by Michael Caruso
The start of the local classical music season couldn’t possibly have been a more Chestnut Hill affair than it was for me Sunday, Sept. 25. With “Fall for the Arts” in full swing along Germantown Ave., I had a fabulous brunch at the Paris Bistro, chatted with local merchants like Bruce Levin from The Perfect Stitch and then heard the first Choral Evensong of the season at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The service was prefaced by parish music director Zach Fritsch-Hemenway’s performances of two works by Jehan Alain on the church’s splendid Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. “Variations sur un theme de Clement” showcased the instrument’s subtle and veiled timbres while the “Deuxieme Fantasie” stirringly announced the liturgy that would include the installation and commissioning of choristers by the parish’s rector, the Rev. E. Clifford Cutler.
Two of the service’s three major choral works were the “Magnificat” and the “Nunc Dimittis” from Herbert Brewer’s “Evening Service in D.” The former caught the sublime exultation of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s response to the greeting offered to her by St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist, in the Gospel of St. Luke; the latter, also to a text from St. Luke’s Gospel, delineated the autumnal gratitude expressed by the aged St. Simeon upon his having been granted the honor of seeing with his own eyes the Infant Jesus.
The third major choral work was the Offertory Anthem, “I was glad when they said unto me” by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. Whereas the two Brewer scores set their respective texts in a straightforward manner, Parry’s scheme of musical development is much more complex and sets the text here, there and everywhere within the contrapuntal texture of the music. While the organ part in the Brewer is mostly accompaniment, the organ writing in the Parry dives into the thematic fray to produce an expressive tonal language of great invention.
In all three works, Fritsch-Hemenway elicited singing from his 60-plus-member choir that was both thrilling and reflective. He invested the grand passages with invigorating brilliance and the quieter moments with gracious introspection, yet managed to maintain a level of precision of pitch, blend, balance and diction that places this choir at the top of the ladder of local large choruses. Organ scholar Joseph Russell offered exemplary support. It’s been a pleasure hearing his growth as an organist and musician these past few years at St. Paul’s Church.
The 2016-17 season of the Pennsylvania Ballet opens Thursday, Oct. 13, in the Academy of Music with Ben Stevenson’s choreography to Sergei Prokofiev’s “Cinderella.” The production continues through Sunday, Oct. 23, with a cast including Germantown’s Oksana Maslova.
This will be the third full season under the artistic directorship of Angel Corella. Born in Madrid, Spain, Corella was an acclaimed principal dancer with New York City’s American Ballet Theatre before his retirement as a dancer and subsequent appointment as successor to Roy Kaiser at Pennsylvania Ballet.
“I was very lucky during my dancing career,” he recently told me, “to have had the opportunity to meet many of the world’s leading choreographers and to have danced their works. Those experiences have given me an excellent perspective as artistic director here in Philadelphia. And the two years that I have been here as artistic director have enabled me to get to know the dancers here. I’ve had the chance to see how the dancers who are already members of the company are able to fit into my vision of what Pennsylvania Ballet should be.”
Corella spoke of the company’s need to meet a broad swath of expectations from the local dance audience. Whereas ABT has the luxury of striking a balance between its roster of great classics alongside the Balanchine traditions of the New York City Ballet (both companies dance at Lincoln Center), Pennsylvania Ballet is Greater Philadelphia’s sole fully professional ballet troupe.
“Our dancers have to be flexible in both style and technique,” Corella assured, “because we need to be able to present both the full-length story ballets our audiences like – such as ‘Cinderella’ – and shorter, more modern works that they also want to see.”
Corella added that maintaining matching male/female pairs of dancers is equally important for the sake of multiple castings from one performance to the next over the span of a long run.
“When I look at a prospective dancer I’m auditioning,” he explained, “I’ve got to take into consideration how well they will fit into the company. It’s not just a matter of their technique but also how they express themselves through their technique and how well they pair up with other dancers in the company.
“It’s also very important to see how well a dancer works in class and in rehearsal,” he continued. “I look for passion and energy when I’m considering hiring a new dancer or asking a current member of the company to continue with us. When I was dancing, that was my life. I need to see that in all the dancers here.”
Corella spoke with both admiration and gratitude of his predecessor, Roy Kaiser, who joined the company in 1979 and was its artistic director for two decades. “Roy put the company where it is today, “ he said. “Its reputation was built on its connection with the repertoire of George Balanchine through Barbara Weisberger.”
A protégé of Balanchine, Weisberger founded the Pennsylvania Ballet in 1963. The company was one of the few granted permission to dance Balanchine’s works; those works formed the core of the troupe’s repertoire through most of its history.
“It’s now important for us to reach out to younger audiences,” Corella said, “while at the same time keeping those lovers of ballet who cherish the Balanchine works we’ve dance throughout our history. Our surveys have shown that Philadelphia audiences want a broader mix: the full-length story ballets, Balanchine, and the works of new choreographers.
“So our season will feature ‘Cinderella,’ ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Le Corsaire’ for those who like story ballets and programs that offer a work by Balanchine, a work that’s only a few seasons old, and a world premiere.”
Close on the heels of “Cinderella,” Pennsylvania Ballet will dance “Revolution” at the Merriam Theater. The program features a world premiere by Brian Sanders, David Dawson’s “The Third Light” to music by Gavin Bryars, and Balanchine’s classic “Square Dance” to music by the Italian baroque masters Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi. “The Nutcracker,” with Balanchine’s choreography to the immortal score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, rounds out the calendar year Dec. 9-31 in the Academy of Music.
“All of our dancers need to dance all styles well and with passion and energy because our company needs to dance all styles well with passion and energy.”
For more information about the entire season visit www.paballet.org.
Contact NOTEWORTHY at Michaelfirstname.lastname@example.org.