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Citizen Artists: Scott Allen Jarrett Looks Back

May 12, 2015

by Meg Freeman Whalen

On Friday, May 15, Scott Allen Jarrett will conduct the final concert of the Charlotte Symphony's 2014-2015 KnightSounds concert series, a program of music composed for royals. This concert is also Jarrett's last as music director of the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte, the official chorus of the Charlotte Symphony. In the fall, Kenney Potter will take over the baton. By phone from Boston, where he serves as director of music, chapel organist, and choirmaster at Boston University's Marsh Chapel, Jarrett spoke with Charlotte Viewpoint about his stint as "Senior Pastor of the First Church of the Oratorio."

What was your vision for the Oratorio Singers when you arrived in 2004?
Well I think there were several things at the top of the list, but two have surfaced as the main accomplishments. One is ensuring that the Oratorio is performing at a standard commensurate with the orchestra when they do appear with the orchestra that they can perform at the highest artistic level. When I started, we needed to get the organization more agile artistically so that they could do everything that was musically possible in the season and do it well. So that meant working with the music director and the conducting staff so that we had programming that cultivated that artistic agility.

A second thing that we've done has been to strengthen our recruitment and retention strategies. When I started, we needed to get the roster healthier. At the audition level, we changed the structure so that we are attracting a more serious singer with more advanced training. I'm very happy to say that anybody who gets into Oratorio is really quite a fine singer. We re-audition a third of our membership each season, so no one has a life membership; everyone has to re-audition. Our membership is very healthy. We have a dedicated and balanced chorus that's performing to its potential.

What are some highlights from your years here in Charlotte?
There are lots! I really have enjoyed the special relationship I have had with the two music directors I have worked with (Christof Perick and Christopher Warren-Green). They have been really generous and wonderful collaborators and mentors for me.

I've often likened myself to the senior pastor of the First Church of the Oratorio. It's a close community, and I think the strength of the relationship is because we work so hard on the music. We've learned so much and experienced so much together. Their willingness to hire me when I was very young for such a big job, and their willingness to put up with my growing up over this decade was remarkable I really cherish the room that they've given for me to become the musician that I am today.

I live in Boston, the early music capital of the United States, and one of the things that attracted me to Charlotte was the chance to do music later than the 18th century and works that are larger for a full orchestra. But it's funny the high points musically have all been 18th-century works. I conducted my very first B Minor Mass in Charlotte, and then a year and a half ago, the performance of the St. Matthew Passion has been a career highlight for me. And now my last concert is all 18th-century music!

And I can't leave the question without mentioning Messiah. It has been my job to conduct the annual Messiah, and my skill and journey with the piece has just increased every year. We're capable of giving a really fineMessiah performance now. I'll miss that.

Tell us about this final concert.
Well, of course, when we planned this concert a year and a half ago, we knew that the new princess would be named Charlotte, so we knew the timing would be appropriate to have a concert of royal music! All the music on the concert was written between about 1730 to 1800; in this period the composers flourished largely because of their relationships with Europe's royals and high society. There's even a connection to the Queen City in the music of JC Bach. But you'll have to come to the concert to find out more about that!

The music bubbles. There's so much ebullience in all these pieces; there's a joyful approach, an effervescence to them. We'll work to make sure that that aspect of the music is palpable for the audience. We try to not just faithfully realize the notes on the page, but to give real attention to the spirit of the drama of the music.

The Oratorio Singers is a volunteer organization that takes a lot of work. Why do the singers do it?
The reasons are varied. For some it is their weekly moment of community. And I think people are attracted to the culture. The music is something that can sustain their emotional and intellectual curiosity over a number of weeks. The challenge of putting something together from the ground up it is exciting and enriching. There's an aspect of a spiritual journey.

Being in a chorus like the Oratorio is real citizenship you can't do it on your own. Communal music-making is a shared investment, and there is a real beauty in that engagement. The returns are not measured by "what's in it for me?" but instead "what's the contribution I'm able to give?" I've always said our best citizens are members of Oratorio. They care and contribute to the common good without the expectation of anything in return.

What are your wishes for the Oratorio and its new director after you leave?
That they would continue to flourish as a fabulous group of people whose role with the Symphony is vital, that they would continue to contribute to the success of the orchestra and the community.

I would love for them to reinvigorate the membership beyond the 140-voice ensemble if, for example, the Oratorio could become attached to the educational programs that the Symphony has underway, if there could be a vocal component to it. Or I think Kenney has some designs about making a smaller ensemble that can perform on a more regular basis a chamber chorus. Reinvigorating the breadth of the chorus's ability would be exciting to see.
I would love to see freedom in their programming diversity in the programming beyond the "10 works." In 10 years on the job, I've done several pieces more than once, and those pieces are fabulous, but at the same time there's a lot of music out there.

On a personal level, I've worked hard to have a relationship beyond this moment with the orchestra and the chorus. I'd love to stay involved in the activity of the orchestra and the chorus and to follow their successes with care and with pride. That would be very meaningful to me, to have that continued relationship.

Article at Charlotte Viewpoint