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Sound of Charlotte Blog

Kenney Potter on Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang

Jessica Cottis returns to the Charlotte Symphony on March 24 & 25 to lead the Orchestra and Charlotte Master Chorale in Mendelssohn's Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise), A Symphony-Cantata. The work premiered in 1840 as the culmination of a festival in Leipzig celebrating the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg's printing press. Robert Schumann attended the premiere and reported on the similarities between Lobgesang and Beethoven's Ninth, "save for the distinguishing difference that the three orchestral movements proceed without any pause between them -- an innovation in the symphonic form. No better form could have been selected for this special purpose."

Here, Charlotte Master Chorale Artistic Director Kenney Potter shares some insight on this incredible work and how the Chorale is preparing.

For those who are unfamiliar with this work, what should they expect?
Triumphant music that expresses the text of Psalm 150 beautifully. The listener will hear first the trombones state the main theme of the work, which is sung with the text of Psalm 150 ("Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord.") What I find interesting is that the trombone is the horn of choice for many German speakers vs. trumpets. A good example is in the Mozart Requiem, where the Tuba Mirum "final days" theme is played by the trombone (this is due to Luther's translation that the trombone signaled the last days). I think it was a purposeful decision to utilize the trombones. 

What do you make of the comparisons between Mendelssohn's Lobgesang to Beethoven's Symphony No. 9? 
There are obvious similarities, since the listener will hear three orchestra movements (labeled in traditional format) followed by a choral movement. The difference is that Mendelssohn himself labeled this work as a "symphony-cantata on words of the Holy Bible for soloists, choir, and orchestra."

What does it take to prepare the Charlotte Master Chorale for a work of this scope?
Compared to Beethoven 9, there is more material to prepare. Also, Mendelssohn was more understanding of the voices and their ranges and capabilities. Beethoven is extremely challenging for vocalists due to the extreme ranges, particularly for the sopranos.

What are your favorite moments in the work?
The opening chorus, the utilization and treatment of the "Now Thank We All Our God" tune in the eighth movement, and the final fugue.

What are you looking forward to most about this performance?
It is always a joy to collaborate with the Charlotte Symphony, especially on works that our Charlotte audience needs to hear!

The Charlotte Symphony and Charlotte Master Chorale perform Mendelssohn Hymn of Praise on March 24 & 25 at Belk Theater -- Get tickets today!
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Posted in Classics. Tagged as chorus, Classical, interview.

Mahler Symphony No. 2: 5 Questions with...Kenney Potter

Charlotte Master Chorale (formerly Charlotte Symphony Chorus) Director Kenney Potter prepared 140 singers for performances of Mahler Symphony No. 2 on May 12 & 13, 2017. We sat down with Dr. Potter to ask a few questions about the process of preparing for such a massive work.

What moment should audiences listen for in the Charlotte Symphony's performance of Mahler Symphony No. 2?
Wow - there are so many! I think the chorus opening would be my favorite. It is hair-raisingly quiet.

What are the challenges in preparing a 140 person chorus for the Resurrection Symphony?
Speaking of....getting them to sing so quietly at the entrance. Also, it is such a massive work, balancing the chorus and orchestra is always an exciting challenge.

What percentage of the Chorus would you say has participated in it before?
Very few 13 people out of the 140-member chorus, and I've only performed it twice.

How do you connect the singers with the emotions of Mahler's work?
It isn't that difficult to do. You play a recording one time and they are hooked - then they sing it with piano and it gets really exciting. Only when they perform it with the full ensemble do you understand why this piece is so beloved.

What kind of response are you getting from the members of the Chorus about this piece? What makes Mahler 2 different for them?
They seem to be enjoying it, other than the fact that some of them are terrified to sing from memory! The challenge is that it is so physically and musically exhausting, particularly to be such a brief portion of the overall work (roughly 15 minutes).

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Posted in Classics. Tagged as chorus, Classical, interview, Mahler.

5 Questions With...Kenney Potter

The Charlotte Symphony Chorus (now Charlotte Master Chorale) performed the Duruflé Requiem on Saturday, March 5, 2016 at First United Methodist Church. We caught up with Director of Choruses Kenney Potter to ask a few questions about the composer and this work.

We know Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) composed this work in the 1940s and dedicated it to his father. What else do we know about its meaning?
What I think is interesting about this work is that, at the time of this commission, Duruflé was also working on an organ suite using themes from Gregorian chant. Those themes are very noticeable in this work.

What most notably sets Duruflé's Requiem apart from other popular requiem compositions?
He does set this work to the traditional requiem text, but it's intended to explore the different emotions around death for the survivors, so there is a real feeling of solace.

Unlike most requiem works, Duruflé excluded the "Dies irae" (day of wrath) text from his composition. Why?
Similarly to the Fauré Requiem we heard in the fall, Duruflé chose to focus on the uplifting emotions of the survivors. He chose to compose in a more reflective, tranquil manner. There is a deeply spiritual, yet reserved, sense about the compositional style.

Tell us a bit about the soloists -- Andre Lash, organ; Clara O'Brien, mezzo soprano; Patrick Howle, baritone.
We looked for singers in the region who would fit the colors, expectations, and requirements of this piece quite well, and I am looking forward to the artistic contributions of Clara and Patrick. It is going to be an exciting performance!

We engaged Andre Lash, the organist, for a couple of reasons: one, it's nice to bring back a part of the Symphony family. Andre was the accompanist for the Charlotte Symphony Chorus (formerly Oratorio Singers of Charlotte) for many years. He's also an accomplished and respected organist in our region and I have conducted this piece with him before. It will be nice to work with him again - and all the soloists!

How will performing the Requiem in the historic sanctuary of First United Methodist Church amplify the experience for the audience?
The European architecture of FUMC is exactly what we were looking for in order to capture the sacred essence of the concert and help the audience really step into the works through the natural ambiance of the church. Read more

Posted in Classics. Tagged as chorus, Classical, Duruflé, interview, Oratorio.

High School Choral Students to Debut with Charlotte Symphony

Seven local high school choral students will experience the thrill of performing live with the Charlotte Symphony November 19-21, 2015 at Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

The concerts, which feature the Fauré Requiem, will mark the debut of the 2015-2016 Young Artists in Residence program, a new immersive choral initiative of the Charlotte Symphony Chorus.

Students who won auditions come from Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Gaston County schools and have spent the last two months rehearsing the Requiem weekly with the Charlotte Symphony Chorus. "It has been a pleasure to work with these fine young musicians," says Kenney Potter, director of choruses for the Charlotte Symphony. "This is a great opportunity for them to perform Fauré's choral masterwork in a professional-caliber setting with the Charlotte Symphony and Charlotte Symphony Chorus."

Watch this video to hear what some of the Young Artists have to say about this unique experience.

The 2015-2016 Charlotte Symphony Chorus Young Artists in Residence are:
Jacob Dyksterhouse, bass, Stuart W. Cramer High School
Claire Houlihan, alto, Northwest School of the Arts
Hannah Keel, soprano, South Point High School
Matthew Noneman, bass, Providence High School
Trinity Sanford, soprano, Northwest School of the Arts
Stephenie Santilli, alto, Northwest School of the Arts
Nathalie Schlesinger, alto, Providence High School

Posted in Education & Community. Tagged as chorus, Education.

Homecoming for Midshipman Adam Thomas

When the 70-member U.S. Naval Academy Men's Glee Club drops anchor in Charlotte over Veteran's Day weekend, November 13-14, one of its singers will feel right at home.

Midshipman 4th Class Adam Thomas is a June 2015 graduate of South Mecklenburg High School and says he's ecstatic about the opportunity to continue his music education at the Naval Academy. "I have many fond memories of performing in the Charlotte area, and I am looking forward to performing with the Symphony," says Thomas. "Even more important, I am excited to bring some of my new friends at the Academy home to Charlotte and let them enjoy some true southern hospitality!"

A Salute to America's Heroes promises a patriotic program honoring all who have served and are serving our country. This talented group of midshipmen perform a wide range of sacred music and American spirituals, plus the famous "Naval Hymn," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Ave Maria," and more! 

Conductor Albert-George Schram has collaborated with the Men's Glee Club on three previous occasions in Charlotte, Columbus, and Nashville and is excited once again to be working with one of America's premier men's choral ensembles.

"I am deeply proud and honored to be able to bring these highly talented young men to Charlotte and introduce them to our Symphony and our audience," says Schram. "This Glee Club is extraordinary, and together with our Symphony, they will provide attendees with an evening of music they will long remember."

Posted in Pops. Tagged as chorus, guest artists.

Watch 'Backstory: Bernstein'

On March 10, 2015, Charlotte Symphony Director of Choruses and Assistant Conductor Scott Allen Jarrett and Temple Israel's Cantor Elias Roochvarg led a discussion on Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. The Oratorio Singers of Charlotte were on hand to sing excerpts from the score. The talk was a  preview to the Charlotte Symphony performance on March 27 and 28. 

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Posted in Classics. Tagged as Bernstein, chorus, Classical, Oratorio.

Oratorio Singers of Charlotte featured in Bach’s ‘St. Matthew Passion’

Founded in 1951, the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte is the official chorus of the Charlotte Symphony. Composed of  141 volunteer singers, many of who hold graduate degrees in music, the chorus performs with the Charlotte Symphony several times a year including on November 22 & 23, 2013 in Bach's 'St. Matthew Passion.'

Several Oratorio members have small roles in the program. Read more on these talented singers!

Mary Katheryn Monteith, alto - Testis I
Mary Katheryn Monteith is a classically trained vocalist, with degrees in Vocal Performance and Music Education, with a Masters in Music Education. Her performance background includes musical theater, opera, choral repertoire, and art song.   She has performed in venues throughout the Eastern United States and Europe, and has participated in classroom instruction, choral workshops, and vocal coaching. Her loves include her family, church, baking, and homeschooling her three children.

S. Seth Hickel, tenor - Testis II
An OSC (2009), and current board member, Seth studied performance at Berkshire Christian College and Appalachian State University.  Music has been an integral part of Seth's life since learning accordion at age six.  Seth and his partner, Joel, provide music through solo and ensemble work; a favorite being the Christmas Eve service at The Chapel of Rest in Happy Valley, Lenoir.  Seth feels exceptionally fortunate to be an OSC member under the direction of Dr. Jarrett: an opportunity to be relished.

Elizabeth Rennie, soprano - Ancilla I
In addition to singing with Oratorio, Beth Rennie is the co-president of Pulse: Young Affiliates of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Pulse's mission is to foster the next generation of live classical music concertgoers through innovative programming, engaging events, and interactive educational opportunities with CSO musicians. Through membership, volunteerism, and a basic support of the CSO's mission, Pulse aims to develop sustainable support of the arts in Charlotte. 

Charlotte Judge, soprano - Ancilla II
Charlotte was born in Charleston, SC and spent most of her childhood in Aiken, SC.  She attended Winthrop College and the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, PA.  Recently, she completed her Bachelor of Music Degree in Vocal Performance at Queens University of Charlotte.  Charlotte currently serves as the Associate Director of Music Ministries at Providence United Methodist Church and teaches private voice and piano lessons.  She has a wonderful husband, Jack and two beautiful daughters, Lillie and Anna.  She is presently on the Board of Directors of the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte.

Angela Gwinn, soprano - Uxor Pilati
Angela Gwinn has performed as a soloist with many opera companies and symphonies San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, New Zealand Opera, New York City Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Costa Rica Symphony, Berkeley Symphony, and with Gian Carlo Menotti at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston are highlights from her professional career.   Angela has her Bachelors degree in Voice from Northwestern University, and Masters degree in Opera from The Juilliard School while on a full-scholarship with the American Opera Center. She is employed at UTC Aerospace.

Kenny Potter, baritone Judas
Dr. Kenny Potter is Director of Choral Activities at Wingate University and has degrees from Florida State University, Portland State University, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. As a performer, he has been a featured soloist in Carnegie Hall, and was choir soloist for the Grammy-winning Oregon Bach Festival choir as well as the International Bach Academy, conducted by Helmuth Rilling. He has been a lecturer and clinician on choral music throughout the United States.

Philip Bugaiski, baritone - Peter
Now in his tenth OSC season, Dr. Bugaiski has been heard as the High Priest in Handel's Saul, and as a soloist with the Chamber Chorus, including Howell's Requiem, Vaughan William's Serenade to Music, and Monteverdi's Vespers. He has performed with the Holst Singers of London, including the world premiere of Tavener's The Veil of the Temple and the Decca recording of The John Tavener Collection. Bugaiski has sung with the Dessoff Choirs of NYC and currently sings at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.

Warren Howell, bass - Pontifex I
Warren Howell, joined the Oratorio Singers in 2010.  A native of California, he holds degrees in music from Baylor University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and has served congregations through music ministry in Florida, Virginia, and more recently, St. John's Baptist Church in Charlotte.  He is an adjunct faculty member at Queens University of Charlotte, directing the Chamber Singers.  In his free time, he enjoys cooking for his wife, Maureen, and going for walks with his dog, Ginger. 

Dareion Malone, bass - Pontifex II
A native of Mississippi, Dareion Malone has been singing and playing piano since early childhood. This is his first season with the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte; however, he has performed with numerous ensembles and sung several principal opera roles with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he received a Bachelor of Music in Music Education.  He also holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Rust College in Holly Springs, MS. Dareion is currently the chorus and piano instructor at Hopewell High School in Huntersville, NC. Read more

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Bach, chorus, Classical, Oratorio.

Singing worlds into being - A view from an Oratorio Singer

By Tim Parolini

My mother is a church organist, accompanist and piano teacher; my father a retired choir director and vocal soloist.  So I grew up in a home filled with music. Dad, raised in a home where singing was not smiled upon, except perhaps in church but certainly not during a meal, encouraged his children to sing early and often. And so we did. Especially at the dinner table. We would often sing the blessing. We would frequently launch into a tune if someone uttered a phrase that reminded us of a song or inadvertently spoke a few actual words from a song. And we would sometimes create impromptu operas based on the conversation or what happened to be sitting on the dinner table. ("The Seasonings," based on a salad dressing bottle, had a particularly successful run.) It was often silly, and perhaps we didn't sing particularly well, but we sang.

I joined the Oratorio Singers last year, and I am glad beyond words to be singing the great works of music with such a wonderful group of like-minded people who are dedicated to the pursuit of excellence. And to making great music. This November, for example, I am pretty sure that we won't be singing about salad dressing. Alongside the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, however, we will be singing Franz Joseph Haydn's oratorio, Die Schöpfung (The Creation), considered by many to be Haydn's (known as the "Father of the Symphony") masterpiece.

Someone asked me the other day, "Why do you sing?" My response, of course, was that I sing because I cannot play an instrument. But the question got me thinking. Why do we sing? The human race has created music and sung songs for over 3,000 years. We know from archeological discoveries that music was a vital part of virtually all known ancient cultures, from Greece to Persia to Egypt to India to China to Africa and beyond. Australia's indigenous Aborigines believe that the world was sung into creation, and they can still navigate vast distances across the land via ancient paths known as songlines. It's a beautifully poetic notion that C.S. Lewis employed in his fictional work, The Magician's Nephew, as Aslan the lion's powerful singing calls the world of Narnia into existence.

I have come up with three reasons why we sing (well, four, if you count the inability to play an instrument). Alas, none of them include the possibility of appearing on American Idol.

We sing because making music is an intrinsic and essential part of the human spirit. It's part of what we do, and of who and what we are. We sing not because we can, but because we must. Sure, let's not get too carried away. After all, the ability to sing doesn't separate us from the animals. (That's what opposable thumbs, and instruments, are for.) But music is part of the human DNA. We aren't human because we sing; we sing because we are human.

We also sing because there are songs that need to be sung. The Oratorio Singers have performed a remarkable repertoire of the great music of our time. If you cannot be moved by the musical genius and the soaring optimism of the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, or by the depth of emotion and rich tapestry of folk and liturgical harmonies in Rachmaninoff's All Night Vigil, then you cannot be moved.

Finally, we sing because someone is listening. Sure, you can sing along with the radio in the car without an audience (and may even be glad for the lack of one!). Singing for an audience, though, is a rich and rewarding experience for both the singer and the listener. It's a form of communication. I used to enjoy the applause at the end of a performance because I thought of it primarily as a reward for a collective job well done. Standing on the stage of the Blumenthal PAC at the conclusion of Beethoven's Ninth this past April, I realized that I had got it somewhat wrong. The enthusiastic applause at the end of a performance is indeed thrilling to hear. But not so much for what it says about the performers or the performance. It's thrilling to hear for what it says about you, the listener. And what it says is that the impact of the live performance of a great musical work has moved you to respond. In a way that no other art form (and no CD or radio or MP3 file) can, a live performance has elevated your spirit, and maybe even raised your body out of its seat. You have participated in a shared, uniquely human experience and absorbed the beauty and emotional power of live music into your very being. You have fed your soul.

Music affords us the opportunity to celebrate the most essential form of human expression and the highest reach of the human spirit.

That's a good reason to sing.
Originally Posted: July 2010

Born and raised in Aurora, Illinois, Tim Parolini grew up listening to a wide range of music, but mostly classical, jazz and blues. A graduate of Aurora University, he studied voice with Mr. Sten Halfvarson and performed with the Fine Arts Chorale under the direction of Dr. Elwood Smith. His fond memories of attending concerts as a youth include many Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances under the direction of the late, great Sir Georg Solti. Tim runs a brand marketing and design business that specializes in helping niche-oriented businesses and nonprofit organizations identify and effectively communicate their brand value. He is excited to be participating with the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte and currently serves on its board.
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Tagged as chorus, Oratorio.

Listening in Context: Does Knowledge of a Piece’s History Affect What We Hear?

So apparently, you can't believe everything you read online after all.

Most performance notes found on the web of Herbert Howells' Requiem (which the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte perform this Friday February 25, 8:00 p.m. at Myers Park Baptist Church) relate the same tale of how Howells composed the eloquent and moving work in 1935 after the death of his young son, Michael. Poignant. Tragic. And yes, his son did pass away in 1935 at the too-young age of nine. Howells, though, had written Requiem three years earlier.

Herbert Howells, born in 1892, was regarded as something as a composing prodigy and upheld as one of the great hopes of English music. He had his share of troubles along the way, including his own near-death experience, the death of his son, and a sensitivity to criticism that caused him to stop writing for nearly a decade. In the end, though, he helped define and advance the voice of English classical music, particularly that of the Anglican church. He also provided us with the moving Requiem, a work full of texture, subtlety and emotional depth.

Howells shared a musical sensibility with Ralph Vaughan Williams. A September 1910 concert in Gloucester Cathedral included the premiere of a new work by the then little-known Vaughan Williams. Howells not only made the composer's personal acquaintance that evening, but the piece, the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, profoundly moved him. Howells and Vaughan Williams met again, and after the First World War, their acquaintance deepened into a lasting friendship. Howells studied at the Royal College of Music under C.V. Stanford, Hubert Parry and Charles Wood. (Works by both Vaughan Williams and Wood are also featured in the Oratorio Singers program, as is a piece by the decidedly-non-British Johannes Brahms.)

In 1915, Howells was diagnosed with Graves' disease and given six months to live. He became the first person in the country to receive radium treatment. His doctors had no idea how much to inject into Howell's thyroid. They stopped treatments when his neck showed signs of radioactive burns. Howells lived for another 70 years.

Despite his prodigious compositional abilities, Howells was plagued by a disabling sensitivity to criticism. After a hostile reception to a performance of his second piano concerto in 1925, Howells simply stopped composing. By 1932, though, he had written Requiem, which was commissioned by King's College, Cambridge. Howells never sent the completed work and Requiem remained unknown for nearly five decades. In the months after his son's death three years later, Howells was unable to write. The following year, though, he used material from the previously unaccompanied Requiem to compose another work,  Hymnus Paradisi for soloists, chorus and orchestra.

So, how did the misconception about the Requiem develop? In 1980, an unreleased, undated Requiem for unaccompanied chorus was discovered. According to Dr. Robert Michael Istad, Associate Professor of Music at Cal-State Fullerton, who studied Howells for his doctoral dissertation, "It shared a significant musical connection with Hymnus Paradisi, which had first been performed in 1950Howells, then elderly, indicated that this unreleased work was the inspiration for Hymnus Paradisi. The work immediately became popular throughout the choral community. Unfortunately, many assumed that the delayed release of Requiem indicated personal struggle and profound grief. Printed materials began to relay a connection between Requiem and Michael's death as fact, and Howells was too ravaged by senility to engage in fruitful discussion."

Herbert Howells Trust acknowledges that Howells wrote Requiem in 1932 and incorporated some of its material into Hymnus Paradisi, which he did complete in memory of his son in 1938. Mystery solved. But does the fact that Howells didn't write this Requiem while grieving over his son's death change the way we listen to it? Does the context of a composition change how we hear it? If, for example, we learned that Beethoven had his full hearing ability when he composed his Ninth Symphony, would that change our response to it? We like context. Our understanding of art is given meaning by our understanding of the artist. Besides, we just like to know where things come from, and if there is a good story behind it, so much the better.

In music, interestingly enough, this context serves us best when contemplating or discussing a work, but not when actually listening to it. When we listen, the music stands alone. During a live performance of a musical work, the composer, the context, and the story behind it all melt away and there remain only the performers, the music, and the listener. Further, if we as a chorus do our job well, even we "disappear" and what is left to the listener is simply the music. With Howell's Requiem, what is left is a work of sheer beauty.

While rooted in the past traditions of English music, Howells was not afraid to experiment outside of traditional tonality. He did so to great effect in  Requiem. Like Faure's Requiem, Howells' is restrained--but it is richer harmonically with a rapt, almost hushed intensity and a more pointed sense of grief and loss. Only two movements use the traditional words of the Requiem as Verdi or Mozart employed them. The others are in English, based around Psalm texts. Throughout the work, Howells moves us between pleas on our own behalf and those for the ones who have gone before us.

Regardless of the context of its origins, Howells' Requiem is ineffably beautiful. Mournful, pleading, and ultimately, dare we say it, hopeful--or at least peaceful--it is a work full of rich harmonic texture and immense emotional depth. We hope you will be able to come and hear it.
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Posted in Classics. Tagged as chorus, Classical, Oratorio.