Betsy Burleigh’s Mendelssohn Choir lauded for Carnegie Hall performance

Preview: It’s Beethoven and Brahms for Mendelssohn Choir

By Elizabeth Bloom / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

When the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall this spring, the chorus showed it was not simply an accompanying ensemble but also a partner in the PSO’s music-making process. That the evening began with an a cappella performance of Bruckner’s “Ave Maria” — with choir members singing alone — speaks to that relationship.

Michael Pettersen joins others from the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh as they rehearse at the Benedum Center for the program "Faith & Fate."

Michael Pettersen joins others from the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh as they rehearse at the Benedum Center for the program “Faith & Fate.”

“They totally surpassed their previous level and set a whole new standard,” said Robert Moir, the PSO’s senior vice president of artistic planning and audience engagement.

The Mendelssohn is riding the success of that experience, which occurred during the hall’s lauded Spring for Music Festival, to a concert on Sunday featuring works by Beethoven and Brahms. The choir’s music director, Betsy Burleigh, will conduct the chorus and the PSO in the performance.

The Mendelssohn offered the best choral performance in four years at Spring for Music, in the view of Mary Lou Falcone, one of the festival’s founders. The chorus’s tradition of excellence was established under former music director Robert Page, Ms. Falcone said, and it has been maintained under the leadership of Ms. Burleigh, who came on in 2006.

“It was an extraordinary performance of great subtlety, great musicality and simply great singing,” said Ms. Falcone, who said she thinks the Mendelssohn is one of the top three choruses in the country.

Most singers of the 110-member-strong chorus are volunteers, with 20 paid singers. Roughly half are 40 or younger. The majority of them don’t have day jobs in music — among their ranks are a software engineer, a barista, a casino dealer, nurses, students, teachers, retirees and lawyers.

“The Pittsburgh Symphony is made up of extremely highly trained musicians who come from all over the world … the Mendelssohn Choir is made up of everyday Pittsburghers who just practiced, practiced, practiced and made it to Carnegie Hall and did the city proud,” the PSO’s Mr. Moir said.

“Other than that, these people are just classical music nerds,” he said.

At a recent choir rehearsal, “there seemed to be an unspoken acknowledgment that we had indeed raised the performance bar to a new level in New York,” said chorus member Larry Wright. “By the end of our retreat and first rehearsal of the fall season, it was obvious that the choir had reached out to grab that bar set in New York and had already begun pulling ourselves to a new level for this coming year.”

Sunday’s concert, titled “Faith & Fate,” features Brahms’ “Schicksalslied” (“Song of Fate”) and Beethoven’s Mass in C major. Several choir members will be soloists.

“The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is the Mendelssohn Choir’s primary artistic partner. Usually this means that the Mendelssohn Choir that performs with the PSO as a ‘guest artist.’ What makes [this weekend's] concert so thrilling for us is that the tables are being turned; we are producing the concert, and the PSO is performing for the Mendelssohn as its orchestra under Betsy’s baton,” said chorus executive director Mary Ann Lapinski. “This ‘role reversal’ speaks to the mutual respect that the PSO and MCP have for each other’s artistic excellence and vision.”

“We’re having dinner in our house this time,” Ms. Burleigh said.

While Ms. Burleigh selected the Beethoven based on the size of the chorus and orchestra and on the concert space (East Liberty Presbyterian Church), she was later surprised to learn the Mendelssohn has never performed the work in full.

The Mass’s Kyrie opens with the basses briefly singing alone, “and then it all begins. There are just some lovely intimate touches that are very moving,” Ms. Burleigh said. It also bookends well with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which the ensembles will perform together in June. “I like that symmetry,” she said.

“Faith & Fate” also provides another concert opportunity and revenue stream for the chorus, which had been tapped for PSO performances of “Daphnis et Chloe” and film music from “Gladiator” that were canceled, Ms. Lapinski said.

 

The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh
Program: “Faith& Fate: Beethoven’s Mass in C and Brahms’ ”Schiksalslied“ with music director Betsy Burleigh and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Where: East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 116 S. Highland Ave.
When: 3 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $10-$30, free for children under 12, www.themendelssohn.org or 1-888-71-TICKETS.
http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/music/2014/10/02/Preview-It-s-Beethoven-and-Brahms-for-Mendelssohn-Choir/stories/201410020208

 

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

MUSIC REVIEW: MOZART REQUIEM MASS

By Peter Jacobi

 

For the most part, the choices were wise for the weekend’s performances of the Mozart Requiem Mass in Auer Hall, whether based on necessity or otherwise.

Conductor Betsy Burleigh, given a readily available Summer Festival Chorus of 32 voices, decided that a small-scaled, chamber-sized version for the Requiem would do just fine. She added an orchestra of equal size, with the result a reading comfortable and comforting in scale, one that honored the revered masterwork.

Without many other student vocalists around to draft and expressing satisfaction with the quality of the singers signed up for her chorus, she also decided to assign solo work from within. Though not everyone chosen turned out to be ideal, on the whole, that again was not a bad resolution.

Burleigh stuck to Mozart, too. “Tonight we perform Mozart’s Requiem only,” she wrote in program notes, “that is, the portions of the work that survive in Mozart’s own hand,” along with orchestration completed by his friend and fellow composer, Franz Xaver Sussmayr. Her reasoning: “It is my hope that this performance of the incomplete Requiem will enable performer and audience member alike to recognize the loss of Mozart in a deeper and more vivid way.” Certainly, it strengthened thought about what might have been, even with the Requiem itself, if Mozart had lived longer.

Adding to that effort, the conductor placed the Requiem in a meaningful context, surrounding its performance with pertinent Biblical passages and additional pieces of music of a sacred nature that he wrote: the joyful “Exultate Jubilate,” composed as a 17-year-old (beautifully sung by soprano Martha Eason); the radiant “Laudate Dominum” (“Praise the Lord”), written in his mid-20s; the Masonic Funeral Music, composed a few years later, and the stunningly beautiful “Ave verum corpus,” like the Requiem a product of Mozart’s last year.

There also were letters from Mozart’s life that reflected what was happening to him or what he was thinking about when the various pieces of music were composed. All of the spoken material was read by Scott Hogsed, known to us for the roles he sang in Indiana University Opera Theater productions and choral events while he was a Jacobs School student. Hogsed read with verve and, thankfully, with microphone.

Burleigh had trained her 32 singers carefully, so to fashion critical balances within the chorus and those between chorus and orchestra. One heard exquisite and polished sounds, too, so appropriate, so needed, to express Mozart’s emotional frame of mind and belief in death as “key to our blessings,” to use words he penned in a letter written long before.

As one listened, it became clear that the conductor had inspired her musicians, the vocal and the instrumental, into somehow entering the world of Mozart, so to capture the sacred essences he sought to imprint personally on the traditional text and message of the Catholic Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. His genius shone through; no one on the Auer Hall stage got in the way. That’s the result of good conducting.

 

© Herald Times 2014

 

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Summer Chorus to perform this weekend

By Liliane Ho

 

Showcasing sacred pieces in combination with Mozart’s writings and excerpts, the summer chorus from the Jacobs School of Music will perform this weekend. Betsy Burleigh, the conductor and chair of the choral department, will join them.

Their performance will feature Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D minor and other works.

The performances will be 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Auer Hall.

A concert drama, the Summer Chorus performance will be centered on the Requiem by Mozart, the Sü   ßmayr completion.

“I’ve listened to Mozart quite often,” master’s     student Chris Rice said. “And I would definitely want to go because it sounds good with a very special concept.”

The Requiem was a mystery at the end of Mozart’s career. The young composer, for the first time in his musical career, was asked anonymously through intermediaries to write a piece for Count Franz von Walsegg.

Mozart died at the age of 35 after he finished eight bars of the Requiem’s “Lacrimosa.” After Mozart’s death, the piece was completed by Franz Xaver   Süßmayr   .

The concert will also combine biblical and poetic readings chanting     along with the works of Mozart and excerpts from his letters.

“We will present some of the most beloved and enchanting sacred works,” Conductor Betsy Burleigh said in a press release. “Mozart’s Requiem is the center, the torso of the performance, and other pieces will be portions sketched by himself.”

Conductor Burleigh has experience leading the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Akron Symphony, the Canton Symphony and the Rhode Island Philharmonic.

The Summer Chorus performance juxtaposes sacred readings from Biblical contexts, poetic writings and excerpts from Mozart’s letters and manuscripts.

“I’m excited to learn about very unique concerts like this,” IU Junior Kendall Chanley said. “But I find country music and acoustical performances more appealing in the summertime.”

“I think the combination of poetic readings, chant and alike would enhance the experience for people who are going for Mozart or classical music,” IU junior Taylor Sigler said. “However, it wouldn’t appeal too much for someone who is relatively new to classical.”

 

© Indiana Daily Student

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Alumnus Eric Stark honored with Sagamore of the Wabash

eric starkaJacobs School of Music alumnus Eric Stark (DM ’01, MM ’91) was recently presented with the Sagamore this April, 2014. The Sagamore is a personal tribute given to those who have provided a valued service to Indiana and its people, presented by the Governor of Indiana.

Eric is currently the Director of Choral Activities at Butler University, and is in his 12th season as Artistic Director of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.  Eric received his masters and doctoral degrees in Choral Conducting from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Eric also holds a BA in Music from Wabash College. He has conducted at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and Strathmore Hall, as well as Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, throughout Europe, Asia and the United States.

Read more here: http://news.butler.edu/blog/2014/04/sagamore/

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

President McRobbie visits Singing Hoosiers

McRobbie visits Singing Hoosiers.croppedIU President Michael A. McRobbie visited the Singing Hoosiers on April 21 to talk with them about their upcoming tour of his native Australia, May 11-26, 2014.

The group has been invited by the Queensland Show Choir as part of its 30th anniversary celebration. The Hoosiers will be spending time in Brisbane, Adelaide, and Sydney, while performing, giving clinics, and sightseeing.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Cincinnati Boychoir Commissions Major Anniversary Work from DiOrio

As a part of the celebration of their fiftieth-anniversary season, the Cincinnati Boychoir has commissioned a twenty-minute choral-orchestral work that will receive its first performance on March 6, 2015 the anniversary of the Boychoir’s first rehearsal in 1965. The composer of the work is Dominick DiOrio, an emerging composer and conductor who recently joined the choral conducting faculty of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.

The six-movement work is entitled A Horizon Symphony and is comprised of poetry by Walt Whitman, Stephen Crane, and an anonymous poet from the twelfth century; scored for male voices, including male trebles, altos, tenors, and basses, the work also calls for a full chamber orchestra with several percussionists, harps, brass, and strings.

The work was conceived in part as a companion piece to Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms; Bernstein’s work, which also turns 50 in 2015, was written for the choir of men and boys at Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, England. It uses dramatic material (including some discarded themes from West Side Story) to relate Psalms 23, 100, and 108 in their Hebrew versions.

http://cincinnatiboychoir.org/boychoir-to-commission-major-work-for-50th-anniversary/

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

MUSIC REVIEW: NOTUS

IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble ready for New York audience

 

By Peter Jacobi

 

You know the old give-and-take.

Give: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Take: “Practice. Practice. Practice.”

Well, yes, but in the case of NOTUS, the Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, part of the practice happened in Auer Hall Tuesday evening before a Bloomington audience. The final 25 minutes of that concert contained the package of music that conductor Dominick DiOrio and NOTUS will perform for a New York City audience next week during an inaugural concert of a series devoted to new vocal music. That series will be housed in an intimate space within the Carnegie Hall complex called Weill Hall.

If Maestro DiOrio’s band of 24 vocalists sings as it did in Auer, then that familiar give-and-take will hold true once again. Practice will have done it. Innate talent will have helped. And fascinating music, too.

DiOrio packed five compositions into those 25 minutes, each designed to further a sharpened NOTUS goal, which is to perform the music of living composers. On Tuesday, all of the music — the Carnegie Hall portion and the five additional works that filled the hour — had been written in the past seven years. Three are receiving world premieres. So, it was not out of line for the concert to be titled “Hot off the Press, Freshly Minted New Works for Voices.”

Two of the debuts are included in the Carnegie Hall segment: “To the Roaring Wind,” by a widely admired Zachary Wadsworth, and “Virginia: The West,” by IU Jacobs School of Music composer Aaron Travers.  Both pieces were commissioned by NOTUS. Wadsworth’s “To the Roaring Wind” doesn’t roar at all but sets quiet words by poet Wallace Stevens into quiet sounds that bridge from breathing and representations of wind to words spoken and sung.  Travers was inspired by more muscular language of Walt Whitman and mingles the chorus and solo voices into a feast of shifting textures.

Caroline Shaw’s “Passacaglia” from Partita for 8 Voices, which won her the only Pulitzer so far given to music for a cappella voices, was previously performed by NOTUS last fall, and continued to weave magic. Conductor DiOrio’s “O Virtus Sapientiae,” based on 12th century words and melody of Hildegard von Bingen, contained a magnetic sense of awe and mystery. The concert-ending “Zephyr Rounds” was written for the Yale Glee Club by Robert Vuichard. It sets a Biblical text from John: “The wind blows where it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell from whence it has come or where it is going.”  Indeed, not only the words but the music tells it so.

In the pre-Carnegie Hall segment, one heard Tawnie Olson’s “Scel lum duib,” taken from a 9th century Celtic poem about winter and wind and wild fowl. Harpist Alexandra Mullins provided the instrumental atmosphere and, for it, DiOrio handed the baton to an aware student conductor, Jaeeun Kim. Ted Hearne’s “Agnus Dei,” sensitively led by NOTUS associate conductor Carlo Vincetti Frizzo, proved a haunting mix of harmonies, very old and new.  DiOrio’s “Absence,” directed most effectively by graduate student conductor Mason Copeland, sets Amy Lowell’s passionate poem of that name to passionate music.

The top two choices in the NOTUS Student Composition Context won space on the program and plaudits from the audience. Patricia Wallinga, a not-yet-20-year-old Jacobs school undergraduate, took top honors with “Portraits of Wartime,” a quite powerful choral exploration of “The Wind,” “In Battle,” and “Catharsis,” elements in our lives that seem always with us. An anguished cello accompaniment by Nicholas Mariscal underscored highly expressive choral material. Texu Kim’s “Chopsaltok,” with Connor Lidell’s baritone set off against the chorus, captured memories of vendors in Korea making mouths water for rice cake and other goodies; its concluding sound was a mighty slurp.

In sum: “Hot off the Press” brought pleasures and set off no alarms. The music intrigued, for its variety and quality.

 

© Herald Times 2014

 

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

NOTUS to perform in DCINY’s Distinguished Concerts Artist Series

Ad Astra Singers, NOTUS and UC Berkeley Chamber Singers Join Forces for DCINY  Concert at Carnegie, 3/21

 

Three innovative choral ensembles, all specializing in exciting new music,  take the stage on Friday, March 21 at 8:00pm for the next concert in DCINY’s  Distinguished Concerts Artist Series at Weill  Recital Hall. The three vocal ensembles include the Ad  Astra Singers, a professional choir from Wichita, Kansas; NOTUS,  Indiana University’s Contemporary Vocal Ensemble; and the UC Berkeley Chamber  Singers.

One of the only collegiate choirs in the world  that has a singular focus on new music and living composers, NOTUS  is comprised of 24 singers from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music  and directed by conductor-composer Dominick DiOrio (pictured left). Deriving its  name from the Greek wind god, it signifies the winds of change. And,  appropriately, all of the works on the DCINY program deal with “winds of change”  in some form. NOTUS is committed to  championing music of living and emerging composers, especially notable works for  voices composed by Indiana University faculty and students.

NOTUS’ program for DCINY  features five works by young composers, each under the age of 40 and all of whom  will be in attendance March 20. They include the Passacaglia from Caroline  Shaw’s (b.1982, pictured right) Partita for 8 voices, winner of the 2013  Pulitzer Prize in Music and a wonderfully inventive work that makes use of  extended vocal techniques. Watch a video of NOTUS performing an excerpt from Shaw’s Partita here.

NOTUS has commissioned and will perform two  world premieres: “To the Roaring Wind” by Zachary Wadswoth (b. 1983), a  beguiling experimental work that uses consonants and vowels in inventive ways;  and “Virginia: The West” by Aaron Travers (b.1975), based on a poem by Walt  Whitman. NOTUS will also perform  Robert Vuichard’s (b. 1986) fascinating “Zephyr Rounds” about the circling  winds, and a majestic work by conductor Dominick Diorio (b. 1984) based on a  chant of Hildegard. Listen to a performance of Diorio’s”O Virtus Sapientiae” here.

Widely acclaimed at home and internationally,  the adventurous UC Berkeley Chamber Choir is led by Marika Kuzma, director of  choirs at UC Berkeley since 1990. All of the works featured on their eclectic  program have links to Berkeley: Requiem: a Dramatic Dialogue is by Randall  Thompson, who taught at UC Berkeley during the 1930s; Ashes is a musical  meditation on the tragedy of 9-11 by New York composer Trevor Weston, who  attended UC Berkeley as a graduate student in the 1990s; Robin Estrada, another  alumnus, skillfully merges a folk style of singing from the Philippines into a  setting of a sacred text; and Sephardisms I&II by Jorge Liderman, a  professor of composition at Berkeley as recently as 2008.

Also featured is Richard Felciano’s Seasons,  composed in the late 1970s while teaching at UC Berkeley. In this ingenious  work, each movement represents each season in a completely different,  non-western musical style: spring follows the intervals and rhythms of  Indonesian gamelan music; summer employs overtone singing of Tibet; fall employs  percussive tongue clicks of sub-Saharan Africa, and the stark severity of winter  is depicted with a spare Japanese aesthetic. Concluding US Berkeley’s program is  “Vesna” [Spring] by Ukrainian composer Lesia Dychko and an optimistic ode on the  first day of spring, the date of the concert.

A vibrant, sixteen-voice professional chamber  choir, the Ad Astra Singers  takes its name from the Kansas state motto, “To the stars.” Led by director John Paul Johnson,  the Singers are developing a reputation for creative programming, vocal depth,  and contributing to the choral repertoire by commissioning new works.

Their program includes “Four Haikus,” a work the Ad Astra Singers premiered  earlier this year by award-winning Wichita-based composer Aleksander  Sternfeld-Dunn; two works by Kansas-based composer Jean Belmont Ford, a  specialist in chamber and choral music who has composed for ensembles including  Chanticleer and the Emerson String Quartet; “O Magnum Mysterium” by Wayne  Oquin’s a Juilliard-based composer known for his music’s dreamlike spirit and  beautiful complexity; and “Cantus Gloriosus” by popular Polish composer Josef  Swider.

Founded by Iris Derke (General Director) and  Jonathan Griffith (Artistic Director and Principal Conductor) Distinguished Concerts International is driven by passion  and innovative vision. Upcoming concerts include Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen  Schwartz and Eric Whitacre on  Sunday, March 30 at Avery Fisher Hall, and The Drop of Dawn on Sunday, April 13  at Carnegie  Hall, featuring a world premiere by Christopher Tin.

For more information see: www.DCINY.org. Tickets: www.carnegiehall.org or 212-247-7800 or in person at the Carnegie Hall Box  Office.

 

© BroadwayWorld.com 2014

 

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Review: University Singers

Music for chorus

By Peter Jacobi

 

  Betsy Burley hasn’t been on the IU Jacobs School faculty for very long, but she’s making her mark, using skills honed not only while earning undergraduate and doctoral degrees here but in wide-ranging experience gained conducting the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh, among a host of others.

  On Saturday evening in Auer, she led the University Singers in a demanding program of works by Monteverdi, Dominick Argento and Brahms, each having to do with the whims, worries, or wonders of love.  The results were exceptional.

   The concert opened with Monteverdi’s “Lamento d’Arianna,” written for an opera, now lost, about Ariadne and her betrayed love for Theseus.  The music, impassioned and intense, weaves multiple streams of song into a potent package of anguish and melancholy.  Burley and company wove the intricacies expertly.

  Argento’s cycle, “I Hate and I Love,” employs poetry from the Roman Catullus, inspired by the poet’s feelings of love and hate for a beautiful but deceitful woman named Clodia.  “I hate and I love,” the chorus begins, with heavy percussion underscoring “hate” and percussive quiet, “love.”  “Perhaps you will ask how that can be possible,” the words continue.  “I do not know, but that is what I feel and it torments me.”  Seven more expressions of love and torment follow in Argento’s creative score.  The University Singers spared no zest in musically retelling the misfortunes of Catallus in love.

  Brahms’ lyrical and lilting “Zigeunerlieder” (“Gypsy Songs”) made for a rollicking and  melodious close, thanks to the music itself and a super-spirited performance.

 

© Herald Times 2014

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

James Allbritten (MM, ’90) named General Director for Piedmont Opera

6 Allbritten HeadshotAlumnus James Allbritten was named the General Director of Piedmont Opera after ten years as Artistic Director of Piedmont Opera, and twenty years on the music faculty at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Allbritten will be responsible for the overall leadership of business operations, including fundraising, budgeting and financial control. He will continue his artistic duties.

Originally from Louisville, Ky., Allbritten began his conducting studies at Indiana University under Jan Harrington, Robert Porco and Thomas Dunn. While there, he also worked with Glyndborne Festival Opera conductor Bryan Balkwill and MET stage directors Hans Busch and James Lucas.

More info: http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/allbritten-leaving-uncsa-to-head-piedmont-opera/article_0db20f72-8e8f-5fed-b1fc-d28265b0607d.html

  • Facebook
  • Twitter