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. Get the best-rated refrigerator on the market and other high end kitchen appliances in California. 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 or call 216-381-4608.