Fall Choral Music Preview: Lift Your Voices in Song!
A preview by Marc Shulgold
Scen3 fall choral music preview
Kids are back in the classroom, Broncos fans are sporting their orange jerseys. The Rockies are in the National League cellar. It must be fall.
Which means that amateur and professional choruses have begun busily preparing for the new season. So, let’s have a quick look at what’s in store.
Cherry Creek Chorale
For those who love the sound of a disciplined, spirited chorus, it comes as no surprise to hear that the Front Range overflows with first-rate choral groups. “I read a survey, which said that Denver has more choirs per capita than any U.S. city,” remarked Brian Leatherman, who happens to lead one of the city’s finest amateur groups, the Cherry Creek Chorale.
About that name: “It can create some confusion,” Leatherman agreed. Even after 20 years directing the CCC, he still gets questions about where in Cherry Creek the group performs. “Our first rehearsals (35 years ago) were at Smoky Hill High School,” he notes. “We now perform at Bethany in Cherry Creek Village.”
What really matters, of course, is the music and the quality of singing – and the Chorale has arguably one of the best sounds of the region’s numerous choral ensembles. “We have 140 members,” Leatherman said, “although we’ll usually have around 120 singing at concerts.” When he took the reins, succeeding Dick Larson, there were about 70 singers in the group. “I wanted to increase the size, Leatherman recalled, “mainly because I knew that the bigger sound would prove attractive to audiences. Plus, we could expand the repertory available to us.”
With such a delirious glut of local choirs, one wonders how the Chorale attracts new singers. “Our performances are our best recruitment,” the conductor replies. First up will be a rare reading of Mendelssohn’s stunning sacred work, Elijah (Oct. 3-4). “It’s a series of dramatic tableaux that we’ll sing in English,” Leatherman said, adding that the solo parts will be handled by Chorale members, led by baritone John Wollan, hand-picked for the crucial title role. “We don’t hire soloists,” the conductor said with a touch of pride.
The Cherry Creek Chorale and Mercury Ensemble will perform Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 3 and 4. On Dec. 12 and 13 the Chorale will be joined by the Rocky Mountain Ringers for a holiday program. All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. in Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Ave. Information: (303) 789-5920.
Colorado Hebrew Chorale
Carol Kozak Ward has been asked so many times just what it is that her group does, she can only chuckle at the comments. “They’ll ask me, ‘Do you sing Fiddler (on the Roof)? Do you sing Hava Nagila?’ I tell them, ‘We do everything else.’ Actually, what we do is give voice to the rich Jewish musical legacy.”
Sounds pretty serious – but not always. Wait till you hear what her Colorado Hebrew Chorale will perform at the annual Festival of Lights program on Dec. 18. First, there are the season-openers on Oct. 12 and 13. The program is titled “Halleluyah, Amen!,” which pretty much sums up the uplifting spirit of the CHC, founded by Ward in 1993.
As its name – and Ward’s mission statement – implies, the Hebrew Chorale celebrates the music of the Jewish culture, past and present. That legacy is dominated by Jewish composers, but is certainly not limited to them. For example, the October programs include Randall Thompson’s The Last Words of David, excerpts from Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, a setting of Psalm 121, Esa enai (“I will lift my eyes to the mountains”), a new work by Denver composer Martin Goldstein, a harmonized version of Leonard Cohen’s classic, Hallelujah and several other works sung in Hebrew and English. The 20-30 singers in Ward’s chorus will share the stage with the 110-voice Longmont Chorale, which will perform on its own and with the Hebrew Chorale.
By the way, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this program. Heck, you don’t even to be a member of the tribe to sing in the Hebrew Chorale. Ward welcomes everyone in the chorus and its audience, particularly those, she says, who are “genuinely interested in Jewish culture.” Mostly, her listeners are those who simply enjoy an entertaining evening of serious and not-so-serious material – as the Dec. 18 Festival of Lights program suggests. That free concert, offered on the third night of Hanukkah in conjunction with Denver’s Stories on Stage, offers the expected sampling of holiday-related songs, plus a few surprises. Among them: a doo-wop version of The Dreidel Song and Baby, It’s Cold Outside – sung in Hebrew!
The Colorado Hebrew Chorale and Longmont Chorale will perform at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 12 in Life Bridge Christian Church, Hwy 66 in Longmont, and at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 13 in Hebrew Educational Alliance, 3600 S. Ivanhoe St., Denver. The Hebrew Chorale will present a “Festival of Lights” program on Thursday, Dec. 18 in the McNichols Building, 144 W. Colfax Ave., Denver. Information: (303) 355-0232 or coloradohebrewchorale.org.
If you think you can predict what a 45-member choir will perform on any given occasion, the Colorado Chorale has a surprise for you – two, in fact. To begin its 2014-15 season in late October, the group will present a “Jazz and Humor Concert.” Now, there’s a couple of themes you’d never expect. “We’ll be singing P.D.Q. Bach’s Oedipus Tex,” said interim director Steve Meininger. The title alone of this Western-tinged take on the Greek tragedy should induce giggles from his audience (“My friends just call me Oed,” informs the title character, brother of Rex). Also on that off-beat program are pieces for small vocal ensembles by Duke Ellington, along with standards such as the Ray Henderson-Mort Dixon classic, Bye-Bye Blackbird. “We’re sticking with the Chorale tradition of not being locked into any particular framework,” Meininger noted.
In December comes the Christmas program, always a tough one to program, the conductor admitted. “There needs to be a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar – nothing really major or that unusual. Maybe some pieces from different parts of the world.”
Ever-mindful of the competition for audiences in our chorus-heavy community, Meininger (a singer or conductor of the Chorale since 1971) is aggressively courting new audiences. “We’ve decided to make our concerts admission-free for anyone 21 and under. The Littleton Symphony did that, and it’s worked really well. To spread the word, we’ll be contacting various high schools we’ve collaborated with in the past.”
The Colorado Chorale will sing a “Jazz and Humor Concert” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26. “Christmas with the Colorado Chorale” will take place at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 14. All concerts will be presented in Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Ave. Information: (800) 414-2251 of coloradochorale.org.
St. Martin’s Chamber Choir
About to kick off his 21st season as founder-director of the all-professional St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, Timothy Krueger embraces his role as leader of the pack and, when the occasion dictates, serves as music-theory teacher to his audiences. Consider the group’s November program, “The Art of Imitation: Palestrina.” Prepare to experience the otherworldly glories of the composer’s Missa Repleaturos meum, preceded by a short lesson from “Professor” Krueger on Renaissance Imitative Counterpoint. Sounds pretty intense – and, he admitted, it is. “Explaining the music is part of our mission,” he noted. “I know that this will go over their heads, but I think it’s important for folks to know that it’s there.” For those keeping score, so to speak, the Kyrie of the Mass features a canon at the octave, offset by eight beats.
With a chuckle, Krueger added that the intricacies of Palestrina’s music likely soared way over the heads of its first listeners back in 1570: “His music was written to glorify God, all the while knowing that God was aware of all its complexities.” No doubt.
The St. Martin’s Chamber Choir will appear with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra in a program of Michael Haydn and Mozart at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19 in the First United Methodist Church of Boulder, at 7:30 p.m. in Broomfield Auditorium and at 3 p.m. in Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Denver.
The group will present “Music of the Tsars II” at 7:30 p.m. Friday Oct. 3 in St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, Denver and at 3 p.m. Sunday Oct. 5 in St. Augustine Orthodox Church, Denver. “The Art of Imitation: Palestrina” is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7 in Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Wheat Ridge, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8 and at 3 p.m. Sunday Nov. 9, both in St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Denver.
St. Martin’s annual holiday program will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 in Mountview Church, 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 14 in Holy Cross, Wheat Ridge and at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 19 in St. John’s, Denver. Information on tickets and locations: (303) 298-1970/
A Sampling of Other Choral Events:
Ars Nova Singers Oct. 11-12: Thomas Morgan’s renowned chamber choir honors the 40th anniversary of Boulder’s Naropa University with the premiere of Warrior Songs, a concerto for percussion and choir by Peter-Anthony Togni, with jazz drummer Jerry Granelli as soloist. Dec. 5-6, 12-13: “Christmas with Ars Nova” will be presented, with guest artists Christina Jennings (flute) and Matt Dane (viola). Information on times and locations: (303) 499-3165.
Arvada Chorale Dec. 5-6: Music director Steven Burchard leads “A Christmas Sing & Ring!,” a program of holiday favorites with the Rocky Mountain Ringers in Trinity Presbyterian Church, 7755 Vance Dr., Arvada. Information: (720) 432-9341.
Kantorei October 11th, 2:00 and 7:30 p.m., Lone Tree Arts Center: Colorado Colorado, Featuring the Photography of John Fielder. A Winter’s Night follows on Thursday December 4th, 7:30 p.m. with the Cherry Creek High School Meistersingers, at Bethany Lutheran Church. Go to http://www.kantorei.org/schedule.html for more information.