Phyllis A.S. Boros, Staff Writer
In 1984, Dr. Carole Ann Maxwell acceded to the wishes of about a dozen Fairfield University graduates -- who wanted to continue singing beyond college with their former Glee Club conductor -- by establishing a small independent singing group.
That was 25 seasons ago. And that tiny group has blossomed into the 90-member Mendelssohn Choir of Connecticut, considered among the best chorales in the state.
During economic hard times, when many nonprofit arts groups find themselves on the brink of folding, a silver anniversary of a thriving musical organization is cause for celebration, says Maxwell, the Mendelssohn's Choir's conductor and artistic director.
And celebrate they will with "25th Anniversary: Mendelssohn Magic" Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Norwalk Concert Hall, a concert sponsored in part by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism.
Among the highlights will be the participation of the brassSALAD Quintet and Percussion as well as the world premiere of "O, Divine Music," a piece by Texas composer Randol Alan Bass. The work, which was specifically commissioned for Saturday's gala concert, "incorporates significant texts from global writers and is woven in a stunningly eloquent, joyous and sophisticated style," according to the concert program.
Also on the program are sacred and secular works from a variety of composers, including Antonin Dvorak, Timothy Michael Powell, Glenn Rudolph and Thomas Troeger. Felix Mendelssohn, for whom the choir is named, will be represented with several works, including selections from his "Elijah" and "Magnificat." (Maxwell -- the director of choral and liturgical music at Fairfield University since 1980 -- says she named the choir after Mendelssohn in the 19th century fashion, when it was popular to name choral groups after famous composers.)
Among the choir soloists will be soprano Allison Fay, soprano Lynette Lyon, alto Karen Parrella and tenor Joel Anyan. Accomplished bass/baritone singers Mike Costantino and Edward Pleasant will be making special guest appearances. Beth Palmer, the group's long-time piano accompanist, also will be featured.
Maxwell's choir of volunteers now includes professional musicians, music educators and amateur singers from many walks of life (several are lawyers). Singers -- who are primarily from New Haven and Fairfield counties and range in age from early 20s to 70s -- rehearse most Tuesday evenings September through May at Staples High School in Westport.
"As the group has expanded, so have our goals," Maxwell says. "We certainly never thought that we would have what we have today.
"We have been very fortunate, performing all types of repertoire. And recently we've become more involved in outreach programs, performing at nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities in the region" and for local charities.
And the Mendelssohn Choir is doing concert tours of Europe on a frequent basis. Last year, Maxwell and singers gave four performances during a 12-day summer tour of Prague, Vienna and Budapest. A concert tour of Greece or Ireland is being considered for 2012, she adds.
And as the choir has grown in years, so too has its fame -- a result of presenting its own concert series and performing with major music groups throughout the state, including the Norwalk Symphony Orchestra and the Greater Bridgeport Symphony. In October, for example, the Mendelssohn Choir opened the GBS season with a rousing version of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 ("Ode to Joy"), under the baton of its legendary conductor Gustav Meier. (Meier was apparently so impressed with the choir, and Maxwell's preparation of the singers, that he has invited the group to close the 2010-11 65th anniversary season with a concert version of Verdi's monumental opera "Aida.")
"To have one's personal dream come to fruition is very special," she says. "The choir has great breadth and depth at its core," made up of "an amazing group of individuals with great esprit de corps. We have reached all kinds of heights" musically and emotionally, with many choir members feeling as though they are part of a large extended family.
The camaraderie is extraordinary, Maxwell adds, because members are all connected by a passion for choral music.
Or, as celebrated in the lyrics of "O, Divine Music":
"O, to make the most jubilant song, full of music, an outburst of the soul!
O Divine Music! We lay our hearts and souls closely within you.
You teach us to see with our ears and to listen with our hearts."
WHEN YOU GO
"Mendelssohn Magic" takes place Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Norwalk Concert Hall, 123 East Avenue in Norwalk. Tickets are $25, $20 for senior citizens and $10 for children. For reservations, visit www.mendelssohnchoir.com or call toll-free 1-800-663-9018. Tickets also will be available at the hall's box office immediately prior to the concert.
News & Reviews
From a visitor to our website:
"Your group is wonderful! While looking for samples of the music we are performing in the next couple of weeks, I heard your excerpts on the Geocities "Hear the Choirs Sing" website. I was wondering who arranged the versions of "All the Things You Are" and "Stardust" that you sang so beautifully."