MUSIC REVIEW: NOTUS and Bach

Sunday a good day for Bach, 21st-century music
by Peter Jacobi

At 2:30 Sunday (Jan. 25) afternoon: a Bach cantata. An hour-and-a-half later: 21st century music, some of it vintage 2014. And that’s Bloomington.

The Bach, “Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn” (“Tread the Path of Belief”), attracted enough of the Baroque faithful to just about fill St. Thomas Lutheran Church, this for the latest in the continuing Bloomington Bach Cantata Project. The contemporary music was delivered in Auer Hall by NOTUS, the Indiana University Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, and that concert, too, drew a legion of fans.

Wendy Gillespie, director of the cantata project, quipped to friends that she’ll be playing a heavenly harp before local musicians run out of Bach cantatas, so numerous are they. Sunday brought us the 28th in this Bloomington series. It was directed by doctoral candidate Elena Kraineva, who doubled as violist d’amore in the excellent six-person instrumental ensemble that also included Charles Wines, recorder; Sarah Huebsch, oboe; Brady Lanier, viola da gamba; Eric Fisher, violone; and Anastasia Chin, organ.

Bach wrote the cantata for the Weimar palace church the week after Christmas in 1714 to words by the Weimar court poet. His job as concertmaster at the Weimar court called on him to compose new works for the church on a monthly basis. The text asks humankind to “tread the path of belief” and, thereby, avoid the dangers of an evil world. The cantata ends with a vocal duet, a beautiful dialogue between Jesus and the Soul. “Ah, lead me, most beloved, and I will follow you,” sings Soul; “I will give you the crown after trouble and shame,” replies Jesus. Soprano Christina Lynch and bass David Rugger fulfilled the roles with the needed passion and with voices well-tuned for a period reading or, as we’re now asked to label it, a historical performance. They did nobly.

NOTUS

Dominick DiOrio, conductor of the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, titled the group’s concert “Fire and Ice, Elemental Songs of Magic and Mystery.” He invited a distinguished sextet of faculty instrumentalists to join the singers: percussionists Kevin Bobo and John Tafoya, pianist Chih-Yi Chen, clarinetist Howard Klug, flautist Kathryn Lukas and organist Christopher Young.

Two of the five works played were receiving premieres. One, by Jacobs School student Phillip Sink, won second prize in the 2014 NOTUS Student Composition Contest and also supplied Maestro DiOrio with the program’s title, “Fire and Ice,” taken from a poem by Robert Frost, “Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice,” most likely by our own wrongdoing. Sink’s music is all vocal, cleverly built on shifts of pitch and harmonic surprises. The choral ensemble handled it famously.

Also premiered was Claude Baker’s “Hor che’l ciel e la terra” (“Now that heaven and earth and wind are still”), inspired by the words of Petrarch and the madrigals of Monteverdi. Baker is chancellor’s professor of composition. He often revels in words and even musical themes of the past. Here, he honored one of Monteverdi’s most outstanding madrigals, set to Petrarch’s sonnet about the vagaries of love. Baker’s choral portion fascinates for its own intriguingly fractured development, sometimes with each of the 24 singers voicing a different line. To that, he added a percussion quartet, “membranes, woods and metals” in his words, to enrich the madrigal’s development.

Jocelyn Hagen’s “soft blink of amber light,” another 2014 work, beckoned us to seek the peace of a natural world. Her calming music is set to a poem of Julia Klatt Singer that asks we “forget about streets with names” and to “follow the fireflies into the thicket.” The tones produced by the ensemble were magical, aided instrumentally by the Lukas flute, Klug clarinet, Bobo marimba, and Chen piano.

Soprano Tabitha Burchett and organist Young joined the chorus for Daniel Knaggs’ “Ave Maria No. 9 Rosa Mystica,” written in 2013 to a text by Amy Lowell, “Absence.” The music hints at that of Messiaen, mystical and ecclesiastic. DiOrio and company treated the piece with loving respect.

The NOTUS concert ended with David Lang’s “the little match girl passion,” written in 2007. This more extended composition relates the sad and familiar story of a child living in poverty with a father that beats her. She goes out into the bitter cold to sell matches but fails to and freezes to death.

Lang sets the story in 15 parts, retelling the tale from different angles and in music that grips. A variety of percussion accompanies the voices. The voices heard on Sunday afternoon gave the music the glow of a Bach Passion, but in sounds both timeless and contemporary.

© Herald Times 2015

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Dominick DiOrio to compose piece for Cincinnati Boychoir

Cincinnati Boychoir receives $10,000 grant for 50th anniversary

By Janelle Gelfand

 

Grant earmarked for new choral piece to highlight 50th anniversary season

Cincinnati Boychoir serves about 200 youth

Cincinnati Boychoir serves about 200 youth

The Cincinnati Boychoir has received a $10,000 grant from the William O. Purdy, Jr. Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, the choir announced on Monday. The grant will make possible the commissioning and performance of a work in honor of the Boychoir’s 50th anniversary season.

The new choral piece, “A Horizon Symphony,” with texts of Walt Whitman and Stephan Crane, is being commissioned from Dominick DiOrio, a composer and assistant professor of choral conducting at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University.

The boys will work with DiOrio throughout the process, learning first-hand about the experience of creating a new work.

The piece is aimed to be a companion work to  Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” which calls for large orchestra. Both will be presented in concert March 7 and 8 at Christ Church Cathedral, Downtown.

Dominick DiOrio.

Dominick DiOrio.

The Cincinnati Boychoir, which is led by Christopher Eanes, is one of the premiere professional boy choirs in the United States, and the newest resident company at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, Downtown. Among its anniversary events, the choir will make its first trip to Australia in July.

Cincinnati Boychoir has about 200 young members from more than 90 schools in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.

William O. Purdy, Jr., an enthusiastic patron of the arts, established his foundation in 1988 and died a decade later. He was Senior Vice President of American Money Management Corporation, a subsidiary of American Financial Group, until he retired in 1995.

 

© Cincinnati.com 2014

 

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Music review: ‘War Requiem’

Audience heartily applauds performance of ‘War Requiem’

By Peter Jacobi

 

It was concert night Tuesday for a riveting performance in the Musical Arts Center of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem,” 96 years to the day since Wilfred Owen was killed and one week short of when the armistice to end World War I was signed.

The words of poet and soldier Owen inspired pacifist and conscientious objector Britten when, a war later, he sat down to compose his remarkable, emotionally devastating version of the Requiem Mass. After the writing was finished, Britten would place on the title page these words of Owen: “My subject is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is the pity. All a poet can do is warn.”

The work’s premiere came after war’s end at a significant dedication ceremony for the newly constructed Coventry Cathedral, placed right next to the bombed out shell of the old church. For the British people, a new Coventry meant setting things right and looking forward. For Britten, the commission to write the “War Requiem” became a meaningful way to express his beliefs in country and explain his faith and opposition to war.

To seal his message about the brutal uselessness of war, Britten blended words of the long-established Latin Mass with Wilfred Owen’s anguished and angry poetry. “What passing bells for these who die as cattle,” he asks. “Only the monstrous anger of the guns,” he answers.

The Latin portions are handled by the large main chorus, a solo soprano and the orchestra. Here, that was the Oratorio Chorus, effectively trained by Betsy Burleigh; a fine soprano Megan Wilhelm, willing to unleash unreservedly the power of her voice, and the Indiana University Philharmonic, led superbly by the master of the whole, guest conductor Michael Palmer, who is entitled to considerable praise for the whole of what one experienced.

Owen’s pleas for peace and sanity, written in English, gave two male soloists — tenor Christopher Sokolowski and baritone Erik Krohg — challenges they nobly met. A chamber ensemble of 12 musicians accompanied them, adding another element to the scope of performers. All of the above filled to capacity the stage of the MAC. Then, placed in the top balcony, the 23-member Children’s Chamber Choir, with an organ to occasionally support, sent their voices from aloft, voicing prayers for the departed in Latin, as from a distance but with potent restraint. Brent Gault contributed the training for the children, who sounded radiant.

It’s no mystery, hearing the “War Requiem” again, that an inspired genius, Benjamin Britten, wrote a 20th century masterpiece. It’s a bit of a mystery how IU’s Jacobs School continually tackles major works, such as this one-of-a-kind Requiem Mass, and brings them to fruition in grand manner. Tuesday’s performance was stunning and fully deserved the extended and roars-filled standing ovation from an audience that just about filled the house. One left the theater not only deeply moved but grateful for what we’re so fortunate to have: outstanding musical performances not on one or a few nights, but time and again.

 

© Herald Times 2014

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

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