.” 

With audiences growing healthily for the twice–Grammy nominated ensemble on Cape Cod and the North Shore, Guard wants to expand that to MetroWest. This season the group will sing in Weston, Wellesley, Chestnut Hill and Wellesley.

“We record at Church of the Redeemer,” Guard says of the Chestnut Hill venue. “We wanted to build an audience in MetroWest, and make a subscription season of real worth.” 

A flexible group, usually about a dozen singers, what doesn’t change is the quality of Skylark’s artistry. This season Guard will lead groups as small as four, and as large as two dozen. It’s a commonplace in the music community that Boston is a haven for great singers; Skylark is one of those ensembles that proves it.

Skylark Vocal Ensemble, building audiences all around metro Boston. Sasha Greenhalgh photograph

Skylark Vocal Ensemble, building audiences all around metro Boston. Sasha Greenhalgh photograph

The opening program, Fairest Isles, part-songs and ballads from the United Kingdom, avoids any overlying concept but “is a postcard approach,” Guard says. “It’s not thematic or historic, but it has a feel to it.” 

Skylark will expand forces for October performances of Rachmaninov’s “All Night Vigil.” “Our first programs are just a quartet of singers,” he says, “and then we make this enormous sound.” The “All Night Vigil” is perhaps the grandest work for a cappella chorus, “and you’d be foolish to sing it with less than 24 voices,” he says. 

December concerts focus on British carols, and storyteller Sarah Walker joins the ensemble for February performances. In April Skylark will collaborate with “Da Vinci Code” author Dan Brown and his brother, composer Gregory W. Brown.

The Skylark Vocal Ensemble begins its 2019–20 season on Sept. 26 with concerts in Newburyport, Falmouth, Chatham, and Weston. Visit skylarkensemble.org for tickets and information.

Museum of Fine Arts: a confessional. Women Take the Floor opens

Cape Symphony Orchestra season opener: Pastorale, Tan Dun, Stella Sung. Reviewed