Com­ing up in Philly Music: A week­end of choral song

2 minute read
The Mendelssohn Club celebrates Beethoven's 250th birthday on Saturday. (Image via Wikimedia Commons.)
The Mendelssohn Club celebrates Beethoven's 250th birthday on Saturday. (Image via Wikimedia Commons.)

One of Philadelphia’s greatest treasures is its long tradition of outstanding volunteer choruses. Most of the singers in these choruses are unpaid volunteers who join the choir for the sheer pleasure of singing great music under the leadership of a professional conductor. This weekend, you can hear concerts that should display the best characteristics of our oldest and youngest currently active examples.

History of awe

The Mendelssohn Club has been wowing Philadelphians since 1874. Over the past 30 years, they’ve premiered some of the most exciting works created by living American composers, including Julia Wolfe’s Pulitzer prize winner, Anthracite Fields. Their Saturday night program celebrates Beethoven’s 250th birthday with two of his choral works. The Choral Fantasy for piano, chorus, and orchestra is a set of variations that climaxes with an early version of the Ode to Joy theme. The Mass in C Minor is a highly personal approach to one of the most basic texts in the Western musical tradition.

The orchestra will be provided by the Symphony in C—one of the three “training orchestras” in the United States. The musicians in training orchestras are all recent graduates of top music schools like Curtis and Juilliard. The training orchestras provide them with opportunities to continue their development before most of them move on to places in major orchestras.

Expecting the unexpected

The Chestnut Street Singers call themselves a “cooperative” chamber chorus. They operate without a paid conductor and share chores like program planning and publicity. They’re celebrating their own 10th birthday with concerts that show off the edgy, unpredictable programs that have made them one of the most interesting music organizations in the city. The premiere on their Friday and Sunday programs is a specially commissioned work that uses texts supplied by the members. The other items will all be works by American composers. The composers on the roster include Samuel Barber, George Gershwin, and Julia Wolfe, but most of them have names that are far less familiar. And some of the pieces by the better-known names may have unexpected features.

What, When, Where

The Chestnut Street Singers will present “Always Singing” on Friday, March 6, at 8pm at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, and Sunday, March 8, at 4pm at St. Mark's Church, 1625 Locust St. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. More information is available online.

The Mendelssohn Club will present “Departures: Beethoven's Mass in C and Choral Fantasy” on Saturday, March 7, at 7:30pm at the Church of the Holy Trinity, 1904 Walnut St., Philadelphia. Tickets are available online, by phone (215) 735-9922, and at the door.

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