Zenith Ensemble, Northern New England’s new professional choir, is bringing Bach and Handel to New Hampshire and Vermont.

Made up of some of the finest musicians in the country, Zenith is determined to turn the traditional model of exceptional classical music presentation on its head with pay-what-you-can tickets—a gamble that has proven successful enough for the ensemble to triple its offerings in just two prior years of existence.

Next month, Zenith presents Handel: Dixit Dominus and Bach: Jesu, meine Freude with 5 singers one-on-a-part and a 6-piece orchestra of period instruments and led by concertmaster Marika Holmqvist, at South Congregational Church, in St. Johnsbury on Feb. 8 at 3 p.m.

This concert brings two gems of the baroque period in its third season: Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Bach’s Jesu, meine Freude, two pieces renowned for their virtuosity and beauty. Five Zenith singers, hailing from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts will sing the fiery, passionate, and soulful music that showcases some of the best pieces of the baroque period’s quintessential composers of vocal music, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. As part of Zenith’s mission to collaborate with local musicians wherever possible, the St. Johnsbury performance will feature the St. Johnsbury Academy Hilltones, (Alan Rowe, director).

The co-founders of the group, conductor and baritone Matthew Leese (NH) and soprano Nacole Palmer (ME), believe that great music should be available to everyone. “I believe that exquisite music shouldn’t just be for the wealthiest members of society, or for people in major cities like New York, Boston, and San Francisco,” says Ms. Palmer. The group’s leaders intend for their concerts to be completely accessible.


Co-Artistic Directors Leese and Palmer founded Zenith based on their belief that every person deserves to experience truly great music regardless of age, background, or financial circumstances. That’s why Zenith’s mission involves a deep engagement in the communities of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont across social and economic boundaries: for every concert, we will partner with a local youth or community choir who will sing with the professional group for a portion of the concert. In addition, our concerts are pay-what-you-can so that audience members can feel free to give as they are able for an extraordinary musical experience.

By presenting extraordinary concert and educational programs through the farthest reaches of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, Zenith Ensemble projects are designed to serve both populous and remote communities in Northern New England, providing rich cultural and community building experiences for a broad range of audiences.

About the Co-Artistic Directors

Dr. Matthew W. Leese received voice degrees from the University of Otago, the Longy School of Music, Indiana University and his doctorate in conducting from the University of Illinois. In addition to being co-artistic director of Zenith Ensemble, he is Artistic Director of Monadnock Chorus, and Artist in Residence with the Boston City Singers Tour Choir. At Keene State College he directs the Concert Choir, Keene Vocal Consort and the Opera Workshop program and is in demand as a clinician and adjudicator. As a freelance singer he performs regularly with professional ensembles Spire, (Kansas City), Liber, Tactus (Oklahoma City), and Gravitación.

Nacole Palmer: An oratorio and concert artist throughout the country, soprano Nacole Palmer recently moved to Maine from New York City. Carnegie Hall debut: Handel’s Messiah with the Oratorio Society of New York. Lincoln Center debut: Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Riverside Choral Society. Other solo credits include her acclaimed performances with The Clarion Music Society; Bach’s St. John Passion and Orff’s Carmina Burana with Seraphic Fire of Miami; Haydn’s Creation with the Ulster Choral Society; Mozart’s Mass in C Minor with Trinity Wall Street. In Ms. Palmer’s first professional recording collaboration, released on the NAXOS label with The Trinity Choir, she is the soprano soloist for three Haydn masses (Theresienmesse, Schöpfungsmesse, and Harmoniemesse) conducted by Jane Glover.

A passionate proponent of arts and music as avenues of strengthening communities, Ms. Palmer co-founded the Yale College Opera Company in 1998, and she helped start a music camp in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, LA, in 2009. Both have grown into flourishing organizations with their own leadership and new names: Opera Theater of Yale College and Make Music NOLA.

About the Concert Master

Marika Holmqvist: Violinist Marika Holmqvist, whose playing was hailed as “mightily impressive, tonally attractive and intellectually secure” (Philadelphia Inquirer), enjoys an active freelance career performing as concertmaster and/or principal for ensembles as diverse as Spire Ensemble (KC), Trinity Wall Street Baroque Orchestra (NYC), Washington Bach Consort, Zenith (Brunswick, ME), HallgrimsKirkja International Baroque Orchestra (Iceland) and BaroccoBoreale (Finland), among others. She has toured 30 countries with distinguished European and American early music ensembles, led and coached opera productions at Harvard and Cornell, and taught master classes as well as lectured at the Novia University of Applied Sciences (Finland). Her 20-some recordings include the Grammy-nominated Handel’s Israel in Egypt with the Trinity Wall Street Choir and Baroque Orchestra.

Marika is a proud founding member of Philadelphia’s Franklin Quartet, and holds two master’s degrees (Baroque Violin Performance and Baroque Violin Pedagogy) from the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Netherlands.


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