Concert honors retiring choral master Martin Kessler

by Marge Geiger

Cleveland Heights-based Choral Arts Society of Cleveland continues its 43rd season with an examination of classical expressions of folk art. In a performance that director Martin Kessler calls “one chorus, two pianos, three percussion, and four hands,” Choral Arts will treat its audience to a performance that is rollicking, sassy, heartwarming, upbeat and moving, all in one entertainment package.

The concert, on Sunday, March 11, 7:30 p.m., at Disciples Christian Church in Cleveland Heights, will have added significance as Choral Arts singers honor Kessler before he retires from full-time, active directing at the end of this performance season.

Kessler, a lifelong Cleveland Heights resident, has spent the past 50 years as an educator and musician, honing and channeling the artistic abilities of students, instrumentalists and singers. During his 15 years with Choral Arts, Kessler has expanded artistic awareness and entertainment opportunities through creative and innovative programming. Under his directorship, singers and audiences alike have been treated to a number of premieres, including Jerusalem-Yerushalayim by Antony Pitts, and James Whitbourn’s Annelies, a choral setting of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Drew Clemens, chorus president emeritus and a founding member of Choral Arts, noted, “Choral Arts was a maturing, 27-year-old community chorus when Martin Kessler became its fourth music director in 2002, making it a widely respected musical resource. Marty’s skilled leadership and creative programming attracted committed singers through his appeal to their desire to grow as choral musicians. He is a masterful teacher, conductor and scholar of fine music, with a sly sense of humor. We are profoundly grateful for his dedicated service to Choral Arts Cleveland and to the pursuit of musical excellence.”

This performance examines the enriching relationship between music and poetry. The evening’s repertoire includes Mack Wilberg’s arrangements of poems by Robert Burns, Ron Nelson’s musical interpretation of Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Liebeslieder Waltzes from Brahms, who used as his verbal inspiration the folk songs and love poems in Georg Friedrich Daumer’s Polydora. The performance culminates by showcasing Carl Orff’s dramatization of the romantic longings in medieval lyrics as arranged in his classic Carmina Burana.

John Watson, local baritone soloist and Choral Arts assistant conductor, enjoys the way composers “find a poem or a play that inspires them to take those words off the page and heighten them with melody and harmony.” He added that performers and audience alike can “view words the same way the composer did and see how those words inspire us. We are given the opportunity to experience the poetry for what it is. Then when we hear the music the composer has set to it, it gives us a better perspective of how he may have made his choices in meter, tempo, and the melodic line.”

Supported in part by a grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the concert is free and open to the public. For more information visit choralartscleveland.org. or call 216-381-4608.

Choral Arts Performs at Happy Dog

Choral Arts Cleveland will perform Sacred Choral Works by Mozart & Faure as well as selections from recent performances including Bizet Carmen.
 

 

Come for a relaxing and inspiring evening!
 

Date: 
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Time: 8:30 PM
Location: The Happy Dog (5801 Detroit Ave. Cleveland, OH 44102)

 

choralartscleveland.org

Review-Choral Arts at Severance Hall 2012

Concert Review

cascseverance

Suburban Symphony & Choral Arts Cleveland at Severance Hall

A Concert of Music and Healing (November 18, 2012)

by Guytano Parks

A grand sense of occasion prevailed at Severance Hall when The Suburban Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Martin Kessler performed “A Concert of Music and Healing” on Sunday, November 18. Presented by the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cleveland and the Neurological Institute of University Hospitals, proceeds from this benefit performance will go to Alzheimer’s treatment, therapy and research. Further adding to the sense of occasion was the Cleveland premiere of Robert Cohen’s Alzheimer’s Stories, fittingly performed on this beautiful autumn afternoon as November is designated as National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

Opening the concert with Ravel’s Concerto for Left Hand was pianist Emanuela Friscioni, Director of the Performing Arts Academy at Cuyahoga Community College and a member of the piano faculty at The Cleveland Institute of Music. Ravel was commissioned by pianist Paul Wittgenstein to write a concerto for the left hand after having lost his right arm in World War I, and the resultant work has become one of the great masterpieces in the literature. Double basses playing softly on open strings and a dark solo by the contrabassoon imparted just the right feel of unease and ambiguity as the work bubbled and brewed with a gradual crescendo to the piano’s dramatic entrance.

Friscioni was stunning in her role as soloist, playing with ease, fluidity and an unerring sense of rhythm while appropriately placing the spotlight when called for upon the work’s drama. Most impressive was her expressive delivery of melodic material while maintaining a myriad of scintillating notes within subdued, sensitively shaded colors. Kessler conducted admirably, keeping a fine rapport between soloist and orchestra. Friscioni, Kessler and The Suburban Symphony Orchestra last performed this work in October 2008 at Beachwood High School when they paid tribute to Cleveland’s beloved pianist Eunice Podis who was soloist on numerous occasions when her husband, the late Robert C. Weiskopf led the group until 1978. It was truly a pleasure to hear it again in the splendor of Severance Hall.

Beethoven wrote his Fantasia in C minor for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra to serve as a “brilliant finale” to a concert which premiered his fifth andsixth symphonies in addition to the C major Mass. The sequence of variations on a theme in the Fantasia is widely believed to be an earlier version of thetheme used in the choral finale of his Ninth Symphony. Brilliant it was indeed in the hands of pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, First Prize winner in the 1999 Cleveland International Piano Competition and Distinguished Professor of Piano at The Cleveland Institute of Music, who was soloist on this occasion. The piano part is really an extended quasi-cadenza which is embellished first with orchestra in chamber-like dialogue, then joined by vocal soloists and chorus. Clever manipulations of the theme affirm Beethoven a master of variation as the work progresses from darkness to light in its triumphant conclusion.

Pompa-Baldi showed his musical mettle, playing with a muscular and penetrating tone, projecting every detail clearly and with conviction. Phrases had beauty and direction, filigree and ornamentation were articulate. Kessler led pianist, expressive vocal soloists soprano Diane Menges, alto Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber, tenor Rick Schmid and basses Ted Christopher & Ralph Heimburger and the clear-dictioned Choral Arts Cleveland with precise cues, gesturing with care and attention to detail.

After intermission came Alzheimer’s Stories by Robert Cohen, winner of the 2008 New York Composer’s Circle Award, who spoke from the stage, introducing his Cleveland premiere. Conceived in a very attractive and accessible idiom with theatrical influence, Cohen wrote his three movement work in collaboration with librettist Herschel Garfien. As a result of an anonymous donation from a member of the Susquehanna Valley Chorale to the chorale to help fund the commissioning of a musical work to honor his parents who both died from the disease, and the subsequent compilation of recorded stories from members of the Susquehanna Valley Chorale and members of the community describing their experiences with Alzheimer’s among their family and friends in 2007, a selected group of those submissions became the basis for Alzheimer’s Stories for soloists, chorus and large ensemble (more information in ClevelandClassical’s preview).

In terms of getting the message out about this debilitating and devastating disease in a heartfelt and meaningful way through music, this reading of Cohen’s innovative work could be deemed a total success. Kessler’s long involvement as conductor of both The Suburban Symphony Orchestra and Choral Arts Cleveland was apparent in this well-prepared performance, which also included the Glee Clubs of Laurel and University Schools.

In the first movement, The Numbers, a whimsical march-like onset with effective writing for percussion and creative instrumentation leads way to a journey of familiarity to which we’ve undoubtedly all been privy.It is an objective description of the discovery of the disease by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1901 including the number of individuals currently afflicted, future projections and dramatized conversations between Dr. Alzheimer and his patient Auguste Dieter. The movement ends with a quote from his patient – “Ich hab mich verloren”, “I have lost myself.”

The second movement, The Stories, is a pastiche of a number of stories selected from the choir’s blog. With a mixture of pathos, poignancy and humor, mezzo-soprano Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber portrayed a woman who thinks she’s still on a boat to Panama with her father, while baritone Ted Christopher portrayed a WWII Navy veteran who repeats the same bawdy story of the war so many times that the chorus can recite it by heart. Both soloists brought their characters to life and sang quite expressively, although a bit more projection would have benefitted Cutsforth-Huber’s reading.

For the Caregivers, the final movement, was inspired by a chorus member who visited a nursing home and was asked to sing. When asked what, the patient replied: “sing anything.” This idea became the centerpiece and focus of the movement after having first been referenced in the second, concluding Alzheimer’s Stories with some semblance of hope: “Find those you love in the dark and light. Help them through the days and nights. Keep faith. They sense what they cannot show. Love and music are the last things to go. Sing anything. Sing.”

The a Capella Mass

On Sunday March 6, 2016 Choral Arts Cleveland will perform several Masses from the Gregorian era. Of these masses, Mass IX Cum jubilo (for feasts of the Blessed Virgin) and “Bell’ Amfitrit’ Altera” Orlande de Lassus

The history of the practice goes back to the year 590 A.D. in St. Andrew’s Monastery in Rome, founded by St. Gregory the Great in his own family villa around 570. It is now known as the Monastery of St. Gregory the Great. The account of the incident which gave rise to it is recounted by St. Gregory himself in his Dialogues.

Orlande de Lassus

Is one of the most prolific, versatile, and universal composers of the late Renaissance, Lassus wrote over 2,000 works in all Latin, French, Italian and German vocal genres known in his time. These include 530 motets, 175 Italian madrigals and villanellas, 150 Frencorlandeh chansons, and 90 German lieder. No strictly instrumental music by Lassus is known to survive, or ever to have existed: an interesting omission for a composer otherwise so wide-ranging and prolific, during an age when instrumental music was becoming an ever-more prominent means of expression, all over Europe. The German music publisher Adam Berg dedicated 5 volumes of his Patrocinium musicum (published from 1573–1580) to Lassus’ music.

Lassus remained Catholic during this age of religious discord, although not dogmatically so, as may be seen from his more worldly secular songs as well as his imitation Masses and Magnificats based on secular compositions. Nevertheless the Catholic Counter-Reformation, which under Jesuit influence was reaching a peak in Bavaria in the late sixteenth century, had a demonstrable impact on Lassus’ late work, including the liturgical music for the Roman Rite, the burgeoning number of Magnificats, the settings of the Catholic Ulenberg Psalter (1588), and especially the great penitential cycle of spiritual madrigals, the Lagrime di San Pietro (1594).

Other Mass settings by Poulenc, Vaughan Williams, Thompson will also be perfomed.

For More Information, visit choralartscleveland.org

 

Luminosity – Heights Observer Article

The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overpowered it.”  So begins the choral masterwork Luminosity  by contemporary British composer James Whitbourn. Choral Arts Cleveland under the direction of Cleveland Heights resident Martin Kessler will perform the Cleveland premiere of Whitbourn’s celebration of light and hope.  The concert, “Light and Shadow: Bodies and Voices in Motion,” is funded in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. It will take place at Christ Episcopal Church, 3445 Warrensville Center Road, Shaker Heights at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 22. Rounding out the performance will be music by Alexandre Gretchaninoff, Morten Lauridsen,  Gabriel Faure, and Keith Hampton, all centered on the theme of light.

An innovative and resoundingly beautiful choral piece, “Luminosity” is a multi-media, multi-faceted experience. A salient feature of the work is the dance accompaniment that Whitbourn has made an essential and integral part of his composition. Dancers for the Choral Arts performance will be members of Cleveland’s Verb Ballets with choreography by company member Terence Greene. Choral voices and dance movement—“bodies and voices in motion”—will be accompanied by organ; viola; tam-tam, a large gong; and tanpura, a long-necked, four-stringed instrument found in various types of Eastern Indian music.

James Whitbourn refers to his composition as one “conceived with a visual counterpoint to the music in mind, coming in the form of art, dance and light as well as in the use of space. The focus in all the elements is on transcendent beauty and eternal love.  It is likely to be symbolic, luminous and shapely in concept.”  To create his celebration of light, Whitbourn has assembled the choral sections from texts by St. John, Buddhist nun Ryonen, Isaac of Nineveh, Julian of Norwich, Theresa of Avila, and Augustine of Hippo. These texts, voices, instrumentation, and dance movements blend into a natural and harmonious whole that is both pleasing and accessible to those who avail themselves of the unique experience.

Having been an artistic force in Cleveland Heights for 40 years, Choral Arts Cleveland with its performance of Luminosity continues its mission of bringing new artistry to its audiences. Along with staples from the classical repertoire, Choral Arts regularly introduces its audience to accessible contemporary artistic gems.  Recently these have included premieres of William Godfree’s Requiem, Antony Pitts’ Jerusalem-Yerushalayim, Robert Cohen’s Alzheimer’s Stories, and, in May 2015, Whitbourn’s Annelies, an oratorio based on excerpts from the diary of Anne Frank.

Established in 1975 as a chorus composed of Cleveland Heights High School alumni and parents, Choral Arts membership is comprised predominantly of those who live in and support the Heights community. Director Martin Kessler is a graduate of Cleveland Heights High School where he was student conductor of the Heights Choir.  Retired from University School’s Hunting Valley Campus where he served for 32 years as Director of Music, Mr. Kessler remains musically active. In addition to directing Choral Arts, he is Director of the Suburban Symphony Orchestra and an adjunct professor in CSU’s Department of Music. He is also a composer and essayist. He lives in Cleveland Heights with his wife Joyce.

For more information on Choral Arts visit choralartscleveland.org

 

 

 

Haydn – The Seasons Project

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Franz Joseph Haydn composed his two famous oratorios, The Creation (Die

Schöpfung) and The Seasons (Die Jahreszeiten), near the end of his musical career in Vienna. He had heard performances of Handel’s Messiah in London and was so moved by the piece that he decided to write something similar. With financial support for his project from his librettist and mentor Gottfried van Swieten, his first oratorio, The Creation, premiered in Vienna in 1799 to universal praise. It is said that Beethoven was in attendance and that after hearing the piece, the young composer was so overcome by its power that he knelt in homage to Haydn.

The Seasons was first performed on April 24, 1801, at the palace of Prince Schwarzenberg. On May 29, Haydn conducted the first public performance, which was an immediate success.

Like The Creation, The Seasons was intended as a bilingual work. Since Haydn was very popular in England (particularly following his visits there in 1791–1792 and 1794–1795), he wished the work to be performable in English as well as German. Van Swieten therefore made a translation of his libretto back into English, fitting it to the rhythm of the music. Olleson notes that it is “fairly rare” that the translated version actually matches the Thomson original.[2] Van Swieten’s command of English was not perfect, and the English text he created has not always proven satisfying to listeners; for example, one critic writes, “Clinging to [the] retranslation, however, is the heavy-handed imagery of Haydn’s sincere, if officious, patron. Gone is the bloom of Thomson’s original.”[3] Olleson calls the English text “often grotesque”, and suggests that English-speaking choruses should perform the work in German: “The Seasons is better served by the decent obscurity of a foreign language than by the English of the first version.

Choral Arts Cleveland will perform The Seasons in English over the course of 3 concerts.

                                                             SPRING

1. Overture Expressing the passage from Winter to Spring
1a. Recitative Simon, Lucas, Hannah
Behold where surly Winter flies, and far to the north passes off.
He calls his ruffian blasts, his blasts obey and quit the hill, the forest and the vale.
Behold the craggy mountain peaks, where softer gales dissolve the snows.
Forth fly the tepid airs, and unconfined, unbinding earth, the moving softness strays.

2. Chorus
Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness come!
Out of her wintry grave bid drowsy nature rise.
At last the pleasing Spring is near; the softening air is full of balm.
A boundless song bursts from the groves.
As yet the year is unconfirmed, and Winter oft at eve resumes the breeze,
and bids his driving sleets deform the day and chill the morn.
Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness come!
and smiling on our plains descend, while music wakes around.

3. Recitative Simon
At last the bounteous sun from Aries into Taurus rolls. Now sickly damps and fogs give way to light and temp’rate airs that lift the white and fleecy clouds and spread them through the sky.

4. Aria Simon
Th’impatient, joyous husbandman drives forth his lusty team,
to where the well-used plough remains, now loosened from the frost;
and they begin their toil again, cheered by a simple song.
With measured step he throws the grain in the bosom of the ground,
and prays the ripening sun will crown the year with golden corn.

5. Recitative Lucas
Laborious man hath done his part; while sparing neither pain nor care;
and, seeking Nature’s better blessings o’er the land,
he prays that heav’n, he prays that heav’n will favour him.

6. Trio & Chorus Lucas, Simon, Hannah
Be propitious, kindly heaven, bounteously, bounteously
pour down thy sweetness o’er the freshened world below.
Ye softening dews, ye fostering breezes, ye lenient airs, ye tender showers,
descend, descend and temper all; and let the sun revive the world.
This annual plenteousness demands the praise and thanks of all Mankind.

7. Recitative Hannah
Our fervent prayers are heard; th’effusive southern breeze warms the wide air,
with soft humidity. In heaps on heaps the vapours sail; and well-showered earth
is deep enriched with life from Nature’s ample store.

8. Trio & Chorus Hannah, Lucas, Simon
Spring, fair-handed Spring unbosoms every matchless grace.
Come, companions, let us wander in the fragrant air.
Come, good fellows, let us wander through the greenwood fair.
See the lilies, see the roses, see the mingled flowers. See the valleys, see the meadows,
see the verdant bowers. See the woodland, see the waters, see the azure sky!
All is living, all is stirring, while the landscape laughs around!
See the lambs that frisk and gambol; see the fish that swim and tumble.
See the bees that swarm together; see the birds that soar and flutter.
What enchantment, what enjoyment, swells within our hearts!
Sweetest longings, softest passions, stir within our breasts!
Every feeling, every rapture, is the mighty, the mighty Creator’s breath.
Let us honour, let us worship, let us magnify his glorious name.
Let our voices sing his praises and resound on high.

9. Trio & Chorus Hannah, Lucas, Simon
Wonderful, bountiful, merciful God.
With thine abundant goodness hast thou revived the world.
For thou hast, with thy mighty hand, poured blessings on the land.
Endless praise to thee we sing, wonderful, bountiful, merciful God.

                                             SUMMER

10. Recitative Lucas, Simon
At first, faint-gleaming in the east, the meek-eyed morn appears.
With tardy step brown Night retires, and Day pours in apace.
To gloomy caverns fly the black ill-omened birds of night;
and all their mournful cries oppress the timid heart no more.
The crested cockerel crows aloud, and, with his early cry, awakes
the soon-clad shepherd-boy, who sets forth on his morning task.

11. Aria Simon
And from the crowded fold he drives the bleating flock and lowing herd
to graze along the verdant hills, slowly winding o’er the lea.
Then, gazing toward the dappled east, observant on his crook he leans,
to see the powerful king of day dart his glorious beams around.

11a. Recitative Hannah
Lo! now aslant the dew-bright earth, the mists of morning
melt into limpid air; the kindling azure spreads through the boundless sky;
while burnished mountains high gleam from afar.

12. Trio & Chorus Hannah, Lucas, Simon
Behold, the sun arises; he gleams, then mounts his throne in bright array!
He shines resplendent on high in boundless majesty!
Hail, thou glorious sun! Thou source of light and life, all hail!
Thou soul of all surrounding worlds, in whom thy Maker shines, we raise our song to thee.
How shall I then attempt to sing the source of light and life below?
Who can recount the myriad blessings that in effusion from thee flow?
We honour thee for giving joy;
We honour thee for giving life;
We honour thee for giving health;
But firstly let us praise the Lord who gave thee power and might.
The voice of all Creation rejoices in thy power.

13. Recitative Simon
Now swarms the village over the mead; the youths and the maids,
both healthful and strong. All in a row they spread their breathing harvest to the sun;
the sickles flash, down falls the grass; and as they rake the tedded grain
the russet haycocks rise behind.

14. Recitative Lucas
‘Tis raging noon, and now the sun,
with tyrant heat dispreading through the cloudless sky,
darts down forceful rays on all things below.
Far as the ranging eye can see, from pole to pole, o’er heaven and earth,
a dazzling deluge reigns.

15. Cavatina Lucas
Exhausted nature sinks to rest;
wilting flowers, arid pastures, thirsty fountains,
show the tyrant rage of heat; and drooping,
languish man and beast outstretch’d upon the ground.

16. Recitative Hannah
O welcome now, ye shady groves; ye lofty pines, ye aged oaks!
ye bowery thickets, hail! How welcome is the sheltered glade,
with murmuring leaves and boughs.
Now scarcely moving through the reeds the brooklet purls along;
and how delightful is the hum as Nature swarms with life.
The fragrant woodbine’s balmy scent on Zephyr’s wing is borne;
and from the rural shade is heard the shepherd’s tuneful pipe.

17. Aria Hannah
How delicious is your shelter to the soul! In your shade a pleasing comfort
coolly glides through every nerve, refreshing weary hearts.
Hence through her nourished powers the spirit springs aloft,
and gladly beats the heart with life and strength restored.

18. Recitative Simon, Lucas, Hannah
Behold! Slow settling o’er the lurid grove, unusual darkness broods and grows;
the sky is charged with wrathful vapours, and in yon cloud of reddening gloom
the fighting winds ferment and clash while all is calm below.
Hark! From the mountain there comes a roar that may portend a storm.
Behold the baleful clouds that gather, threatening, overhead, and darken all the world below.
A boding silence reigns throughout the dun expanse.
No leaf within the forest shakes; a deathly hush is in the air.

19. Chorus
Hark! the tempest nearer comes. Heaven help us!
Eruptive through the clouds the thunder rolls on high.
Away! Away! Where shall we fly? Flashes of lightning emblazen the sky;
the crashes of awful thunder draw nigh, and down comes a deluge of rain.
Still the tempest growls; and still the heavens are rent. Run for shelter!
Peal on peal, with fearful crash, convulsing heaven, the thunder rolls!
The firm and deep foundations of earth itself are moved.

20. Trio & Chorus Lucas, Hannah, Simon
The shattered clouds now melt away and from the face of heaven depart.
And Nature shines out freshly, through all the lightened air.
The setting sun with yellow ray invests the fields with glittering robes of joy.
Home from his evening task returns the shepherd, his folded flock secure.
The quail is clamouring for his mate;
The cricket chirps within the grass;
The frog is croaking in the pool.
The curfew tolls the knell – the knell of parting day.
In heaven shines the evening star, inviting all to sweet repose.
Come then, come then, one and all! ‘Tis the hour for soothing sleep,
that simple hearts, and healthy lives, and honest labours surely have earned.
Away, to sweet repose.

choralartscleveland.org

Review: Chiaroscuro, Light and Shadow, Bodies in Motion” (May 22)

chiascoro
On Sunday evening, May 22, Choral Arts Cleveland presented its third and final concert of the season at Christ Episcopal Church in Shaker Heights. The program, titled “Chiaroscuro, Light and Shadow, Bodies in Motion,” included an interesting variety of styles and performance forces, including solo songs; a capella choruses; choruses accompanied by piano, organ, and additional instruments; and dancers from Verb Ballets. In the waning golden evening light, the sanctuary sparkled with atmosphere.

The concert’s highlight was the Cleveland premiere of British composer James Whitbourne’s Luminosity, part of Choral Arts’ ten-year exploration of the New English School of living composers. Luminosity is, in the words of music director Martin Kessler, “a multicultural, multimedia meditation on transcendent beauty and eternal love that weaves seven mystical texts into a fabric of ostinatos, chorales, sudden outbursts of blinding light, and movement.”

In addition to organist Jeannette Davis Ostrander, Christ Church’s music director, instrumentalists included the talented violist Andrew Stock (sometimes simulating the sound of the Indian sitar), pianist Joanne Poderis, percussionist Evan Mitchell (tam-tam), and Lalit Subramanian on tanpura (an Indian, four-stringed, drone instrument) — as well as four dancers, one female and three male.

The chorus was divided into two parts, stage left (by the viola and tam-tam) and stage right (by the tanpura). The center of the Sanctuary became the stage for the dancers. While there didn’t seem to be any direct correspondence between the words and the choreography, the modern dance movements were graceful yet sparing, adding a wonderful richness to the musical flow.

In the first movement, “Lux in tenebris,” with text from the Gospel of John, the chorus repeats the word illuminare many times. It opens imaginatively with a viola solo accompanied by the tanpura drone and the chorus humming. The next three movements, “The Changing Scenes,” “Castle of Diamonds,” and “Silence” (with texts by the 19th-century Zen Buddhist nun Ryonen, 16th-century saint Theresa of Avila, and Isaac of Nineveh from the 7th century) were performed without pause, concluded by a fine organ solo.

“The Living Thing,” on a 14th-century text by Julian of Norwich, expresses the sentiment that “all things have their being through the love of God.” Melismas added charm.

In “Ask the Beauty,” on a 3rd-century text by Augustine of Hippo, the dancers, in costumes of many colors, added a stunning counterpoint of movement to the prayerful text.

“All Shall Be Well,” also on a text by Julian of Norwich, featured a lovely soprano solo by Laurie Aronoff. The final “Alleluia” shone with fine choral writing to close an engaging, 30-minute work that flowed beautifully.

The concert opened with 8 shorter works also chosen to support the topic of light and shadow. The solo songs included Richard Strauss’s unpretentious Traum durch die Dämmerung (Dreaming Through Twilight), sung effectively by baritone and Associate Director, John Watson; Samuel Barber’s Sure on this Shining Night, sung by Barton Black with an unfortunate lack of textual intelligibility; Henry Mancini’s Moon River sung very musically by Rick Schmid in a charming arrangement; and Gabriel Fauré’s nearly impressionistic L’Aurore (Dawn), sung beautifully and expressively by Laurie Aronoff.

The choral works scintillated with fine performances. Russian composer Alexandre Gretchianinoff’s Holy Radiant Light, a short neo-romantic piece, was unabashedly triadic and featured gorgeous low range men’s vocal sounds, and John Watson conducted an excellent rendition of the “Agnus Dei” from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem.

Morten Lauridsen’s O Nata Lux was especially beautiful, its largely homophonic texture shimmering with lovely imitative passages. Keith Hampton’s True Light is an imaginative arrangement of the famous spiritual, This Little Light of Mine. The antiphonal exchanges in the chorus delighted the audience, as did Emily Cornell’s two beautiful solos.

Published on ClevelandClassical.com May 25, 2016.

choralartscleveland.org

Local Public Funding Supports & Enriches the Work of Choral Arts

Over the past four years, the Choral Arts Society of Cleveland received more than $16,000 in support from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, which has helped us bring several musical premieres to our Cleveland audiences: Jerusalem-Yerushalayim by Antony Pitts,  Requiem by William Godfree, and Annelies by James Whitbourn. Having both artistic and educational components, these projects are some of the many throughout Cuyahoga County that strengthen our community and enrich the quality of life in our neighborhoods for people of all ages.  Because CAC has assisted in these projects, we’d like to take this opportunity to tell you more about this extremely important funding partner.

The financial support received from the residents of Cuyahoga County through Cuyahoga Arts & Culture has helped Choral Arts fulfill its mission of entertaining and educating it membership and its audiences. First, we have been able to introduce singers and audiences to contemporary composers like Antony Pitts, William Godfree, James Whitbourn, and Bob Chilcott, composers whose pieces have enticed singers and audiences out of the ordinary choral repertoire into music that has been accessible, exciting, and moving.  Second, CAC grants have enabled us to engage first-class soloists for our projects. Third, we have been able to effect historical awareness through pieces like Jerusalem-Yerushalayim and, most recently,  Annelies (an oratorio based on excerpts from the Diary of Anne Frank). Also, projects such as Annelies have addressed serious issues facing humanity. These results mean that financial support from CAC has helped Choral Arts deepen its mission of benefiting the community of which we are a part.

Cuyahoga Arts & Culture is the public funder of arts and culture organizations, programs and events in Cuyahoga County.  Cuyahoga Arts & Culture’s sole funding source is a dedicated cigarette tax levied within Cuyahoga County. Established by voters in 2007, CAC has awarded over 1,200 grants since then, distributing over $125 million in tax dollars to more than 300 organizations based in the County.  Renewal of this funding source will be on the ballot this Fall on November 3 for voters to consider.

Please take a few minutes to learn more about this important source of public funding and Cuyahoga Arts & Culture by visiting their website: cacgrants.org.

Handel Judas Maccabaeus – Perspective

Choral Arts Cleveland will present George Frideric Handel’s “Judas Maccabaeus” with soloists Tim Culver (tenor), John Watson (bass), Diane Menges (soprano), and Sandra Ross (alto) on Sunday, November 22, 2015 at 7:30 in our new location, Disciples Christian Church, located at 3663 Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights. This seminal work, rich with religious and musical meaning, opens our 2015-16 season.

Oratorio is nearly synonymous with the name George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Though he composed many Italian-style operas througout his life, he later moved to oratorios in response to the interest shown by the English audiences he composed for after moving to London in 1712. English patrons’ interest in Italian opera was mixed, with some audiences being aloof to foreign words and foreign cultural ideas. In oratorio, audiences relished morally uplifting works sung in English by talented homegrown choirs. Though based on scripture, these pieces were not meant as sacred church music, but a kind of “pious concert” performance. Oratorios were also pleasing from a production standpoint, as they were much less expensive to stage and perform. Early successful oratorios by Handel include Saul (1739), Messiah (1742), and Samson (1743).

However, by 1745, interest in Handel’s oratorio work had diminished. Slow ticket sales for a series of 24 oratorio concerts forced Handel to cancel the series after only 16. Failure to do so might have resulted in his bankruptcy.

Handel, then 60 suffering from poor health and depression, turned to political and military events for inspiration. In April 1746, Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, defeated the Jacobites’ rebellion at the Battle of Culloden and ended a movement to return Charles Edward Stuart to the throne. The Duke, George II’s second son, was hailed as a popular hero. In response, Handel composed Judas Maccabaeus, as an allegorical celebration of this victory.

Judas Maccabaeus tells the story of the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BC), in which a Jewish army rebelled against the Seleucid Empire (modern Syria). Under the control of the empire, Judeans were forbidden to adhere to Jewish laws and were ordered to worship Zeus and other deities. An elder priest, Mattathias, rebelled against this persecution by killing a Jew offering a sacrifice to Zeus and destroying a pagan altar. Mattathias and his family then took to the hills, where he later died.

It is here that Handel begins the piece, with the lachrymose chorus “Mourn, ye afflicted children.” Mattathias’ son, Simon, reminds the Israelites that they are the chosen people and rallies them with “Arm, arm ye brave.” Simon’s brother, Judas Maccabaeus, then ascends to become their leader, inspiring the people to fight for their freedom (“Lead on, lead on!”), powered by faith in Jehovah (“Hear us, O Lord”).

Act II begins in triumphant fashion. In “Fallen is the foe”, the Israelites are victorious over foreign invaders from Samaria. However, Judas reminds them that they have been victorious because God willed it so (“How vain is man who boast in fight”). When news arrives of a defeat at the hands of the enemy commander, Gorgias, triumph turns to dejection (“Ah! Wretched Israel!”). However, Judas leads a battle cry (“Sound an alarm”) and Simon brings the people’s attention again to the power of their God (“With pious hearts”). As a calm voice of reason, Simon takes up the restoration of religious altars and the removal of remnants of the pagan religion. The act ends with the people reaffirming their belief in their God (“We never will bow down”).

Act III opens with a celebration of Judas victory over the enemy (“See, the conquering hero comes”). Then joyful news from Rome arrives: An alliance has been formed to protect the Israelites from the Seleucid. Eupolemus, the Jewish ambassador to Rome, announces the pact in “Peace to my countrymen.” The people praise God (“To our great God be all honour given”) and are joyous at the prospect of lasting peace (“O lovely peace”). The oratorio ends with a celebratory chorus (“Hallelujah, Amen”).

Judas Maccabeus premiered at Covent Garden on April 1st, 1747. Perhaps because of his difficulties with ticket sales in 1745, Handel abandoned the traditional subscription model and opened the concert to the general public, to great success.  Despite the allegorical intention of the piece to celebrate the Battle of Culloden, it was a singular hit with the Jewish population of London. Its success helped correct the course of Handel’s declining popularity and finances. During his life, Judas Maccabaeus was one of Handel’s most popular and regularly performed oratorios, second only to Messiah. It is one of the few oratorios to remain popular from Handel’s day through to the twenty-first century.

by Ryan Honomichl (bass)

For more information, visit choralartscleveland.org

2015-2016 Season Overview

On November 22, Choral Arts Cleveland launched its 2015-2016 season with Handel’s rousing oratorio, Judah Maccabaeus, telling the tale of the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BC). The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple after the successful end to the conflict. The 60-member chorus was joined by a wonderful chamber orchestra and splendid soloists in this first concert in our new venue.

Choral Arts has long made its home in Cleveland Heights rehearsing and performing at Grace Lutheran Church, but when the church was recently sold we had to find a new venue. We were lucky. The truck was loaded and the driver given directions to one church when that church informed us that they would not be able to accommodate our group after all. Fortunately, Disciples Church on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights opened its doors to us and we were able to move in and set up just in time for our first rehearsal. We are now comfortably ensconced in a large practice room and are hard at work preparing for our second program in the exciting 2015-2016 concert season.

On March 6, 2016, we will present an evening of a cappella music including Gregorian Chant; music by the Franco-Flemish, Renaissance master of choral music, Orlando di Lasso; and work by 20th century French composer, Francis Poulenc.

Our final concert, scheduled for May 22, 2016, is titled “Chiaroscuro–Light and Shadow–Bodies and Voices in Motion.” The concert will include James Whitbourn’s “Luminosity,” which NPR described as “a celebration of that light — peaceful, radiant and clear.” That performance will include local dancers and professional instrumentalists. We will also perform Grammy Winner, Eric Whitacre’s, “Lux Aurumque” (Light of Gold). Finally, we will perform Morten Lauridsen’s, “Lux Aeterna,” a five movement piece dealing with light which Mr. Lauridsen described as a “very complicated [piece] when one starts to peel it, especially in the contrapuntal sense, and yet the immediacy is there for the listener to respond to.”

In addition to settling into our new home and diligently preparing for our concert series, Choral Arts is actively working toward expanding our outreach in the community, touching more listeners and attracting more singers. Using funds from a Cuyahoga Arts & Culture grant, we have hired an outside consultant, Janus Small, to help us reformulate our mission, vision, values, and organizational structure to prepare for the next 40 years of singing. Ms. Small has over 30 years of experience in non-profit management and planning, and is on faculty at John Carroll University. We will work closely with Ms. Small to recruit and retain both singing members and board members and focus our resources on bringing our message of music, beauty, and joy to the Cleveland area.

Choral Arts Cleveland rehearses on Sunday evenings from 7:00 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.