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Voices raised in praise

Amid its immersion in choral music this season, Florida Pro Musica presents a concert of sacred a cappella pieces ranging from Palestrina to Bruckner.

Published March 25, 2004

[Publicity photo]
Larry Kent, founder and director of Florida Pro Musica, encourages the group to alternate familiar pieces with music less frequently performed.

For Florida Pro Musica founder and director Larry Kent, early choral music never grows old.

"I've really made studying Renaissance and earlier choral music my focus," he said. "The more I study, the more I realize I need to study. I just enjoy performing and studying choral music. The more I do, the more I realize I want to do it."

Under Kent's watchful eye, Florida Pro Musica has devoted its entire 2004 season to choral music. On Sunday, at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Tampa, the group will perform a program of sacred a cappella works, including Liszt's Salve Regina, Brahms' Ach, arme Welt (Op 110, no. 2), Palestrina's Super flumina Babilonis, Bruckner's Christus factus est and Messiaen's O sacrem convivium, as well as J.S. Bach's motet, Jesu, meine Freude. The latter will feature soprano, alto, tenor, bass and basso continuo, accompanied by cellist Lowell Adams and organist Carl Klein. Klein also will perform two solo organ works by Messiaen.

"What we try to do with most of our programs is combine familiar, well-loved works with things that may not be as familiar," Klein said.

Among the better-known works on Sunday's program are the Bach and Palestrina pieces. The Brahms, Liszt and Bruckner generally are rarities for Florida audiences, according to Klein. "We don't usually do a lot of 19th century music, because we're a small group," he said. "We're usually in the neighborhood of 12 to 16 singers and, of course, there is a lot more music from the Renaissance that fits that size of group."

Kent came to the Liszt piece purely out of curiosity, but it became far more. "I had never heard a performance or recording of the Liszt piece, Salve Regina. I started studying that and came to admire it and love it. The final cadence is just a work of magic," he said.

He was familiar with Messiaen's a cappella work, O sacrum convivium, but he had never before studied its score. "It has a number of interesting problems and challenges for the singers to work out," he said. "I thought this program would be pretty eclectic, so I decided to add a little Messiaen set to it."

The brainchild of Kent and George F. Gramling, III, Florida Pro Musica began as a chamber music orchestra and chorus in 1998. The classical group (comprised then of 19 instrumentalists and 14 singers) made its debut at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg on May 22, 1999, with a program that included works by Bach, Biber, Morley, Mozart, Purcell, Haydn, Passereau and Vecchi.

"We started out trying to explore not only unfamiliar music but an alternate approach to some of the better-known works," Kent said. Over the past five years, the group's repertoire has ranged from the Middle Ages to the present. Its strengths, however, have been a cappella works from the Middle Ages and English Renaissance.

"We attempt to re-create as much of the historical performance practice as we can in the choral field," Kent said. "We try to come as close as we can to the period pronunciation. There are different ways Latin was sung in 17th century England as opposed to 17th century France or Italy."

The group now includes 13 singers, plus freelance musicians and members from Sarasota's West Coast Symphony and the Florida Orchestra. The current season will conclude with a program of songs of love and springtime at Sacred Heart Church on May 2.

PREVIEW: Florida Pro Musica, 4 p.m. Sunday, Sacred Heart Church, 509 Florida Ave., Tampa. $12 general, $10 seniors, $5 students. (813) 258-4226.

[Last modified March 24, 2004, 10:28:38]

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