Choral Glories in 2011

Now that the final flurry of holiday concerts is almost over, I’m taking a pause to reflect on the many accomplishments I witnessed in the choral field during 2011. Choral music has experienced an astonishing year, claiming its place as a vital and evolving form that touches and engages millions of participants and audiences.

One highlight has been a full year of choral programming on New York’s classical music station, WQXR. Each week on the program The Choral Mix, host Ken Tritle has explored “the vibrant and transformative world of choral music,” delving into a variety of topics punctuated by choral performances–both live and recorded. I sang in one of these–the first live broadcast of The Choral Mix from The Greene Space, WQXR’s performance space, in a program of works by Brahms. With a small live audience around us, four remote control cameras streamed the singers across the Internet. I was even able to view an archival version as soon as I got home from the performance.

Although The Choral Mix content veers toward early and classical repertoire, contemporary work was also featured throughout the year. The program on August 14 was devoted completely to 20th-century American music. Contemporary American composers also appeared throughout the year, including Tan Dun and David Lang in the “Choral Passion” program and Paul Moravec in a Memorial Day tribute. The Choral Mix airs at the marginal times of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. on Sundays, but programs are available anytime on the WQXR website.

A new development this year was the first Sing New York festival, culminating in a Choral Finale attracting more than 600 singers from choirs all over the New York area. Nine conductors led singers through significant choral repertoire in a great atmosphere of choral unity. Organizers of the event, the New York Choral Consortium, are planning the second Sing New York festival for summer 2012 and anticipate that American choral music will have a stronger presence in the Choral Finale. The video below shows conductor Cynthia Powell leading the massed singers in He, Watching Over Israel, from Mendelssohn’s Elijah.

In other good news, I’m thrilled to see choral groups featured in the recently announced first round of 2012 NEA music grants, although I would be happier if there were more of them; out of 127 funded projects, about 12 are choral. Contemporary American music shows up in several funded projects, including Santa Anna (California-based Pacific Choral’s commission, performance, and recording of a work by Frank Ticheli), as well as a project of Minneapolis-based Vocal Essence with jazz trumpeter and composer Hannibal Lokumbe.

Individual choral artists also received some major recognition this year. Conductor Francisco Núñez received a MacArthur “Genius Award” for his work as artistic director of the Young People’s Chorus of New York. Noted for its outstanding work with young people, the choir’s consistent commitment to contemporary choral work in the Transient Glory program deserves acclaim. Watch video of Núñez talking about the choir and the award.

Finally, this year showed that some recognition can be a long time coming. The Catholic Church recently announced that Pope Benedict plans to canonize Hildegard von Bingen and make her a Doctor of the Church. As the earliest known composer of sacred music in the Roman Catholic tradition and one whose works still play a vital role in the repertoire today, this acknowledgement is welcome, although more than eight centuries too late for Hildegard!

One final cause for celebration for me is being able to share my love of choral music on NewMusicBox.

Happy Holidays to all.

What are your musical highlights of 2011?

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