by Susan Federico & Sally Cohen
When two community arts organizations join forces to celebrate the 450th birthday of the greatest English playwright of all time, you can expect some magic.
The collaboration is the brainchild of Gayle Wieand, artistic director of Philomusica Chorale and longtime Mt. Airy resident who now lives in Laverock. Learning that 2014 marks the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare, Wieand began researching choral music inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, as well as music as old as the bard himself.
But why stop there? Wieand contacted Chestnut Hill’s Stagecrafters Theater in search of a co-conspirator in the birthday celebration. Members of the theater troupe will bring to life short scenes from a few of Shakespeare’s plays — some of which request the audience to play a part.
The result is “Bardolatry,” an Elizabethan feast for the eyes and ears. “But it won’t be all harpsichords and fairies,” Wieand warns. “And it won’t be like high school English class. Shakespeare’s works are timeless and are still being set to music by some of the greatest composers of recent generations. The words will feel familiar, but the music breathes new life into them.”
The partnership with Stagecrafters continues Philomusica’s creative concert collaborations, which most recently have included the local rock band, Reckless Amateurs, Philadelphia’s Kyo Daiko Taiko Drummers, an art show by local artists and new choral works by local composers. This concert also includes a performance by “Here Comes Treble,” a girls’ choral group that is part of the Philadelphia Women’s Music Project, also led by Wieand.
“Hearing the girls sing ‘62 Insults,’ a unique contemporary work featuring, well, 62 of Shakespeare’s slams that may not have traveled well through history, promises to be memorable,” Wieand laughed.
The concert will take place on Saturday, May 10, 7:30 p.m., at Christ’s Lutheran Church, 700 Pennsylvania Ave. in Oreland, and again at Stagecrafters, 8130 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill, on Monday, May 12. Philomusica Chorale, celebrating its 35th year of bringing choral music to Northwest Philadelphia and vicinity, will also perform songs from the concert as part of its mission of community outreach at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Shakespeare 450th Birthday Celebration on Monday, May 19.
“To me,” said Wieand, “this is the best of what the arts can offer: an opportunity to come together around a common theme to wrap the audience, adults and kids alike, in a new experience.”
Birthday cake will be served.
Philomusica Chorale’s rehearsal home is the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Also, many of Philomusica Chorale’s singers are residents of Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and nearby communities such as Flourtown and Erdenheim.
Wieand, in addition to being music director of Philomusica Chorale for the last nine years, is also a talented composer. One of her original compositions, “Sacred Service,” received its world premiere Jan. 29 and 30, 2011, at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. The work has 18 movements, is 75 minutes long and was performed by 55 singers and five instrumentalists.
“I wrote the piece to honor two of my friends and mentors,” Wieand said at the time. “Both of them are very spiritual women. I wanted it to have a universal spiritual appeal, not just a Christian faith only. Because I didn’t want it to be strictly Christian, the whole piece starts with a Navajo prayer. The sections of the music go from representing human despair to the transcendence of the human spirit … This is not a piece that’s proselytizing. I’m trying to celebrate all of our backgrounds.”
Regarding another performance on Jan. 26, 2013, at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland, a reviewer for the Germantown Chronicle wrote in a review: “The Philomusica Chorale shone in their performance, and under the direction of an energetic and visionary conductor, Gayle Wieand, they are sure to gain more notice.”
Tickets available from Chorale members or online at PhilomusicaChorale.org or 215-247-1283. $20 in advance ($17/seniors, $12/students) At the door, all tickets are $25.