The grand finale: Ken Hardin prepares to conduct the Sierra Master Chorale spring concert as change is in the air … |

The grand finale: Ken Hardin prepares to conduct the Sierra Master Chorale spring concert as change is in the air …

Charles Atthill
Special to Prospector
The Sierra Master Chorale will perform pieces by six composers from three centuries as part of the spring concert.
Photo by Craig Silberman


WHO: InConcert Sierra presents

WHAT: A concert by the Sierra Master Chorale and Orchestra

WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

WHERE: Seventh Day Adventist Church,12889 Osborne Hill Road, Grass Valley

TICKETS: $35 general admission, $17 youth (ages 17 and under); available by phone at 530- 273-3990, online at, in person at BriarPatch Co-op in Grass Valley or at the door on the day of the concert

INFO: Call 530-273-3900 or visit for more information

Summer approaches and the season ends, the season, that is, of InConcert Sierra’s Concert series. And as is the tradition, the final concert, on Sunday and Tuesday, May 22, is by the Sierra Master Chorale and Orchestra, conducted by Music Director and Conductor Ken Hardin.

And as is his tradition Ken Hardin once again challenges the Chorale with music both demanding and inspiring, a showcase for Chorale and Orchestra.

“The program will indeed challenge performers and delight the InConcert Sierra audience,” said Ken.

The program

The first half is book-ended by Handel showpieces: “Zadok the Priest,” written in 1727 for the coronation of English King George II, and the Hallelujah Chorus from “Messiah.”

At the heart is a Mass created by Ken from Masses by six composers from three centuries. Ken has retained the traditional form of the Mass, but the different treatments are intriguing, and the performers have only a few minutes to capture the essence of each composer.

Bruckner’s pleading “Kyrie,” written in 1864, is a weaving repetition of three words: Kyrie, Christe, and Eleison (Lord, Christ, Have Mercy). Schubert’s “Gloria,” written in about 1820, is dramatically triumphant. Faure’s “Sanctus,” from his much-loved Requiem of 1888, suggests a vision of heaven.

The unaccompanied “O Nata Lux,” from Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna,” a Mass in all but name first performed in 1997, is eerily beautiful. The Mass ends with an exuberant fugue from Vivaldi’s 1715 “Et Sancto Spiritu,” a hymn of praise, from his Gloria.

“The Chorale,” said Ken, “loves the contrasts and the differing intensities.”

A feast of contrasts

The second half is also a feast of contrasts: the overture and opening chorus of Beethoven’s not-often-heard incidental music to the play “The Ruins of Athens,” first performed in 1812, the music perhaps unfamiliar but recognizably Beethoven, offset by Brahms’ 1871 “Schicksalsleid,” “Song of Destiny.”

A critic wrote, “Had Brahms never written anything but this one work, it would alone have sufficed to rank him with the best masters.”

And to conclude, Leonard Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow,” the inspirational finale from his enduring, and endearing, operetta “Candide.”

A tradition ending

However, Sierra Master Chorale’s traditions are going to change soon. For Ken has announced, to the dismay of fans and Chorale members, his retirement as music director and conductor of the Chorale, though he will remain the artistic director of InConcert Sierra.

He will not retire immediately, since to bring on board a high-quality successor is no easy task.

“It’s going to be different,” said Julie Hardin, executive director of InConcert Sierra, and Ken’s wife.

“Maybe it will be better,” she said, laughing.

What has been the Hardins’ joint effort will become “a three-legged stool” with another artistic voice and a new perspective on the Chorale.

“I’m proud of what we have built and what the Chorale has become,” said Ken. “I’m certainly sad at leaving such a wonderful job and group of people, but also excited about creating time to do things I’ve been unable to do.”

After this week’s concerts, his last holiday concert will be in December. He may conduct the 2019 spring concert, depending on when his successor is appointed.

The Chorale

The Sierra Master Chorale grew out of a Sierra College chorus. In 2008 the new chorus hired Ken as its music director and conductor. The chorus was smaller then, 50 voices compared to 80 today. The accompaniment was a piano while this week’s concert calls for an orchestra of 24.

But the music has never been simple: Ken has always favored demanding music and has worked to develop the skills of the chorus to perform to a professional standard. When the members named the chorus a “Master” chorale, Ken wondered if they would deserve the label.

Could they meet the standards of musicality and the rigors of complex music which “Master” implies, not to mention the grueling rehearsal schedule?

“The quality curve has been astonishing, quite beyond my expectations,” said Ken.

He raised audition standards. The Chorale blossomed.

By 2012 the Sacramento Choral Calendar reviewer was “blown away” by the Chorale’s performance of “The Armed Man — A Mass for Peace.”

Last year the reviewer called it, “nothing less than a regional treasure.”

“That’s a satisfying outcome to ten years work,” said Ken.

The future

And Ken’s successor?

“I’ve been surprised and delighted by the number and quality of applicants,” said Julie, including from as far afield as Uruguay and Italy.

Chorale members, as well as Ken and Julie, have their ideas about the musical qualities applicants need, as well as a sensitivity to the local audience and a willingness to relocate if necessary and embrace Nevada County.

One applicant who attended a rehearsal was stunned by the Chorale’s quality which “rivalled Bay Area choruses.”

The Chorale has come a long way since 2008. Ken’s shoes will be hard to fill.

Charles Atthill is a freelance writer on music and a guest broadcaster on KVMR.

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