The new artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia has announced an exciting new roster of concerts for the 2023-24 season.
Donald Meineke of Chestnut Hill, newly appointed artistic director of Choral Arts Philadelphia, has announced an exciting new roster of concerts for the 2023-24 season. Meineke, who is also the music director of the historic Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square, has succeeded Matthew Glandorf at the helm of Choral Arts. Glandorf recently left Philadelphia to become the music director of a Lutheran church in Germany.
Choral Arts’ new season will open Saturday, Oct. 7, at 4 p.m. with “Immortal Bach – Sing a New Song!” The season continues Friday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m. with “Carols by Candlelight,” featuring Benjamin Britten’s beloved “Ceremony of Carols.”
Meineke and Choral Arts will help local lovers of choral music welcome in the New Year with a New Year’s Eve celebration featuring Claudio Monteverdi’s “Vespers of 1610” Sunday, Dec. 31, at 7 p.m. Monteverdi is considered one of the most influential composers in the history of classical music because he ushered in the new style of Baroque music at the turn of the 16th century into the 17th following the fashion of the masters of the High Renaissance, such as Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Tomas Luis de Victoria.
Monteverdi’s “Vespers of 1610,” or officially “Vespro della Beata Vergine” (“Vespers of the Blessed Virgin”), is a setting of the afternoon liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, in this case, the series of scriptural readings and prayers during the season of Advent focusing on the Blessed Virgin Mary. Monteverdi’s declamatory style, accompanied by instruments, was in marked contrast to the unaccompanied polyphony of Palestrina and Victoria.
The season continues with “In a Strange Land: Songs of Exile & Hope” Saturday, March 16, 2024, at 4 p.m. Choral Arts’ first season under Meineke’s direction will conclude with a concert performance of Henry Purcell’s groundbreaking English-language opera, “Dido and Aeneas,” Saturday, May 11, at 4 p.m. All performances will be given in Holy Trinity Church on Rittenhouse Square.
Two years prior to taking over the reins of Choral Arts upon Glandorf’s departure, Meineke had come to Philadelphia to assume the musical direction of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square. The church, which was consecrated in 1857, holds a special place in the history of Anglicanism in the United States.
Architecturally, it was one of the first examples of the “Victorian Romanesque Revival” style of John Norton. He designed the similarly styled St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, just off of Logan Circle along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, as well as the “Victorian Gothic” style of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Locust Street. Whereas both St. Mark’s and St. Clement’s are “High Church Anglo-Catholic” in liturgical tradition, Holy Trinity has always followed a more “Low Church” approach to the Book of Common Prayer.
Holy Trinity’s other claim to fame is that it was its 19th century rector, the Rev. Phillips Brooks, who wrote the words of the Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” upon his return to Philadelphia from a tour of the Holy Land. His organist, Lewis Redner, composed the American tune in time for a Christmas Eve service. Later, Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the tune more commonly used in England.
Regarding Meineke’s plans for future seasons of concerts by Choral Arts, he said, “I want Choral Arts at Holy Trinity to become Philadelphia’s ‘place to go’ for Christmastime performances of Handel’s ‘Messiah.’” If that were to materialize, the offering would take up the long dormant role of “Messiah” performances occupied by the late Michael Korn and the Philadelphia Singers and Concerto Soloists Chamber Orchestra.
Meineke is also eager to establish working relationships with Philadelphia’s two leading period instruments ensembles, Piffaro the Renaissance Band and Tempesta di Mare Baroque Orchestra. He also pointed out that Holy Trinity Church is now the site of the world-famous Moller pipe organ that once graced the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia, located at the intersection of 17th and Sansom Streets in Center City. The instrument, on which the late Earl Ness once led the Philadelphia Oratorio Society in regular performances of the major sacred choral repertoire, is currently being installed in Holy Trinity’s loft.
Meineke intends to continue Glandorf’s tradition of commissioning new works for the sacred choral as well as presenting new interpretations of scores that have fallen out of the standard repertoire.
For more information about the 2023-24 season of Choral Arts Philadelphia, visit choralartsphila.org.
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