In the bag
Chicago Chorale’s 2016-17 season has ended. The books are closed, and we are on break from our rehearsal/performance schedule, taking stock of last year and planning the 2017-18 season. A small army of volunteers recently moved our choral library, which had been housed in my musty basement for the past three years, into a new, better, more convenient space, where the printed music will be better protected from changes in humidity, and in which our librarian, Amy Mantrone, can do even better work than she has done up to now. Printed music is one of the few tangible things a choir actually owns; music purchases, and storage, account for a significant portion of our annual operating budget. Chorale is fortunate to have an experienced professional taking care of our investment. In addition to re-auditioning the alto section (each section of the choir endures this torture every four years), I have been hearing new auditions since the middle of May, to replace singers who are leaving. Each season we turn over seven to eight singers this way. I have also been auditioning, since March, singers for our summer project, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which we will present August 18-20, with the films, the Lakeside Singers, the Chicago Children’s Choir, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, at the Ravinia Festival. We have sung for each of the films in past summers, as separate events; this summer, all three will be shown and performed, as a mini-festival. Learning all three scores is a mind-boggling amount of work for our singers, many of whom have not participated in the past; rehearsals will begin July 31, and take up nearly every evening until the actual performances.
Early summer is also the time when we finalize repertoire choices for the coming season, and order new music. All year long I keep a file on my computer screen, to which I add ideas, individual pieces, concert themes, as they occur to me. Somewhere around January I propose three broad ideas for the coming season, and we begin working out budget, dates, venues. Often, though, I don’t choose specific pieces, or plan their order in the program, until my head is clear from the preceding season. Music choices can depend upon available venues, as well as influence choice of venue; they can also depend upon the make-up of the choir, which may not be clear until halfway through the summer. Serendipity plays a role, as well: I may happen upon a new piece, hear it in performance or on Youtube, respond to a friend’s suggestion-- and change something I had thought was set. I allow myself to be somewhat mystical and mysterious (read: irresponsible) about final choices; I want to be open to the new and the unexpected.
As of now, though, our repertoire for the 2017-18 season is set. November 17 and 18 we will present a program of eleven major, important, well-known works from the past century, by such composers as Fauré, Pärt, Lauridsen, Gjeilo, Mahler, Rautavaara, Esenvalds, Paulus, Nystedt—some living, some dead, all of them major figures in the choral music genre. Two of the works will feature our accompanist, Kit Bridges, on piano.
Then, on March 25 (Palm Sunday), accompanied by the Haymarket Opera Orchestra, we will present Mozart’s Requiem, in the completion by Robert Levin. Stuttgart’s International Bachakademie commissioned this completion, at the urging of Helmuth Rilling, who then “tried it out” at the Oregon Bach Festival. I participated in this “try out,” and in several subsequent performances under Mr. Rilling, and am happy to report that repeated exposure only increased my satisfaction with Mr. Levin’s completion of this glorious work, left unfinished at Mozart’ death. I am happy to have this opportunity to present it again to Chicago audiences.
On June 9 and 10, Chorale will repeat Rodion Shchedrin’s The Sealed Angel, an oratorio for unaccompanied choir and obbligato oboe. When we last presented this work, Lawrence Johnson of Chicago Classical Review hailed our performance as "revelatory and transcendent," and named it one of the Top Ten Classical Music Performances of 2012.
In conclusion—“in the bag” never means “the bag is closed.” We work all the time to provide our audiences, and our singers, with the best and most uplifting musical experiences possible: the best repertoire, the best venues, the best performances. Details about dates, venues, tickets and subscription packages will be available shortly. I hope you will put Chorale on your calendars now, in preparation for the wonderful season ahead.