The Barre Montpelier Times Argus

Music Review: Solaris brings depth to holiday vocal music

By Jim Lowe Staff Writer

Dec 15, 2019

WATERBURY – It’s the season of choral singing, and one group certainly shone Friday at the Congregational Church, also called he White Meeting House. The Burlington-based Solaris Vocal Ensemble proved its mettle as among the best in the state.

Dawn Willis directed the 23-voice choir in its annual holiday program, “Sing We Now of Christmas!” scheduled also for Charlotte and Burlington. Most was traditional holiday fare, albeit in some spectacular arrangements. But there also was some particularly unusual and rewarding music, as well.

Musically most rewarding was the music of Felix Mendelssohn, three parts of the composer’s unfinished oratorio, “Christus,” Op. 97. Three choruses with ensemble members as soloists illustrated just how magnificent this music was, coming from a devout Lutheran.

More than that, these three choruses and solos showcased Solaris as the fine ensemble it is. It was clear that individually the voices were attractive and used with skill, but under Willis, they nearly always blended beautifully. More importantly, Willis guided them through the music compellingly. With Susan Summerfield, performing the orchestra’s role on organ, it was high-end music making.

Willis is one of Vermont’s foremost choral conductors, having served as assistant director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus during its Robert De Cormier heyday, as well as founding and directing Bella Voce Women’s Chorus and Solaris. More than Willis’ ability to bring together the 23 voices as an orchestra, it was her musical depth and understanding that made Friday’s performance compelling.

Another great work was the Gloria from Dominick Argento’s “The Masque of Angels.” The traditional Latin Mass text is given real drama with Argento’s striking rhythm and harmonic language. Although Solaris had a tendency to “round out the edges” rather than embrace them, with excellent piano by Evan Allen, this was a moving and arresting experience.

Perhaps the most beautiful moment was “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from Randall Thompson’s “Frostiana.” The men of Solaris achieved the gentle and intimate lyricism of this setting of the Robert Frost poem. It was a gorgeous performance of a masterpiece.

A particular treat was the solo playing by harpist Rebecca Kauffman, one of the accompanying musicians. Among the three arrangements by legendary harpist Carlos Salzedo, perhaps the most compelling was the complex and imaginative Paraphrase on “Away in a Manger” (to the tune of “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton”). Kauffman played with a natural flow and virtuosity, bringing out the appropriate melodies within a rich structure, as well as a deep musicality. It was irresistible.

There were other special moments. “Facta est cum Angelo,” by Rafaella Aleotti (c.1574-c.1646) enjoyed a beautifully gentle polyphony, and was written by one of the few women composers of the era. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” received a spectacular and harmonically rich arrangement – Kauffman’s harp and all – by James Stewart, a Solaris tenor better known as a VPR Classical host. It was a world premiere.

With Solaris, Willis has attracted a fine array of voices and formed them into an excellent vocal ensemble that delivers compelling musical performances. This concert proves the Solaris’ capabilities extend well beyond holiday fare. I look forward to future concerts.



Solaris is a 7 Daysies Finalist

Thanks to everyone who nominated Solaris in Seven Days’ 7 Daysies contest. We are in the finals in 2 categories – Best Choral Ensemble and Best Classical Music Group or Ensemble.

Finalist voting is open until Monday, June 24, at 5 p.m. The group with the most votes win.

To vote, click here. You’ll find our categories in the Arts and Entertainment section. Thanks for helping!

Solaris Welcomes Young Singers for Spring Concerts

The Lake Champlain 5th & 6th Grade Chorus, Steve Olson, Director, will join Solaris in our Waterbury concert on Friday, April 12 @ 7:30pm for part of the performance. Thee Solaris women will join the students to perform To Make Me Smile, which was written by a former Lake Champlain student, Noah Marconi!

And on Sunday, April 14, 3:00pm in Burlington, the Colchester High School Chamber Singers under the direction of Melissa Towle will brighten our concert, performing alone and in tandem with Solaris.

Very excited to have these young folks join us!

Saxophonist Clayton Hamilton, Guest Artist for Solaris’ Spring Concerts

Biography: Clayton Hamilton is currently the Band Director at Burlington High School. He leads four different bands and teaches theory, guitar, and piano classes. He previously held teaching positions in MA before moving here in the Fall of 2017. An avid performer, he has performed with the Burlington Civic Orchestra and been a guest soloist with the Houghton College Chamber Orchestra. Clayton holds a Master of Music in Saxophone Performance from New England Conservatory and a Bachelor of Music in Education from Houghton College.

FOR RELEASE Week Ending December 14

Solaris Vocal Ensemble

Solaris Vocal Ensemble Holiday Concerts

Solaris Vocal Ensemble presents holiday concerts in three venues – Waterbury, Charlotte, and Burlington on December 14, 15, and 16, 2018. The choral ensemble, led by Artistic Director Dr. Dawn O. Willis, will be joined by guest instrumentalist, Grammy-nominated, Vermont based flutist Karen Kevra. Solaris also hosts, in its Waterbury concert, Harwood Union High School honors choir I Cantori.

The holiday-themed program, “Christmas with Solaris” includes festive selections for mixed voices with flute, organ, and four-hand piano.  Kevra, in addition to solo turns, joins the ensemble for Gustav Holst’s Christmas Day, and to premiere a stunning new arrangement of the beloved carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, by Vermont composer James Stewart. James is familiar to many as a regular host on Vermont Public Radio Classical. The performance also includes portions of Antonin Dvorak’s Mass in D Major, plus seasonal works by Rachmaninoff, by Robert DeCormier, David Dusing, Dale Warland and more.

The concerts will be held on Friday, December 14th at the Waterbury Congregational Church at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, December 15th at Charlotte United Church of Christ at 7:30pm; and on Sunday, December 16th at the College Street Congregational Church in Burlington at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for seniors and students, infants under one year free. Tickets can be purchased at the Flynn Theatre Box Office ( or at the door. Visit the Solaris website for more information and to purchase tickets:

Solaris Vocal Ensemble is a Vermont based chamber choir of mixed voices dedicated to creating exciting and meaningful performances of outstanding choral repertoire.


Karen Kevra Joins Solaris for December Concert

WE thought you might like to know more about the guest artist for our 
December concerts, flutist Karen Kevra:
Karen Kevra has won attention as one of the country's outstanding flutists
through her distinctive warm and extroverted performances and has been
hailed as "having a musical focus and depth seen in few flutists anywhere."
Kevra's recording of Works for Flute and Piano by Louis Moyse along with
pianist Paul Orgel earned a 2003 Grammy nomination and accolades from
numerous American reviewers.  Romantic Music for Flute and Piano, her latest
CD with pianist Jeffrey Chappell, was praised by flutist Sir James Galway,
and the Boston Musical Intelligencer for "sublimely satisfying
flute-playing." Kevra has performed throughout the United States, Canada,
and Europe including performances at Carnegie Hall, the French Embassy in
Washington, DC, and on French National Television, and has shared the stage
with members of the Emerson and Talich String Quartets, the Paris Piano
Trio, Borromeo String Quartet, Boston Chamber Music Society, and Trey
Anastasio of Phish. Kevra is the founder and Artistic Director of Capital
City Concerts of Montpelier, Vermont.

Get Ready for Giving Tuesday!

Get ready for GIVING TUESDAY – the perfect antidote to Black Friday and Cyber Monday! On Tuesday after Thanksgiving, November 27, 2018, when you make a gift to Solaris via Facebook, it has the possibility of being matched dollar for dollar. Many, many non-profit groups are competing for these matching funds, so making your gift early in the day is suggested to receive the maximum benefit. The magic only happens that Tuesday! Because we are so excited by this opportunity, we are holding the printing of our 2018-19 program booklet in order to be able to include your name among the donors. We sincerely wish you a very happy Thanksgiving weekend, and hope you will also want to offer thanks for continuing choral music performances by Solaris, by visiting our Facebook page on Giving Tuesday!

To All Our Audience Members –

To everyone who rode the Wheel of Fortune with us Saturday night April 7 for our performance of Carmina Burana, THANK you for your attendance and support! Special thanks the the Saint Michael’s College Department of Fine Arts for sponsoring Solaris’ performance! O, Fortuna!