Thursday, November 18, 2010

Music feature: Master Chorale chief sees growth as group embarks on 'Creation'

The Master Chorale of South Florida.

By Greg Stepanich

When Joshua‭ ‬Habermann looks into the upturned‭ ‬100‭ ‬or so faces of the Master Chorale of South Florida,‭ ‬he sees a neighborhood.

‭“‬Choirs are the ultimate community.‭ ‬There‭’‬s no question that singing brings people together,‭”‬ Habermann said.‭ “‬I look out at that choir on Monday nights and‭ ‬I see lawyers and nurses,‭ ‬and professional musicians,‭ ‬people who are unemployed,‭ ‬retired people,‭ ‬and high school students,‭ ‬all in a room together.

‭“‬There‭’‬s not much that brings people‭ ‬of different generations and‭ ‬different backgrounds like that together,‭ ‬like singing does,‭”‬ he said.‭ ‬“I think that‭’‬s one of the great joys of it.‭”

Beginning Friday night,‭ ‬Habermann‭’‬s Master Chorale will give three performances of‭ ‬The Creation,‭ ‬the late-career oratorio of Franz Joseph Haydn that some authorities consider the composer‭’‬s masterpiece.‭ ‬The chorale will be joined by soloists Maria Jette in the soprano role,‭ ‬tenor Glenn Siebert and baritone Graham Fandrei.‭

Accompanying the‭ ‬105-member chorale and the soloists will be the Miami Symphony Orchestra,‭ ‬which is taking part in the concert as part of a resource-sharing arrangement among the MISO,‭ ‬the chorus and Lynn University in Boca Raton.‭ ‬Friday night‭’‬s performance is at Miami‭’‬s Trinity Cathedral‭; ‬Saturday night the action moves to the Wold Center for the Performing Arts on the Lynn campus‭; ‬and on Sunday afternoon,‭ ‬the choir performs at the First Presbyterian Church‭ (‬the so-called Pink Church‭) ‬in Pompano Beach.

Joshua Habermann.

Habermann,‭ ‬42,‭ ‬a San Francisco native who heads the choral music program at the University of Miami,‭ ‬is beginning his third season as the chorale‭’‬s artistic director.‭ ‬The chorus was formally established eight years ago as the chorus of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra.‭ ‬The orchestra folded in the spring of‭ ‬2003,‭ ‬but the choir continued.

In March,‭ ‬the chorus will sing the Verdi Requiem with the Lynn Philharmonia under Albert-George Schram for two performances at the Wold,‭ ‬followed by one each in Broward and Miami-Dade counties,‭ ‬fulfilling the group‭’‬s three-county mission,‭ ‬Habermann said.‭ ‬The group also will appear for the second time with the‭ ‬blind Italian popera singer Andrea Bocelli when he returns to South Florida‭ ‬on Valentine‭’‬s Day‭ ‬next year‭ ‬for a concert at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise.

In April and May,‭ ‬the singers will join Eduardo Marturet and the MISO for two works by Gabriel Fauré:‭ ‬the Requiem,‭ ‬and the‭ ‬Pavane,‭ ‬a well-known‭ ‬orchestral piece to which‭ ‬the composer‭ ‬later‭ ‬added choral lyrics.

Habermann said he‭’‬s happy about the chorale‭’‬s progress over the past three years.

‭“‬Artistically,‭ ‬we‭’‬ve been growing a lot,‭ ‬and I‭’‬ve been really pleased with that,‭”‬ he said.‭ “‬We‭’‬ve been growing in number,‭ ‬but‭ ‬also,‭ ‬honestly,‭ ‬in quality,‭ ‬which is the biggest goal of all.‭”

Habermann takes pains to stress the chorale‭’‬s non-professional status.

‭ ‬“We are an amateur chorus,‭ ‬and people come from all walks of life.‭ ‬There are many‭ ‬music‭ ‬professionals involved in it,‭ ‬but primarily we‭’‬re an amateur organization,‭”‬ he said.‭ “‬[But‭]‬ having‭ ‬those professional standards,‭ ‬[that‭] ‬professional quality,‭ ‬and‭ ‬being the leading symphonic‭ ‬group in South Florida,‭ ‬and we believe we are for choruses‭ ‬--‭ ‬that has been a really rewarding experience the past three years.

‭“‬I feel that just in terms of the sound that we‭’‬re making,‭ ‬we‭’‬ve grown a great deal,‭”‬ he said.

Musical success aside,‭ ‬the chorus does face challenges,‭ ‬chiefly of a financial nature,‭ ‬Habermann said.

‭“‬We run a very lean operation,‭ ‬we have very little staff,‭ ‬and so we are well-positioned relative to other arts organizations to survive the economic downturn,‭”‬ he said.‭ “‬But all the same,‭ ‬donations are down,‭ ‬and that‭’‬s always a challenge,‭ ‬there‭’‬s no question.‭”

The resource collaboration,‭ ‬which allows the chorale,‭ ‬the MISO and Lynn to cut the costs of presenting choral-orchestral presentations by sharing venues and ensembles,‭ ‬has been helpful so far.‭

“To us,‭ ‬it seemed like a great idea,‭”‬ Habermann said.‭ “‬We worked out an agreement by which we could essentially work with each other at greatly reduced fees on both sides,‭ ‬such that it would benefit both organizations and we could do two series of concerts together.‭”

This weekend‭’‬s concerts focus on the Haydn‭ ‬Creation,‭ ‬which the composer completed in‭ ‬1798,‭ ‬and which apes the Handelian oratorio that already had come to dominate the English choral tradition.‭ ‬Haydn wrote it for London,‭ ‬where it was first performed,‭ ‬and the score was published in English and German‭ (‬as‭ ‬Die Schöpfung‭)‬.‭

The text is based on the Book of Genesis,‭ ‬but also has portions from the Psalms and from‭ ‬John‭ ‬Milton‭’‬s‭ ‬Paradise Lost.‭ ‬It is a large and powerful work,‭ ‬and contains some of Haydn‭’‬s greatest music.‭

Cast in three big sections,‭ ‬the oratorio has many striking moments,‭ ‬perhaps the most famous among the being the opening,‭ ‬which starts mysteriously as the orchestra describes the void before the creation of the world.‭ ‬The chorus enters with the first words of Genesis,‭ ‬and then at the words‭ “‬And there was light,‭”‬ Haydn explodes with a huge C major chord on the word‭ “‬light.‭”

It‭’‬s a moment‭ ‬that can be overdone,‭ ‬and Habermann said precision‭ ‬is important.

‭“‬The strings play a little pizzicato blip right before that that‭’‬s always hard to get together.‭ ‬And then that outburst has to be really well-timed to be effective,‭”‬ he said.

The Creation also is the work of a deeply religious man whose Catholic faith never wavered.‭

“It just has an optimistic feeling to it.‭ ‬It‭’‬s an upbeat,‭ ‬cheerful,‭ ‬celebratory piece of music,‭”‬ Habermann said.‭ “‬Everything that I‭’‬ve read describes‭ [‬Haydn‭] ‬as a man who was comfortable with his faith,‭ ‬who was happy,‭ ‬who in his religious life saw the positive aspect of things.

‭“‬And that‭’‬s certainly what we‭’‬ve tried to instill in the singers and the orchestra as well:‭ ‬the bright,‭ ‬cheerful,‭ ‬optimistic tone of this music,‭”‬ he said.

The Master Chorale of South Florida‬sings Haydn‭’‬s oratorio The Creation‭ ‬at‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Friday at Trinity Cathedral,‭ ‬Miami‭; ‬at‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Saturday at the Wold Performing Arts Center at Lynn University in Boca Raton‭; ‬and at‭ ‬4‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church of Pompano Beach.‭ ‬Joshua Habermann conducts the chorale and the Miami Symphony Orchestra,‭ ‬with soloists Maria Jette,‭ ‬Glenn Siebert and Graham Fandrei.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$30.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬954-418-6232‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬

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