Sunday’s presentation of Karl Jenkins’ “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” will mark the culmination of a season of collaborations for the Binghamton Community Orchestra and perhaps the most complex pairing of the year for The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton.
Madrigal’s main mission is performing a cappella works, and “when they’ve moved out of that realm, they often have worked with instrumentalists,” said Artistic Director Anne Boyer Cotten.  But this is the season’s only collaboration with a full orchestra.  The BCO , under the direction of Musical Director Cayenna Rosa Ponchione, worked with choral musicians this past fall when helping the Summer Savoyards launch their 50th anniversary season, but Gilbert and Sullivan is much lighter fare than Jenkins’ 13-movement call for peace.
Both directors were effusive in their praise of the Mass during a recent interview at the Broome County Arts Council’s new State Street, Binghamton, offices. “This is a stunning piece – quite accessible for singers, more demanding orchestrally,” Cotten said.  “The thematic material unfortunately is never out of date.”
“It’s a contemporary work with a contemporary sound (but not off-putting); it’s sophisticated without being too heady,” added BCO’s Ponchione. “It’s so incredibly moving – I hope I can make it through.”
Cotten spoke of the graphic nature of a couple of the texts (more about this in the following article by Dave Schriber) and of the non-traditional use of the Latin Mass, particularly the ominous, cinematic setting of “Holy, Holy” that, with its strident “We’re going to war!” attitude, is almost “like Darth Vader coming in the door.”
The two women were equally enthusiastic about the value of joint efforts such as this. “Collaborations allow two organizations to each touch a different demographic; it gives players an opportunity to get to know another group,” Ponchione said. But two points of view, a new venue, so many details … how does it work? With lots of meetings and e-mails, they said.
Both the Madrigal Choir and BCO are facing the imminent departure of their “leading ladies.” Cotten has announced plans to retire from the group at the end of 2010; Sunday will be Ponchione’s final BCO performance. Neither is actively involved in the search process, but both have advice for their successors.
“The orchestra belongs to the members; I’m a visitor,” said Ponchione, who has led the BCO since 2004. She said the new musical director “will have to consider ‘What can I give them? How can I help them remain autonomous?’
“You can’t alienate or run over them,” she advised.
Ponchione is the fourth director in the BCO’s quarter-century history. The situation is slightly different for the Madrigal Choir, started by Cotten 32 seasons ago. “Succession is particularly tricky when founding directors retire,” Cotten said, comparing the choir to a child, birthed and nurtured and ready to be on its own.
“The choir grew as a grassroots organization. I’ve encouraged them to observe their identity and where they want to take it. … The greatest thing is for them to take what they have and move on.”
Her advice: The new director will “need to find balance between bringing a new vision and being sensitive to tradition.”
Next season Ponchione will continue her leadership of the Ithaca Community Orchestra (and her music librarian position at Cornell University) but will be devoting time to the development of a league of community orchestras. There’s already a community orchestra festival upstate – “Sort of ‘All State’ for adults” – where groups can find out how to share talents, she said.
“Many people don’t realize the quality of the community (translate: volunteer) music scene here,” Ponchione said. “I’m sad to leave it.”