Like two world powers uniting, the Central Oregon Mastersingers and Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble are aligning themselves this weekend for a concert Mastersingers founder and director Clyde Thompson has christened “Across the Great Divide.”

That's a “great divide” in two ways, for those keeping count. The concert title refers, naturally, to the mountainous divide separating Bend from Eugene, but also the international flavor of the two choirs' respective programs.

The two groups had been kicking around the idea of a collaboration for a while, Thompson said.

“About three years ago, we both kind of had the idea about bringing the Vocal Arts Ensemble and the Mastersingers together, because they're similar groups,” Thompson said. It became a matter of meshing the two groups' schedules, “and it finally worked out.”

For the Vocal Arts Ensemble's portion, artistic and executive director Diane Retallack plans to lead the 33-voice choir in a song cycle by Morten Lauridsen, a composer from the Northwest. Known as “Les Chansons des Roses,” or “The Songs of Roses,” the cycle is set to French poems by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

“I would say (Lauridsen) is the most performed American choral composer. Very popular, beautiful stuff,” Thompson said.

Retallack agrees. In her program notes, she writes, “Lauridsen has a unique and distinctive harmonic language that unifies his works, and lyrical motifs are woven throughout this gentle five-song set. The most honored, awarded and frequently performed American choral composer, Lauridsen retreats to the remote island of Walden in the San Juan Archipelago to compose his transporting, ethereal music.”

Meanwhile, for the Mastersingers' portion of the program, Thompson selected choral dances from “Gloriana,” which English composer Benjamin Britten wrote for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in the early 1950s.

“I wanted to do it because ... this is Britten's centenary; he was actually born on Nov. 22, 1913, which is less than a month away,” Thompson said.

During their further talks about programming, Retallack decided to go 100 percent red, white and blue.

“With (Lauridsen) being the centerpiece of our program ... I decided to expand mine to all American music. The music that I've chosen has got very fine poetry, really beautiful poetic texts, and it's very passionate and romantic,” she said.

The Vocal Arts Ensemble's portion of the concert will open with a “lighthearted ditty,” then move into choral settings of fine poetry by the likes of American poet Emily Dickinson.

When he learned of that plan, Thompson said, “'Ah, we'll do all British music,' and the piece by Benjamin Britten will be the featured piece in that. We can play off the idea of their coming over the Santiam Pass, and me doing music from Britain across the Atlantic Ocean. It's just kind of a cutesy tie-in.”

His 42-voice Mastersingers will fire the first shot, opening the concert with Peter Philips' “Ave Verum Corpus,” which dates back to 1612, followed by the Henry Purcell chorus “Soul of the World,” part of his “Ode to Saint Cecilia” (who's the patron saint of music, by the way).

The Mastersingers will wrap up their set with “Ride in the Chariot,” an African-American spiritual by Brandon Waddles.

“We're just throwing (it) in ... at the end of our set, purely for our own pleasure — and for the pleasure of the audience,” Thompson said.

The two choirs will join forces in the end.

“We've picked out two pieces we're going to do with combined choirs,” Thompson said. “We've kept them fairly simple. They're not hard pieces. They're coming two hours early, so we're going to have a good half-hour to rehearse the pieces together. That will be our first time ever together, and it'll be a lot of fun.”

On Nov. 3, the Mastersingers will bridge the divide once again by heading to Eugene, where the two choirs will repeat the concert at Beall Concert Hall at the University of Oregon.

If you go

What: “Across the Great Divide,” featuring Central Oregon Mastersingers and the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Bend Church of the Nazarene, 1270 N.E. 27th St.

Cost: $15. Tickets available at www.co-mastersingers.com or Visit Bend, 750 Lava Road, Suite 160

Contact: www.co-mastersingers.com or 541-385-7229

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