In honor of the 10th anniversary of the passing of its founding artistic director, Sean Deibler, Choral Arts Philadelphia will present a “Founder’s Tribute Concert” on Saturday, May 25 at 7 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. (Photo courtesy of Mike Hogue)

by Michael Caruso

Choral Arts Philadelphia will present a “Founder’s Tribute Concert” on Saturday, May 25 at 7 p.m. in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The concert will be given in memory of the choir’s founding artistic director Sean Deibler on the 10th anniversary of his death.

Matthew Glandorf will conduct the “Founder’s Tribute Concert.” He is Deibler’s successor as artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia. Glandorf is also Michael Korn’s successor as artistic director of the Bach Festival of Philadelphia. The program will feature the local premiere of Johannes Brahms’ “A German Requiem” in its English translation accompanied by the composer’s own arrangement for piano-four hands.

“Like many conductors, Sean was also a teacher,” Glandorf told me. “And like many great teachers, he left an indelible impression on the countless students at the University of the Arts, at the Church Farm School where he began his career and, of course, on the singers on both Music Group of Philadelphia and Choral Arts Society. Several of our singers sang under Sean’s baton and are the musicians they are today as a result of his high standards and particular care around intonation.”

Glandorf pointed out that although Choral Arts has changed dramatically since it was founded, he feels that the guiding principle of musical excellence and highest artistic integrity have remained the core values of the ensemble since its inception.

“It’s about the music first,” he said. “Sean demanded that every individual could carry their part on their own. I try to carry on that sense of personal responsibility in my singers, as well.”

Speaking of the choice of repertoire for the concert, Glandorf added, “In choosing Brahms’ ‘Requiem,’ a work that Choral Arts sang in its former incarnation as a symphonic chorus under many celebrated conductors with the Philadelphia Orchestra, it felt appropriate to honor our founding director with this work. However, we’re doing it as a ‘chamber work’ with about 40 singers and in the version Brahms prepared for piano-four hands. Brahms, himself, prepared this version at the request of his publisher, who wanted to get English audiences hooked on it in an English translation.

“Some may raise their eyebrows at that. However Brahms, himself, approved of the English translation since his intent with setting it in German was that the text be immediate to the listeners. Although not a conventional Christian, Brahms was familiar with the Bible and read from it every day.

“This is not a traditional ‘Requiem,’ which is a prayer for the dead. This ‘Requiem’ is meant as consolation for the living. The work is also ‘universalist’ in that there is not a single mention of Christ in the texts.

“Finally, I hope that all who were touched by Sean’s legacy as a teacher, conductor and mentor will join us for this celebration.”

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The Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Chestnut Hill, hosted a Choral Evensong Sunday, May 5. Parish music director Erik Meyer played the Church’s pipe organ and conducted the parish choir in music by Marcel Dupre, Louis Vierne, Dale Trumbore, Edward Bairstow and his own settings of the “Magnificat,” “Nunc Dimittis,” “Preces” and “Proper Responses” of the day.

Meyer used organ accompaniment for both the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis.” For the former, the organ’s flutes flutter with glowing eloquence to support the traditional text taken from the New Testament’s Gospel of St. Luke. The women begin with the Blessed Virgin Mary’s “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” Once the men have joined them, they establish a lively dialogue delineating Mary’s joy at the news given her by the Archangel Gabriel that she will give birth to the long-awaited Messiah.

The organ accompaniment for the “Nunc Dimittis” is reedier in timbre, with the men opening the singing of St. Simeon’s canticle of gratitude at having been vouchsafed the privilege of seeing that Messiah before departing his life on earth. When the women join in, the mood is one of flowing assurance.

The choir sang both works with strength and sensitivity, and Meyer’s renditions of Dupre’s “Cortege et Litanie” at the opening and Vierne’s “Carillon de Westminster” at the closing were exemplary. St. Martin’s Church will end its season of Choral Evensongs Sunday, June 2, 5 p.m. The musical roster will include a performance of Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed.”


The Curtis Institute of Music Opera Theater, in partnership with Opera Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, presented the operatic double bill of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Riders to the Sea” and the world premiere of Rene Orth’s “Empty the House” May 2-5 in the Perelman Theater. I caught the Sunday evening performance and came away far more impressed with the Orth than the Vaughan Williams – quite a surprise for me, a dyed-in-the-wool lover of Vaughan Williams’ music who still can’t understand why the Philadelphia Orchestra so rarely performs his symphonies.

The principal problem with “Riders to the Sea” is John Millington Synge’s libretto. There came a point when I felt that if I had to listen to one more complaint about (in Eugene O’Neill’s phrase from “Anna Christie”) “that old devil sea,” I would run screaming out of the theater looking for the nearest desert. I can feel sympathy for all these characters that have lost loved ones to the sea without ever giving even a glancing thought to moving to drier land for only so long.

I know: Opera libretti shouldn’t be expected to make perfect common sense on their own without the benefit of the music. But let’s not insult the audience with utter nonsense.

Not altogether surprisingly, Vaughan Williams’ response to Synge’s libretto is a far cry from so many of his other scores. No wonder, then, that “Riders to the Sea” is so rarely performed.

On the other hand, Orth’s “Empty the House,” set to a libretto by Mark Campbell, is a fascinating and moving piece of contemporary music theater. Orth, Opera Philadelphia’s composer-in-residence, has responded to Campbell’s searing tale of family dysfunction with a score that deepens the audience’s understanding of how well-meaning people can make terrible choices that have lasting negative effects on everyone around them. For moments of deeply felt emotions, Orth composed truly beautiful music, but when the mood of the script turned ugly, so too did her music.

Curtis’ cast of young singers, plus the Curtis Symphony Orchestra under Daniela Candillari’s baton, all performed well.

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