Announcing Chorale's 2016-17 Season

Our 2015-16 season now behind us, Chorale’s eyes, and intentions, are focused on the 2016-17 season. As is our usual pattern, we present music that is a part of the established canon, and music which is likely to be new to most of our listeners, as well as our singers. Our Autumn concerts (November 18-19) fall largely into the latter category. The centerpiece of our repertoire will be an extended work entitled Passion Week, by Maximillian Steinberg (1883-1946). Steinberg was born in Vilnius, Lithuania (at that time, part of the Russian empire). He received his musical training at the Conservatory in St. Petersburg, where he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov (he eventually converted from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity, and married Rimsky-Korsakov’s daughter). Inspired by the success of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil (1917), which Chorale presented just this past season, he composed a parallel work, Passion Week, in 1923; but it was never performed, due to the growing anti-religion strictness of the Soviet authorities. He did manage to get a copy of the manuscript to Paris, where it was published with a Latin translation; there is no evidence, however, that it was ever performed in this version, either.   A copy of the original version made it to the United States, and into the hands of Russian-American conductor Igor Butekoff, who spent several years trying to get it edited and performed. After his death, in 2001, his family took up his project, and eventually passed the work on to the Portland-based choir Cappella Romana, which finally presented the work’s world premier on April 11, 2014, in Portland, Oregon. Cappella Romana subsequently recorded the work, and it has since been published by Musica Russica and made available to the public. The work is, I think, first-rate, in a different and more modern style than that of Rachmaninoff. Chorale’s performance would be the first in Chicago.

The Steinberg clocks in at about 45 minutes, which is not quite a full concert. Chorale will fill out the program with somewhat more familiar works, by better-known composers from the same period: Pavel Chesnokov, Alexander Gretchaninoff, and Nikolai Golovanov.

Repertoire for our Spring concert (June 10) seems, at first glance, an odd pairing: Missa Papae Marcelli, by G.P.da Palestrina (1525-1594), and The Peaceable Kingdom, by Randall Thompson (1899-1984). My external logic in making this choice is: both men were extremely prolific composers, who in their own time and in the decades following their deaths, defined the music of their eras. Both figured prominently as teachers (Thompson at Harvard) and had a profound effect on the composers who immediately followed them, effectively establishing styles which are traceable through the succeeding several decades. Palestrina’s style became a primer of all that was correct and expected of Roman Catholic church music through the nineteenth century; Thompson established a distinctly American sound and style which continues to be traceable through the music of such contemporary composers as Morton Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, and Ola Gjeilo. Chorale will present the major works most commonly associated with each—multi-movement works of which most of us are aware, but which are seldom heard in their entirely, in live performance.

And now for our absolutely canonic work: the Mass in B Minor by J.S.Bach (1685-1750). Chorale has established an every-other-year cycle of the three “big” Bach works: the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, and the B Minor. Any list of the greatest works in the Western musical canon includes both the Passions and the B Minor, and it is effectively Chorale’s brand, that we present them in first-rate performances, and at a reasonable cost to listeners. Performed with an orchestra of period instruments, they are some of the most successful programs we do, drawing large, enthusiastic crowds to Rockefeller Chapel, where we present them. Our audience, and our singers, really like Bach. As do I. I am as thrilled as I can be, that our board has been able to approve this season’s installment in the cycle; one cannot prepare, or hear, this magnificent work, too many times.