The Minnesota Chorale is known for the company it keeps.
You might find the band behind the Minnesota Orchestra, singing massive works like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem.” Or build bridges by collaborating with choirs from other continents. Or grow fresh branches to serve singers young and old.
Founded in 1972, the choir celebrates its 50th anniversary on Saturday with a free concert at Roseville Lutheran Church. Much like the old “This Is Your Life” TV show, personalities from its history will be on hand to conduct and help sing some of the music that has left lasting memories.
Jon Lahann was there from the start – and still sings in the choir 50 years later.
“The first rehearsal was on September 26, 1972, in the choir room of the brand new campus of Bethel College [in Arden Hills]Lahann recalled last week. “I heard about the choir from a colleague at Centennial Junior High. That summer he took a course at the University of Minnesota taught by Robert Berglund, who said he was starting a new choral group.”
His goal was a choir that could perform alongside the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Three months after its foundation, he joined the Minnesota Orchestra for the opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian Carlo Menotti. Two Decembers later, the choir teamed up with the SPCO for a JS Bach cantata and released its first album (Christmas music).
Thomas Lancaster, a music professor at the University of Minnesota, led the group from 1977 to 1983. “My years with the choir saw a real growth in its musical ability and sophistication,” he said. “A very important step was the creation of a nucleus of professional singers” – nine in the 1980-81 season, which grew to 12 two years later.
Under his successor, Joel Revzen (1983-94), the choir became the official choir of the SPCO and helped to christen the new Ordway Music Theatre.
His reputation has spread far beyond Minnesota, singing the music of Hector Berlioz at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico, Joseph Haydn at the prestigious Aspen Festival in Colorado and Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony in Mexico City.
“I’m not exaggerating when I say the audience went wild at the end of the play,” longtime member Heather Hood said of the 1991 concert in Mexico with that country’s National Symphony Orchestra. country. “Stomping, jumping, clapping, screaming in ways I’ve never experienced before. They didn’t stop until we picked up some of the final movement. And then they went wild again!”
A turning point
Kathy Saltzman Romey has served as Artistic Director since 1995. She took up the acting position the previous year while working as a professor at Macalester College.
“I was part of the search committee that selected Kathy Romey as musical director,” said former member Sue Tuthill Schiess. “It was a watershed moment for the choir. With Joel Revzen, we basically had an opera conductor. With Kathy, we had a choirmaster, trained in the Robert Shaw tradition of ‘just enough vibrato to make worthy the tone “. …
“Kathy also brought with her a strong belief in the transformative power of music.”
Romey started the choir’s “Bridges” program, building relationships with ensembles around the world.
“We have become a music organization that crosses cultural, geographic and economic divides,” Hood said. “We have partnered with inner city schools and churches, the Russian and Latin metropolitan communities, gospel musicians, the disability community, the memory impairment community. We have collaborated to a project with a choir from Japan, reminiscent of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
A 2018 trip to South Africa with the Minnesota Orchestra brought what many singers have called their most powerful memory with the chorale.
“Our concert at Regina Mundi Church in Soweto – the heart of the apartheid resistance movement, bullet holes still in the walls around us – is etched in my memory and in my heart,” said Maya Tester , member of the choir. “The energy in this church was electrifying.
“The choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth represents the triumph of universal brotherhood over war and despair, and singing it there, with these people, embodied the struggle through darkness and into the light.
“The community joined in the singing and stood up and danced as we sang their traditional songs, and after the concert we walked out of the church, all still singing into the dark night. None of us wouldn’t stop singing. I’ve never felt the power of music more viscerally.”
This trip enabled a South African choir, the Gauteng Choristers, to send a group to Minneapolis, where they stayed in the homes of choir members and then performed Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem” alongside singers and orchestra from Minnesota.
“I thought it was very emotional,” Romey said.
So what’s Saturday’s schedule?
“About 50 former singers will join us to sing what I call a ‘legacy set,'” Romey said. “It will include five pieces, each representing the tenure of one of the choir’s five artistic directors.” Included will be movements from “Ein Deutsches Requiem” by Johannes Brahms, “Chichester Psalms” by Leonard Bernstein and “The Creation” by Haydn.
“Tom Lancaster will be there to conduct the last movement of Bach’s Mass in B Minor,” Romey said. “And Barbara Brooks will conduct from the piano the opening movement of [Carl Orff’s] “Carmina Burana”, representing our long-standing collaboration with Minnesota Dance Theater. And we’re going to end with the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.”
An ideal rapprochement for a choir that thrives on collaboration.
Minnesota Chorale 50th Anniversary Concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Sat.
Where: Roseville Lutheran Church, 1215 W. Roselawn Ave., Roseville.
Tickets: Free, available at mnchorale.org.
Rob Hubbard is a classical music writer from Twin Cities. [email protected]