Scott Williamson, music director of Temple Emanuel in Roanoke, heads to Romania in October on a Fulbright scholarship, to spend an academic year teaching and stage directing opera.
Before he departs, he’ll realize a longtime ambition. “I’ve been wanting, across my career, to start my own group, and have it be not just a choir, not just a chamber ensemble, not just, say, a troupe of singing actors who would do dramatic stuff, but a little bit of everything,” he said.
Once director of the Virginia Chorale in Norfolk, Williamson moved to the Roanoke Valley in 2010 to become the artistic director of Opera Roanoke. He resigned from that position in June 2018. He’s been music director at the temple since 2014. Earlier this year he founded the L’Chaim Music Series, a series of concerts that follows a model similar to the Music on the Corner programming at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Roanoke.
After Williamson left Opera Roanoke, he had a window of opportunity, and pursued creating this music group.
“I was working on it, formulating it before I found out about the Fulbright,” he said. “I’m starting an artist collective. Music will be at the center, but it will also involve dance, theater, spoken word, images, technology.”
The group, Collective Euphonia, will debut this month with a performance based in Biblical verse, “Arise, My Love: Love songs inspired by the Song of Songs.”
“It’s literally a dream come true,” Williamson said. “For this first program I have an octet of singers, some of whom have been leads in Opera Roanoke productions and will be familiar to the audience around here.”
Those singers include North Carolina-based soprano Kelly Balmaceda and mezzo soprano Sandra Krueger, bass-baritone Matthew Burns (Dr. Bartolo in Opera Roanoke’s “The Barber of Seville”), Greensboro baritone Nathaniel Olson, North Carolina, Eric Hanson (Lt. Cable in Opera Roanoke’s “South Pacific”), mezzo soprano Amanda Crider (who played the title role in Opera Roanoke’s “Cinderella”), and Roanoke soprano Asherah Capellaro, who will serve as the temple’s interim music director while Williamson is in Romania. Williamson, a tenor, rounds out the octet.
The singers will be accompanied by Romanian-born pianist and Hollins University lecturer Melia Garber and Moscow-born cellist Julia Goudimova, who teaches at Hollins, Washington and Lee, and Southern Virginia universities.
The ensemble will also be accompanied by four dancers from Roanoke’s Southwest Virginia Ballet, with original choreography by SVB artistic director Pedro Szalay.
Shows take place Sept. 20-21 at the temple and Sept. 22 at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, with variations each day. “We’ll be singing Friday night [Sept. 20] as part of the regular weekly services at the temple and previewing the concert,” Williamson said.
The full concert, with an admission charge, happens Sept. 21, with a reception afterward. The program features solos, duets, trios, quartets and octets, as well as dance, projected images and poetry.
“For the Taubman program on Sunday [Sept. 22], we’re going to do a lot of a cappella stuff,” without the musicians and dancers, Williamson said. “One of the ideas behind this collective is that we do themed, site-specific performances.”
The collective does not have a permanent lineup and can adjust based on the needs of a particular performance or project.
The Song of Songs, a series of poems spoken alternately by a man to a woman and vise versa, is considered to be one of the bible’s most sensual texts, variously interpreted as a metaphor of the love between God and humankind, a celebration of sacred marriage, or just straightforward expressions of love and desire.
“This debut residency will highlight some of the most beautiful music for voices the Song of Songs has inspired in Jewish, Christian and secular composers across more than five centuries of histories and cultures,” Williamson said.