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Bard College Presents Woodstock Chamber Orchestra Performing "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast"

Eleanor Davis

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— The Woodstock Chamber Orchestra (WCO) presents tenor Jeffrey Ambrosini and the Kingston High School Choir, Lawrence D. Lohman, director, in “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,” a rarely heard masterpiece from 1898 by the Afro-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Artistic director David Leighton conducts. The concert also includes Mendelssohn’s Overture to “Fair Melusina” and Mahler’s “Rückert Lieder.” The performance is at 8 p.m. Friday, November 13 at Bard College’s Olin Hall. Tickets are $20 for adults and $5 for students. Subscription sets are available. (This program is repeated on Saturday, November 14 at 8 p.m. at Pointe of Praise Family Life Center, 243 Hurley Avenue, Kingston, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, November 15 at Bearsville Theater, Route 212, 1 mile west of Woodstock.)

Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast” is a choral gem, widely performed in England, where its popularity rivals Handel’s Messiah, but is now rarely heard in America. The text by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America’s beloved poets, celebrates the saga of Native Americans, and the music is melodic, expressive, and highly effective in its evocation of a joyous, humorous, noble Iroquois culture. The composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912), was the son of an African father and English mother. His enormous musical ability appeared at a young age and he studied violin at the Royal College of Music in London, then composition with Charles Villiers Stanford. He was much admired by Edward Elgar, who recommended him to the Three Choirs Festival. It was for this festival that Coleridge-Taylor wrote “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,” and its success was so great that the composer came to be called the "African Mahler.” Listeners can compare the two composers, as the song cycle, Rückert Lieder,” by Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), is also on the program. The five songs, set to poems by Friedrich Rückert, an important German poet who wrote in the spirit of Oriental masters, show Mahler’s contributions to late Romantic musical style, especially his development of the Lied (song) cycle so brilliantly conceived by Schubert into a showcase of orchestral color and exotic effects. 

Collaboration with the Kingston High School Choir has become an annual event for Woodstock Chamber Orchestra. The Choir has established a reputation for interpretations on a professional level, and complex works by Bach and Brahms are among the repertoire they have performed with the orchestra over the last several years. All students involved in the Choir have studied voice for a minimum of two years, and must meet rigorous standards of character and excellence set by their director, Lawrence D. Lohman.

Jeffrey Ambrosini, tenor soloist in the Rückert Lieder,” and in “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,” has been heard locally in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” with the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, and at the Belleayre Music Festival. Nationally, he has performed with The New World Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas conductor, Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Enid Symphony Opera Gala with soprano Leona Mitchell, and countless opera companies, including a 2006 telecast of “Dido and Aeneas” with the Oklahoma University Opera Theatre.


The Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, formed in 1980 by musicians from the Woodstock area, is comprised of professional musicians from the entire Hudson Valley. The WCO regularly commissions music by local and regional composers and each season performs in Woodstock, Kingston, Saugerties, and at Bard College. For more information call (845) 246-7045 or visit


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This event was last updated on 10-26-2009